Transitioning from high school to university can prove to be a for midable challenge for many first-year students, with many experiencing home sickness. Given that students who experience homesickness are more likely than their non-homesick cohorts to drop out of university, universities have a vested interest in supporting students during their first-year transition. Programs that provide opportunities for human-animal interactions on campus are gaining popularity as one way of increasing students' wellbeing. The current study examined the effects of an 8-week animal-assisted therapy (AAT) program on first-year university students' wellbeing. An initial feasibility study (n=86) was conducted that provided opportunities for students to interact, in small groups, with trained therapy dogs and their volunteer handlers. Results indicated that this program reduced participants' levels of homesickness and increased their satisfaction with life. An experimental study was then conducted utilizing a similar 8-week group AAT program. Participants (n=44) were assigned to either a treatment condition (i.e., the AAT program) or to a no-treatment condition (akin to a wait-list control). At the end of the eight weeks, participants in the AAT program reported greater reductions in homesickness and greater increases in satisfaction with life than did those in the no-treatment condition. From beginning to end of the program, participants in the treatment group evidenced reductions in homesickness and increases in satisfaction with life and connectedness to campus, while participants in the no-treatment condition evidenced an increase in homesickness and no changes in satisfaction with life and connectedness to campus. Results of both the feasibility study and the experimental study support the use of AAT programs to increase the wellbeing of first-year university students experiencing homesickness.
|Author Address||University of British Columbia, 1137 Alumni Avenue, EME 3173, Kelowna, British Columbia V1V 1V7, Canada.firstname.lastname@example.org|
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