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The Potential Influence of a Companion-Animal's Presence on Aspects of the Therapeutic Alliance

By Kara M. Goldmann, Derek R. Hatfield, Angelica Terepka

Category Journal Articles
Abstract

Seventy-one college students participated in an experiment exploring the impact of a companion-animal's presence (viz., a dog) on several aspects of the participants' experience during an interview. Specifically, the study examined how the presence of a companion animal impacts participants' perception of the interviewer, including perceived levels of empathy and participants' willingness to self-disclose. Participants were prescreened with questions regarding past experience with animals. The researcher then conducted interviews with each participant, simulating a process comparable to that of an abridged initial psychotherapy intake session. Participants completed measures on their experience at the completion of the interview. Primary findings of the study determined that the presence of a companion animal did not influence participants' overall perceptions of the interviewer, willingness to self-disclose to the interviewer, and perceptions of the interviewer's level of empathic understanding. Participants' level of exposure to animals (current and past) also had no impact on these dependent measures. When participants' attitudes toward pets were examined, negative attitudes toward pets were associated with a diminished willingness to self-disclose in this study. This study represents an initial attempt at using more rigorous methodical controls to study the effect of companion animals in therapy-like situations. Contrary to previous research, the results imply that the presence of a companion animal during an interview analogous to the initial psychotherapy intake session may not influence aspects of the therapeutic alliance examined in this study. Future research is needed to determine if the same findings will be found with actual psychotherapy cases.

Publication Title Anthrozoƶs
Volume 28
Issue 4
Pages 661-672
ISBN/ISSN 0892-7936
DOI 10.1080/08927936.2015.1070009
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Tags
  1. Companion
  2. Psychotherapy
  3. therapeutics