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.