Efficacy of Animal-Assisted Therapy in Lowering Anxiety Symptoms of Adolescents in Schools

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Adolescence is marked by a period of stress with a portion of these individuals experiencing problems with anxiety. There are physical and psychological benefits of using animal-assisted therapy (AAT) for decreasing anxiety, however, the research on this is limited. The current study expands on the AAT literature by studying the additive effects of AAT along with the frontline treatment for anxiety, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). CBT only and CBT + AAT treatment groups followed a structured protocol focused on psychoeducation and practicing coping skills for anxiety using groups of 2 to 4 participants in the school setting. Single subject design and nonparametric statistics were used to analyze treatment data on measures of anxiety and therapeutic alliance from ten students ages 10 to 15 across two school districts. Although the data on measures and therapeutic alliance did not approach significance, observable trends show CBT and AAT may be beneficial in decreasing anxiety symptoms for some students. The nature of self-report data and the small number of participants were limitations of the study. Overall this study used comparison groups to show that therapy dogs are not a hindrance to therapy and may be beneficial for some students.
Dissertation completed in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the Doctor of Psychology degree in School Psychology at Alfred University, Alfred, NY.
Psychology, School counseling, Animal-assisted therapy, Animal sciences