Knowledge Bank

How animal assisted therapy helps with childhood trauma

Researchers have recently found that childhood traumas and neglect can not only cause mental health problems in children, but that they can also manifest as physical disease in later life. This backs up the anecdotal findings of energy medicine practitioners who experience that emotion withheld in the body can go on to cause physical illness.

More than 1,000 children were followed from birth by researchers in New Zealand and from those results, it was found there were sustained health risks from childhood abuse, neglect, social isolation or economic hardship.

The findings, which appear in the December 2010 issue of Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine, suggest that childhood experiences can affect nervous, immune and endocrine functioning. By the age of 32, the study subjects who had undergone childhood deprivations were more likely to be depressed, experience chronic inflammation and to have metabolic markers of increased health risk. These three factors, in turn, are known to put sufferers in the risk category for cardiovascular disease, diabetes and dementia later on in life.

So a therapy to help children who are suffering from trauma or abuse would be a good idea. There are several, but one that stands out is animal assisted therapy.

What is animal assisted therapy?

Animal assisted therapy is a type of therapy where animals are used as an essential part of the person’s treatment.

Usually the animal in question will have been chosen because of their own characteristics, and matched to the person’s problem.

Animals typically used are: dogs, cats, rabbits, lizards, elephants, birds, dolphins and other small animals. Horses are very commonly used for animal assisted therapy, though this has its own classification, under equine assisted therapy.

As many pet owners will appreciate, owning a pet can be a very rewarding experience as well as providing companionship, physical comfort, the increased opportunity to meet others and instilling responsibility. Animal assisted therapy works by adopting these same principles.

What can animal assisted therapy be used for?

Animal assisted therapy is thought to be a useful tool for people with mental difficulties, including autism spectrum syndromes, people with behavioural problems or medical difficulties and to help promote a general emotional well-being.

For people with physical issues, it can aid fine motor skills and balance, and is also a useful aid for both educational and motivational purposes by encouraging long or short-term memory, increasing vocabulary and improving a person’s interaction and involvements with others.

To learn more about Animal Assisted Therapy, go to The Therapy Book.

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