Is becoming an animal assisted therapist right for me?

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What do animal assisted therapists do?
What are animal assisted therapists like?

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How to become an Animal Assisted Therapist

To become an animal assisted therapist, individuals typically follow a series of steps:

  • Obtain a relevant degree: Earn a bachelor's degree in a field related to mental health counseling, psychology, counseling psychology, social work, or a similar discipline. Some programs may offer specific coursework or concentrations in animal assisted therapy.
  • Gain experience in animal handling: Acquire experience working with animals, such as volunteering at animal shelters, participating in animal-related organizations, or working in a veterinary setting. This experience helps develop an understanding of animal behavior, welfare, and handling techniques.
  • Pursue higher education: Consider pursuing a master's degree or higher in a mental health field that incorporates animal assisted therapy. Several universities offer specialized programs or certifications in animal assisted therapy, equine assisted therapy, or other related fields.
  • Complete required training: Participate in training programs specific to animal-assisted therapy. These programs provide education on the theories, techniques, and ethical considerations involved in using animals as part of therapy sessions. Examples include Canine Assisted Therapy Certification, Equine Assisted Therapy Certification, or certifications offered by recognized animal-assisted therapy organizations.
  • Obtain relevant licenses or certifications: Depending on the state and the specific requirements, animal-assisted therapists may need to obtain licenses or certifications in their field. This may include licensure as a mental health professional, certification as an animal-assisted therapist, or other related credentials.
  • Gain practical experience: Seek supervised practical experience in animal-assisted therapy under the guidance of experienced professionals. This may involve completing internships, volunteering with established animal-assisted therapy programs, or working alongside certified animal assisted therapists.
  • Obtain liability insurance: Animal-assisted therapists typically need liability insurance coverage to protect themselves, the clients, and the therapy animals during therapy sessions.
  • Join professional organizations: Consider joining professional organizations dedicated to animal assisted therapy, such as the American Counseling Association (ACA), the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants (IAABC), or the Animal Assisted Intervention International (AAII). These organizations provide resources, networking opportunities, and professional development opportunities.
  • Continue professional development: Stay updated on the latest research, best practices, and ethical guidelines in animal assisted therapy. Attend conferences, workshops, and seminars, and engage in ongoing professional development to expand knowledge and skills in the field.

Helpful Resources
Animal assisted therapists can benefit from various resources to enhance their knowledge, skills, and professional development. Here are some helpful resources:

Animal Assisted Therapy Organizations:

  • Pet Partners: A leading organization that offers training, certification, and support for animal assisted therapy teams.
  • American Association of Human-Animal Bond Veterinarians (AAH-ABV): Provides resources, research, and networking opportunities for professionals interested in the human-animal bond and animal assisted interventions.
  • International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants (IAABC): Offers education, certification, and resources for professionals working in animal behavior and training, including those involved in animal assisted therapy.

Professional Associations:

  • American Counseling Association (ACA): The largest professional counseling organization in the US, offering resources and support for mental health professionals, including those practicing animal assisted therapy.
  • Association for Experiential Education (AEE): Provides resources and networking opportunities for professionals using experiential education approaches, including animal assisted therapy.
  • National Association of Social Workers (NASW): Offers resources, advocacy, and networking opportunities for social workers involved in animal assisted therapy.

Books and Publications:

  • "Animal-Assisted Therapy: Techniques and Experiences" by Susan Chandler and Lori R. Kogan: A comprehensive guide covering various aspects of animal assisted therapy.
  • "Animal-Assisted Interventions in Mental Health: Definitions and Theoretical Foundations" by Nancy Parish-Plass: Explores the theoretical foundations of animal assisted interventions in mental health.
  • "Handbook on Animal-Assisted Therapy: Theoretical Foundations and Guidelines for Practice" by Aubrey H. Fine: Provides an overview of animal assisted therapy principles, techniques, and ethical considerations.

Continuing Education and Training Programs:

  • Institute for Human-Animal Connection (IHAC): Offers online courses, workshops, and certificate programs in animal assisted interventions and the human-animal bond.
  • Green Chimneys: Provides professional development opportunities, including workshops and conferences focused on animal assisted therapy and nature-based interventions.
  • The Rise VanFleet Center for Expressive Therapy: Offers online courses and training programs in animal assisted play therapy and related areas.

Research Journals and Publications:

  • Anthrozoös: A multidisciplinary journal publishing research on human-animal interactions, including animal assisted interventions.
  • Journal of Veterinary Behavior: Clinical Applications and Research: Publishes studies related to animal behavior and its applications in various fields, including animal assisted therapy.