Betty Clooney Center: Serving Persons with Traumatic Brain Injury with TBISince 1983
Four animal assisted therapy dogs

Animal Assisted Therapy

Animal Assisted Activities (AAA) provides opportunities for motivational, educational, recreational, and/or therapeutic benefits to enhance quality of life for survivors of Traumatic Brain Injury. Animal Assisted Activities are basically the casual "meet and greet" activities that involve pets visiting people. Human-animal interactions may provide the following benefits to adults with TBI:

Empathy: Identifying with and understanding the feelings and motives of another.

Studies report that people who live in homes in which a pet is considered a member of the family are more empathetic than in homes without pets. Understanding what an animal is feeling is easier than determining what a person is feeling because the animal is straightforward and lives in the moment. For people with TBI, it is sometime easier to spend time with an animal than with other people. With TBI, the loss of the ability to "read" social cues and expressions of other people makes TBI survivors reduce their interactions with people and they start to focus inward.

Outward Focus: Bringing individuals out of themselves.

Individuals with TBI become more socially interactive when dogs are around.

Nurturing: Promoting the growth and development of another living thing.

Nurturing skills are learned. Psychologically, when a person nurtures, his/her need to be nurtured is being fulfilled.

Rapport: A relationship of mutual trust or a feeling of connection or bonding. The animal's presence may open a path through the person's initial resistance.

Acceptance: Favorable reception or approval.

Animals have a way of accepting without qualification. They don't care how a person looks or what they say. An animal's acceptance is nonjudgmental, and forgiving.

Entertainment: At a minimum, the presence of an animal can be entertaining. Even people who don't like animals often enjoy watching their antics and reactions.

Socialization: Seeking out or enjoying the company of others.

Studies have shown that when dogs come to visit an agency, there is more laughter and interaction than during any other "therapy" or entertainment time.

Mental Stimulation: Mental stimulation occurs because of increased communication with other people, recalled memories, and the entertainment provided by the dogs. The presence of the dogs serves to brighten the atmosphere, increasing amusement, laughter, and play. These positive distractions may help to decrease people's feelings of isolation or alienation.

Physical Contact, Touch: Much has been written about the correlation between touch and health. For some people, touch from another person is not acceptable, but the warm, furry touch of a dog is both acceptable and beneficial.

Physiological Benefits: Positive effects on the basic functioning of the body.

Many people are able to relax when animals are present. Tests have shown that the decrease in heart rate and blood pressure can be dramatic. Even watching fish swim in an aquarium can be very calming.