Animal Assisted Play Therapy (AAPT)

For some people, it’s difficult to talk directly about feelings, thoughts, or memories. For this reason, traditional therapy can be ineffective and uncomfortable. With Animal Assisted Play Therapy, clients interact with a trained animal as they work with a therapist, learning many of the same lessons they would in traditional therapy.

What is Animal Assisted Play Therapy?

Animal Assisted Play Therapy is a therapy modality that brings together a client and an animal for the purpose of healing. This animal is often trained to interact with humans and highly attuned to displays of emotion. However, the efficacy of Animal Assisted Play Therapy comes from the ways that a client learns to interact with the animal.

Clients are encouraged to form bonds with the animal and to foster a relationship with the animal. The therapist is there to guide bonding behavior. They’ll also check in with the client about how they feel when they play with the animal and when they take care of the animal. This is an avenue to talking about the client’s feelings and raising awareness of the client’s attitudes towards building and growing relationships.

The goal of Animal Assisted Play Therapy is to provide clients with a healthy bonding experience. This often fosters a sense of responsibility, purpose, self-esteem, and compassion in the client.

What happens in an Animal Assisted Play Therapy session?

What happens in an Animal Assisted Play Therapy session depends on the client, animal, and therapist. Depending if the animal belongs to the client, the therapist, or a larger organization like a counseling center, the client may have varying levels of comfort with the animal. The therapist will encourage the client to interact with the animal, including talking to it, petting it, or teaching it commands.

While the client interacts with the animal, the therapist may reflect on the client’s relationship with the animal. The therapist might also ask the client guided questions such as:

  • How does it feel to talk to the animal?
  • Do you feel close with the animal? Why or why not?
  • How does your bond with the animal feel familiar? Feel novel?

Much like play therapy, therapists are there to guide sessions towards healing, peace, and growth. Therapists must be certified in Animal Assisted Play Therapy, which includes training on how best to support the client in their mental health needs.

What can Animal Assisted Play Therapy help with?

Animal Assisted Play Therapy is an excellent therapy option for clients who have issues relating to other people. This might include people who have:

Animal Assisted Play Therapy is also a treatment for:

Incorporating an animal into the mental health journey is particularly effective for people who already love animals and see them as comforts. Relationships between humans and animals is a sacred one, and Animal Assisted Play Therapy harnesses this innate connection for the betterment of the client’s emotional health.