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The role of animal-assisted therapy in initial psychotherapy sessions with adolescents

By Erin B. Stromberg

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Animal-assisted therapy (AAT) is defined as "a goal directed intervention in which an animal, meeting specific criteria, is an integral part of the treatment process" (Nebbe, 1995, p. 40). Since its first introduction into the scientific community in the 1960s, AAT has grown in both recognition and application. This is primarily attributable to the characteristics of AAT that allow it to be appropriate for a wide range of populations. These qualities are shown to be especially effective in research with children (Menzies Inc., 2003). Interventions that exercise the advantageous qualities of AAT, and its service in promoting the well being of young children, have evolved from teaching humane education to more specialized functions that concentrate on specific disorders and mental health.

With that said, little research has focused on the effectiveness of AAT as a targeted therapeutic modality within the adolescent population (Kruger, Trachtenberg & Serpell, 2004). Mental health practitioners report adolescents as one of the most challenging populations to work with; yet few adapted approaches to traditional therapy have been designed to complement adolescent developmental needs. The original intent of this project was to examine the effectiveness of AAT in decreasing adolescent resistance in initial therapy sessions. Regrettably, the initial questions introduced by the examiner could not be investigated as proposed. In its place, a personal and practical exploration into the barriers and challenges facing researchers within the field will be described, along with implications for current practitioners.


Marcy Wilhelm-South

Purdue University

Date 2012
Pages 97
Department Department of Educational Psychology and Foundations
Degree Specialist in Education
Language English
University University of Northern Iowa
Cite this work

Researchers should cite this work as follows:

  1. Adolescents
  2. Animal-assisted activities
  3. Animal-assisted therapies
  4. Mental health professionals
  5. open access
  6. peer-reviewed
  7. Psychiatry and psychology
  8. Psychotherapy
  1. open access
  2. peer-reviewed