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Animal Assisted Therapy

The Effects of Animal-Assisted Therapy on Anxiety Ratings of Hospitalized Psychiatric Patients
Sandra B. Barker, Ph.D. and Kathryn S. Dawson, Ph.D.

OBJECTIVE: Animal-assisted therapy involves interaction between patients and a trained animal, along with its human owner or handler, with the aim of facilitating patients' progress toward therapeutic goals. This study examined whether a session of animal-assisted therapy reduced the anxiety levels of hospitalized psychiatric patients and whether any differences in reductions in anxiety were associated with patients' diagnoses.

METHODS: Study subjects were 230 patients referred for therapeutic recreation sessions. A pre- and posttreatment crossover study design was used to compare the effects of a single animal-assisted therapy session with those of a single regularly scheduled therapeutic recreation session. Before and after participating in the two types of sessions, subjects completed the state scale of the State-Trait Anxiety Inventory, a self-report measure of anxiety currently felt. A mixed-models repeated-measures analysis was used to test differences in scores from before and after the two types of sessions.

RESULTS: Statistically significant reductions in anxiety scores were found after the animal-assisted therapy session for patients with psychotic disorders, mood disorders, and other disorders, and after the therapeutic recreation session for patients with mood disorders. No statistically significant differences in reduction of anxiety were found between the two types of sessions.

CONCLUSIONS: Animal-assisted therapy was associated with reduced state anxiety levels for hospitalized patients with a variety of psychiatric diagnoses, while a routine therapeutic recreation session was associated with reduced levels only for patients with mood disorders.