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Understanding Child-Centered Canine Assisted Play Therapy: A Qualitative Collective Case Study

By Jennifer Austin-Main

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Children are often referred to counseling for a multitude of reasons (e.g. divorce, trauma, abuse, etc.). Given these challenges faced by so many children, counselors are charged with using evidence based forms of counseling to appropriately help children and their families address these issues. One highly researched and effective therapeutic intervention to working with children is play therapy, more specifically child-centered play therapy (CCPT). A recent trend in play therapy is the incorporation of animals into the play therapy process to facilitate healing and growth (Chandler, 2012; Parish-Plass, 2013; Thompson, 2009), in particular the use of canines in CCPT, known as child-centered canine assisted play therapy (CC-CAPT). Much of the foundational literature regarding CC-CAPT is anecdotal and/or conceptual in nature. In particular, the effectiveness of and guidelines for CC-CAPT has not been established through empirical research. More research is needed to identify the proper education, training, and competencies needed for play therapists to use CC-CAPT. This qualitative collective case study explored through one on one interviews and non-confidential documents registered play therapist and registered play therapist supervisor’s experiences and perspectives of using a canine in child-centered play therapy in a play therapy room with children under the age of 12. Results of this study revealed two major themes: Planning, Preparing, and Mitigating CC-CAPT; and Therapeutic Dynamics: “It’s Not a Therapeutic Dyad Anymore.” The results of this study reveal the importance of the intentional selection, training, and certification of a canine for therapy dog work. Results revealed ways in which participants mitigated risks associated with CC-CAPT. Participants used clinical judgment, screening forms, and assessments to determine the goodness of fit between therapy dog and child. Results of this study articulated the importance of understanding canine communication as it relates to the therapist responding appropriately to the canine and the child during a CC-CAPT session. Results of this study revealed that incorporating a therapy dog into the therapeutic process changes the dynamics within the playroom. Thus, requiring the play therapist be responsible for ensuring the session remains therapeutic while also navigating and safeguarding the varying components. The relationship that exists between the child, the therapist, and the dog is critical. The presence and interactions the dog brings to the playroom are necessary because the child and the dog can interact in ways that the therapist and the child may not. Participants offered elaborated descriptions of CC-CAPT sessions, indicating that when all of the critical pieces are in place, CC-CAPT can have successful outcomes.


Marcy Wilhelm-South

Purdue University

Date 2017
Pages 221
Department Department of Leadership and Counselor Education
Degree Doctor of Philosophy in Education
Language English
University The University of Mississippi
Cite this work

Researchers should cite this work as follows:

  1. Animal-assisted therapies
  2. Children
  3. Dogs
  4. Mammals
  5. open access
  1. open access