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

By Christian Antonioli

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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
Cite this work

Researchers should cite this work as follows:

  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