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Human - animal interaction and the benefits to mental health: A phenomenological study

By Jasmin Jau

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The prevalence of mental illness is a major concern in Australia and worldwide. It is one of the leading causes of disability in Australia and it is estimated that globally one in four people will experience a mental illness at some point in their life. One of the lesser known therapies and activities in the mental health field are animal assisted interventions that incorporate animals as part of the therapeutic or ameliorative process. Although emerging research literature shows that interaction with animals has positive effects on mental health and wellbeing, it is not clearly understood how and why there are benefits. Accordingly, the research question for this study is:

In what ways can human-animal interactions benefit mental health?

Guided by a phenomenological methodology, in-depth interviews were conducted with three participants who regularly interact with animals and identify as having or had depression in the last two years. The aim of the study was to explore participant’s experiences of the benefits of interaction with animals to mental health and to show how and where human animal interaction can benefit mental health. This study has showed how interaction with animals has direct and indirect benefits to mental health and wellbeing and argues that animals can play an important role in improving human mental health.

The following eight themes were identified: company and comfort, social interaction, social skills and belonging, structure and balance, helping, learning and life skills, sense of achievement, fun and enjoyment, and passionate caring. The significance of this study for social work are that the results lend weight to understanding the ways in which animals can benefit mental health. Implications for practice suggest that involving clients in the care of animals can foster social interaction and the development of social skills and by extension improve mental health and wellbeing. Keeping animals on the premises of residential programs and enabling clients to interact with them could provide clients with comfort and company. Furthermore, clients who express an interest in animals could be encouraged to volunteer with animals as a way to manage their mental health, gain confidence and learn new skills.


Mason N McLary

HABRI Central

Date 2014
Pages 62
Publisher Edith Cowan University
Location of Publication Joondalup, Western Australia
Department Social Work
Degree Social Work
Language English
Cite this work

Researchers should cite this work as follows:

  1. Animal-assisted activities
  2. Animal-assisted interventions
  3. Animal-assisted therapies
  4. Animal roles
  5. Australia
  6. Disabilities
  7. Health
  8. Mental illness
  9. Pets and companion animals
  10. Service animals
  11. therapy
  12. therapy animals