Therapy or therapeutic?
Most of the contact that inpatients have with animals could be described as ‘therapeutic’. Or simply pleasurable and highly beneficial! (For a quick recap see Why section.) Or, as Nic Higham (our Inpatient Care Project Manager who has worked on wards) puts it:
Some fortunate patients are able to benefit from a more structured and goal-oriented relationship with animals through Animal Assisted Therapy. My support dog, Buddy, used to come to all my therapy sessions, but she snored her way through these and was usually not the focus of conversation. But let’s say I was very reluctant to take part in therapy, a gentler and more indirect approach to tackling painful emotional issues could have been for the therapist to guide the conversation around Buddy. It could be as low-key as simply talking about how Buddy is doing, how my illness is affecting her and our relationship etc. Having started to trust the therapist, I might then have been more open to branching out to emotional issues. Again, these could be indirectly addressed by reflecting on Buddy’s feelings, experiences, comforters etc.
So in Animal Assisted Therapy, the animal is the bridge between the therapist and patient, and this role can be carried out by a dog, cat or even fish. The wider the range of feelings and experiences the animal has, the easier it can be for the patient to identify these and with these.