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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Silent supporters : understanding clients' lived experiences of animal-assisted therapy in counselling Owen, Jessica


The human-animal bond has long been a topic of interest for both researchers and clinicians. There are many studies that support the benefits of animals with regards to humans’ psychological and physical wellbeing, such as improved mental and physical health in pet owners and the use of animals in paramedical practices (e.g., Rector, 2005; Souter & Miller). However, although therapists are engaging animals in their practice all over the world, there is no empirical research looking to understand clients’ experiences of Animal-Assisted Therapy (AAT) in a counselling setting. This was the purpose of the current study. An interpretive phenomenological research design was used. Six adults who had previously been clients of an AAT therapist were interviewed, and their time with an AAT practitioner ranged from 1 to 7 months. The resulting transcriptions were analysed using Langdridge’s (2007) four stages of thematic analysis. Five unifying themes emerged across participant experiences, including: A Comfortable Environment, Animal Behaviour and Characteristics, Human-Animal Relationships, Intrapersonal Experience, and Engagement in Therapy. Three of these five themes also included sub-themes. This study contributes to the current literature by exploring the previously unheard perspective of AAT clients and inviting further discussion on how clients perceive and interpret this unique approach to counselling. Future research regarding AAT and counselling are also discussed, as well as implications for counselling practice.

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Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International