The Experiences of Counselors Who Incorporate Animal-Assisted Therapy in Their Work with Clients: A Phenomenological Investigation




Corley, Shawna Marie

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Animal-assisted therapy is a goal-oriented, structured, and documented therapeutic intervention directed by healthcare professionals to aid clients in reaching identified goals, which might be difficult to achieve otherwise (Barker, Pandurangi, & Best, 2003; Chandler, 2012; Nimer & Lundhal, 2007; Pet Partners, 2017). The experience of counselors using a therapy dog in their work with clients remains unaddressed within the research, even though researchers have provided support for the benefits received by clients when a counselor incorporates animal-assisted therapy into their work (Chandler, 2012; Fine & Beck, 2010; Hart, 2010; Pet Partners, 2017). The purpose of the current study was to understand the lived experiences of professional counselors who incorporate animal-assisted therapy in their work with clients. Eight professional counselors participated in the study through interviews. Individual syntheses were analyzed utilizing social constructivism and attachment theory as a guiding theoretical framework. After analyzing participant's individual synthesis, a group analysis was conducted producing four overarching themes 1) Benefits Received by the Counselor, 2) Working with a Therapy Dog is a Partnership, 3) Session Management, and 4) Benefits to Clients with the Dog Present. Four subthemes also emerged: protector, mutual respect, bond, and training need. Suggestions for future research and implications for counselors are provided.


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Animal-Assisted Therapy, Counseling, Phenomenological