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Biophilia: the Therapeutic Value of Animals in the Treatment of Depression

By Christian Antonioli

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Category Theses

Background: To date there has been limited evidence on the efficacy of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM). This thesis comprises two studies: A randomized, single blind, controlled trial to evaluate the efficacy of animal facilitated therapy (AFT) in the treatment of depression (study 1), and a questionnaire survey of general practitioners to establish their attitudes towards and experiences of CAM, with a particular focus on AFT (study 2). STUDY 1 Aim: To evaluate the short-term efficacy of AFT.

Methods: Thirty adults with a mild or moderate depressive episode were randomly assigned to a two-week animal care program (ACP) with bottlenose dolphins Tursiops truncatus or a control outdoor nature program (ONP). The Hamilton Rating Scale for Depression (HRSD), Beck Depression Inventory (BDI-IA) and Zung Self Rating Anxiety Scale (SAS) were completed at baseline and after the intervention.

Results: Subjects in the experimental group had significantly greater reduction in the mean severity of depressive symptoms than the control group (HRSD p= 0.002) (BDI-IA p= 0.006). The mean difference for the HRSD and BDI-IA between the two groups was highly significant (HRSD p= 0.007) (BDI-IA p= 0.012). STUDY 2 Aim: To investigate physicians‟ views of CAM and AFT. Methods: Fifty randomly selected general practitioners participated in a questionnaire survey. Results: Overall, 75.6% of the general practitioners were in favour of the utilization of CAM, only 6.7% were openly against its use, and 55.6% were influenced by the results of the AFT study.

Conclusions: The AFT trial supported its efficacy in the treatment of minor / moderate depression. These findings had a positive impact on practitioners' perceptions of this treatment. Animal facilitated therapy has a potentially valuable role in the treatment of less complex mental health conditions, as an alternative of or complementary to existing types of treatment.


Mason N McLary

HABRI Central

Date 2010
Pages 240
Publisher University of Leicester
Location of Publication Leicester, England
Department Medicine and Biological Sciences
Degree Philosophy
Language English
  1. Animal-assisted activities
  2. Animal-assisted therapies
  3. Animal roles
  4. Depression
  5. Health
  6. Pets and companion animals
  7. Service animals
  8. therapy
  9. therapy animals
  10. treatment