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Incorporating animal-assisted therapy in mental health treatments for adolescents: A systematic review of canine assisted psychotherapy

By M. G. Jones, S. M. Rice, S. M. Cotton

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Category Journal Articles
Abstract

Introduction
As interest in Animal-Assisted Interventions (AAI) grows, there is increasing need to differentiate informal activities from formal and professionally directed therapies, including mental health focussed Canine-Assisted Psychotherapy (CAP). There have been no reviews focusing exclusively on CAP and the distinct developmental period of adolescence. The aims of this study were to identify the characteristics of CAP interventions, their impacts and their acceptability, tolerability and feasibility for adolescents with mental health disorders.

Method
A systematic review identified studies incorporating canines into mental health treatments for adolescents aged 10–19 years. Studies reporting qualitative or quantitative psychological or psychosocial outcomes were included.

Results
Seven studies were scrutinised. Intervention characteristics varied, including a range of formats, settings, locations, doses, and facilitators. Information on the role of the canines in sessions was sparse. CAP had a positive impact on primary diagnoses and symptomatology, conferring additional benefits to standard treatments for internalising disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder, and equivalent effects for anxiety, anger and externalising disorders. CAP was associated with positive impacts on secondary factors including increased engagement and socialisation behaviours, and reductions in disruptive behaviours within treatment sessions. Global functioning also improved. There was insufficient evidence that CAP improved factors associated with self-esteem, subjective wellbeing, or coping. Good attendance and retention rates indicated high levels of acceptability. Moderate to high tolerability was also indicated. Feasibility may be limited by additional training and logistical requirements.

Recommendations
We recommend the development of theoretically informed, standardised (manualised) intervention protocols that may subsequently form the basis of efficacy and effectiveness testing. Such protocols should clearly describe canine-participant-facilitator interactions via a formalised nomenclature; spontaneous (animal-led), adjunctive (facilitator-led), and experiential (participant-led).

Conclusions
There is emerging evidence to suggest that CAP improves the efficacy of mental health treatments in self-selected adolescent populations via reductions in primary symptomatology, and via secondary factors that improve therapeutic processes and quality, such as engagement and retention.

Date 2019
Publication Title PLoS One
Volume 14
Issue 1
Pages 27
DOI 10.1371/journal.pone.0210761
Language English
Additional Language English
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Tags
  1. Adolescents
  2. Animal-assisted therapies
  3. Animals
  4. Children
  5. Dogs
  6. Feasibility
  7. Females
  8. Humans
  9. Males
  10. Mental health and well-being
  11. open access
  12. patient attitudes
  13. peer-reviewed
  14. Psychiatry and psychology
  15. Treatment outcomes
  16. Young Adult
Badges
  1. open access
  2. peer-reviewed