ANIMAL-ASSISTED APPROACHES TO CHILD AND ADOLESCENT MENTAL HEALTH
Why do humans keep companion animals? Th ey serve no practical purpose. Th ey cost money to keep, add burden to our already hectic lives, damage household objects, and create messes on the fl oor. Boris Levinson described human companion animal keeping as something that is done for psychological not practical reasons:
Dogs literally walked out of the cave with man and have been an integral part of human history and the evolution of civilization (Vila et al., 1997). Today, people have contact with a wide variety of companion animals that provide recreational opportunities and emotional support. In addition, the therapeutic community has designed animal-assisted interventions (AAIs) that enhance a wide variety of treatment modalities. Th ese range from walking a dog, riding a horse, stroking a cat, holding a hamster, and feeding a tank of fi sh. Every day people perform all of these activities with their companion animals outside a therapeutic environment. Th e diff erence between the common person conducting these tasks and the performance of these tasks in a therapeutic environment is the application of a sound theoretical model that justifi es the inclusion of animals in the therapeutic environment. Th ese theories are not entirely psychological change theories such as cognitive behavioral, psychodynamic, or solution focused, but also includes theories of humane education, physical and recreational therapy, and building rapport and engagement. AAIs can be delivered by a spectrum of mental health professionals from a master’s level therapist to a local horseback riding instructor with a high school education. Currently, the fi eld is in the infancy of empirically justifying the inclusion of animals in the therapeutic environment. Th e fi eld is replete with stories such as the one below about Steve.