Animals may be incorporated into the treatment process to facilitate the attainment of calculated goals and objectives. These goals and objectives may be physical (fine or gross motor skills), social (casual interaction), intellectual (recreation education), or emotional (anxiety reduction) in nature. Animals involved in these interventions have undergone rigorous training and assessment processes and are accompanied by trained handlers with dedicated knowledge of the profession (Powell, 2012).
Potential Target Groups
Research demonstrates that the therapeutic use of animals may be beneficial to a wide range of individuals. Research findings support the positive benefits of therapeutic animals working with the geriatric population within nursing homes, long-term care and hospital settings (Banks & Banks, 2002). Also within the hospital setting, therapeutic animals have been used within psychiatric and rehabilitation units to help promote goal attainment for individuals with mental health disorders or physical disabilities (Moretti, De Ronchi, Bernabei, Marchetti, Ferrari, Forlani, Negretti, Sacchetti & Atti, 2011). A study also delineates programs within detention facilities where incarcerated individuals are offered the opportunity to participate in the training of therapeutic animals. Training these animals for future animal therapy use has proven to have inherent therapeutic benefits for the inmates (Strimple, 2003). Animals have also been used for social, intellectual and visual impairments within various settings.
There are several versions of the therapeutic use of animals. The first is therapeutic visitation animals, which involves the use of a family pet whose owner wishes to offer animal companionship to those who may not otherwise have the opportunity. The second version is the inclusion of animals in animal-assisted therapy. This version involves animals that are specifically trained to support interventions designed to meet the needs of an individual’s recovery program. Lastly, facility therapy animals refer to animals that normally reside within the facility in which they are employed and offer general companionship to clients (Crawford & Pomerinke, 2003).
Knowledge and Training
During therapeutic programs involving animals, both the recreation therapist and animal handler are primarily responsible for controlling and directing the animal-client interactions. As the recreation therapist is responsible for leading the session, it is necessary that they have they have sufficient knowledge that will allow them to plan and implement a successful program. To begin with, a general knowledge of the efficacy of therapy animals amongst various populations could aid the therapist in determining which individuals will benefit most from the program. Furthermore, a complete understanding of the client’s attitude, behaviour and abilities will enable the therapist to match the client with an animal of the same demeanor. Knowledge...