Involving Animals In Play: What is Animal Assisted Play Therapy ®?
What a wonderful idea – to involve your animal in therapy! While there are many different types of therapies involving animals (which are often referred to as animal assisted therapy or animal assisted interventions), Animal Assisted Play Therapy ® (AAPT) is a unique one. AAPT involves trained therapists and animals working with a client through play interventions, with a goal of improving the client’s wellbeing. AAPT may involve very structured activities (where the therapist is telling the client specifically how to interact with the animal) or unstructured activities (where the client can choose how to work with the animal and the therapist providing structure and rules if needed). AAPT can be implemented with essentially any animal, but is most often practiced with dogs and horses (and cats come closely after that!). AAPT can be used with individual, group or family therapy and can be used with any age of client.
AAPT is different from other animal assisted therapies because of its deep focus on the animal. Unlike other animal assisted therapies, the therapy animal in AAPT always has the choice of whether or not they want to participate in the session. This means that animals may participate for one part of the session, then decide they are done participating (if you have worked with me, you have likely seen Mika go lie on the couch when she’s done working!). Animals are given respect and choice at all times during AAPT. Additionally, AAPT should be engaging and fun for both the client and the animal. AAPT therapists often consider the animal’s point of view of any given activity or part of the session. AAPT emphasizes the importance of relationships, and allows the relationship between the therapist and therapy animal to model this for clients.
AAPT is helpful for a variety of issues, including but not limited to: improving self-esteem, building empathy, regulating emotions, improving frustration tolerance, and attachment issues. AAPT often involves a lot of relationship building, creativity, playfulness, and fun!
About the author: Jill is a registered play therapist (RPT) and is Level 2 trained in Animal Assisted Play Therapy®.
By: Jill Robinson
LCSW, LSCSW, RPT, CAS
Resource: Animal Assisted Play Therapy (2017) By Risë Van Fleet and Tracie Faa-Thompson