This is Zuki, our therapy cat at our Stafford Heights office. Her breed is an Australian Mist – a breed designed for their calm temperaments. She is very placid and loves cuddles. She has had 5 litters of purebred kittens in the past 5 years, but her breeding days are over. She is lovely and maternal. If you visit us at our Stafford office, and you enjoy cats, ask us to fetch Zuki for you.
Animal-assisted therapy (AAT) began in the early 1990s and thus is a relatively new field. Since then, it has grown in popularity, has gained wide acceptance and is evolving into mainstream psychology. This is evident in the increasing number of universities, such as the University of North Texas, that offer a graduate course in AAT.
While none of us at NBP have university training in AAT, just the presence of animals themselves in the room can be soothing for some people, and can more quickly build rapport between therapist and client. Research has showed a significant drop in stress hormones such as cortisol, adrenaline and aldosterone and an increase in “health inducing and social inducing” hormones such as oxytocin, dopamine and endorphins after 20 minutes with a therapy animal.
Experts in this field, such as Cynthia Chandler, point out that therapy animals have also returned the benefits of touch to counselling. Touch has been understandably removed from psychotherapy, but at a cost. Therapy animals provide a nonjudgmental space for individuals to work out their problems. Chandler says, “Animals do not prejudge you. They don’t know that you’ve had a messy divorce. They don’t know that you’re dealing with childhood sexual abuse.” Sometimes it’s patting an animal or just the sheer presence of an animal that helps, but either way, their acceptance and admirable ability to express themselves without holding anything back makes animal-assisted therapy powerful for some clients.