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Pet Therapy—with Cats?!

Vickie Grey Kennedy, LPCC-S,

Mental Health and Animal Assisted Therapist

YESSS!  Pet Therapy is also called animal assisted therapy when used in a mental health setting with a licensed therapist.  It is a type of therapy that utilizes the human-animal bond that naturally comes about when a patient walks into the room and sees, in my case, one of my cats.  Interventions are goal-directed which means there is a REASON for the animal to be in the session.  Even though playing and interacting with the cat is natural, the goal is to allow the patient to open up, share their story, and begin the healing process with a “furry friend” beside them.

Think of a child who has suffered trauma and does not want to talk to anyone.  Now, put that child in a room with a cute, soft, kitten with big eyes.  Can you imagine the look on that child’s face, the size of that child’s eyes “as they get as big as saucers?”  The hard work has already been accomplished by that animal.  The child is ready to engage and talk with the therapist, while petting and playing with that animal.  It is, in my case, the cat or kitten, who has ‘broken the ice,’ and allowed a therapeutic alliance/bond to be made.

Research has shown that utilizing pets in therapy sessions can be very helpful, especially when anxiety, grief, or depression is the primary complaint.  Various studies have proved that patients who isolate themselves, were more likely to show increased motivation and participation within their therapy session, when guided by a therapist and soothed by an animal.  Autistic children have benefited from the use of animals within their therapy sessions, too, because they can focus on the animal, while still being in “treatment.”

If the goal is to reduce anxiety and depression; improve communication; develop rapport and trust; and recognize and identify one’s own emotions, (just to name a few), an animal in the room with the therapist helps the patient in achieving these goals.

People often ask about the differences between a therapy pet, service animal, and emotional support animal.  Therapy pets are handled by their owner, provide a calm and comforting ‘environment’ in a therapeutic setting such as medical facilities and nursing homes and with a licensed therapist.  Service and emotional support animals provide their assistance outside of a therapy session.

HealthPoint Family Care utilizes both cats and dogs.

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