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When Therapy Dogs Visit College Students, Is It Therapy?

By Colleen M. Fleming

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The purpose of this qualitative phenomenological study was to explore the psychological experiences of college students interacting with therapy dogs on their campus. The intervention examined is called an Animal Visitation Program (AVP). AVPs are offered on college campuses across the U.S. for college students as a supportive outreach program during times of stress. This intervention is especially relevant because students are reporting increases in overall stress levels as well as increases in mental health diagnoses. The current study explored the psychological experiences of students who attended an AVP on their campus. The researcher interviewed 13 students after attending an AVP on their campus. Students discussed their past experiences with animals, their emotional experiences related to attending the AVP, and how they made sense of their experiences. Five major themes emerged from the study. First, students reported experiencing positive human-animal bonds prior to attending the AVP. Then, while attending the AVP, students recalled these positive humananimal bond experiences. The results indicate that students were motivated to attend the AVP by positive past experience with animals. Second, the announcement of the AVP evoked positive anticipation in students for the event. Then, when students attended the AVP, they experienced an abundance of positive emotions, including feeling happy, excited, and loved. Third, while attending the AVP students stopped thinking about their worries (e.g., exams, projects, and papers) temporarily and focused their attention on interacting with therapy dogs. Fourth, students reinforced their social support networks, before, during, and after the AVP by communicating to their friends and family about the AVP. Finally, as a result of attending the AVP, students reported concepts of well-being, specifically contentment and a reset to self. Students’ recollections of their psychological experiences while attending the AVP provided data to iv support the development of a psychological framework for AVPs. The psychological framework developed supports the study’s conclusion that, while an AVP is not a standard therapeutic intervention, an AVP may be considered a supportive mental health intervention that positively contributes to the current state of a students’ well-being. Clinical implications and recommendations for future research are provided.

Date 2020
Pages 160
ISBN/ISSN 9798516961472
Publisher Chestnut Hill College
Department Professional Psychology
Degree Psy.D.
Language English
University Chestnut Hill College
Cite this work

Researchers should cite this work as follows:

  1. Animal-assisted interventions
  2. Animal-assisted therapies
  3. Animal visitation programs
  4. Counseling Psychology
  5. Depression
  6. Dogs
  7. Emotions
  8. open access
  9. perceptions
  10. Psychiatry and psychology
  11. Social Networks
  12. social support
  13. technology
  14. therapy animals
  15. Universities and Colleges
  1. open access