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Pet facilitated therapy and the therapeutic relationship: participant perspectives

By Laurie Heather Baird

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This qualitative study examines Pet Facilitated Therapy (PFT) from the perspective of the participant/client in an initial counselling session. The use of the human-animal bond to facilitate therapy is a relatively new and growing field. Existing research has focused on quantitative measures, third party ratings, or therapists' perspectives. A specific focus of this research is how the presence of a dog affects participants' perceptions of the therapeutic relationship between the participant and counsellor. In order to use PFT as a therapeutic adjunct most effectively and purposefully, it is important to better understand how PFT recipients experience a pet's presence in counselling settings. 11 Three female and two male participants ranging in age from forty-six to seventy two were solicited from patients on the Rehabilitation Unit of a local hospital. Each participant took part in an audio taped initial counselling session at which a trained therapy dog was present. I participated in the research, acting as both counsellor and researcher. Interviews were conducted by a fellow graduate student to elicit participants' perceptions of the experience. Interview transcripts and other contextual data were analyzed thematically utilizing grounded theory methodology. Results of this study were expressed through two primary themes: the first theme focused on what roles participants attributed to the dog's presence, and the second theme concerned what factors contributed to how the participants experienced the session. Participants indicated that the dog's presence tranquilized or relaxed them, was indicative of my attributes as therapist, and prompted emotional memories. Significant factors which affected how participants experienced the PFT session included the therapist's skill and way of being, tactile contact with the pet, previous emotional attachment to pets, and the participant's self-perception or way of being. This study affirms the primacy of the client-counsellor relationship, and offers new insight into what contributions a pet's presence may make to counselling. As a result of this research, I formed a new conceptualization of the "therapeutic relationship", which includes an understanding of the roles that therapists and pets play as both distinct and overlapping. This new understanding includes potential benefits of PFT which are independent of the therapist (such as the pet's role in helping the participant/client to relax), and benefits which involve the pet and therapist (such as the dog as an indicator of therapist attributes). Similarly, the therapist's role in the relationship with the participant/client is based on therapist skills and attributes which are independent of the pet, but also includes elements of overlap with the pet's presence, as when the therapist interacts with the pet. This thesis is about beginning to explore and share a missing component from PFT research: the client's voice. n1.rticipants' contributions, for which I am most grateful, have both validated some of the assumptions and beliefs found within PFT research to date, and offered new ways of understanding the potential benefits of the human-animal bond to counselling.


Mason N McLary

HABRI Central

Date 2000
Pages 122
Publisher University of New Brunswick
Location of Publication Fredericton, New Brunswick
Department Arts, Social, and Health Sciences
Degree Conselling
Language English
Cite this work

Researchers should cite this work as follows:

  1. Animal-assisted activities
  2. Animal-assisted therapies
  3. Animal roles
  4. Counseling
  5. Dogs
  6. Mammals
  7. Pet therapy
  8. Service animals
  9. therapy
  10. therapy animals