Almost a month ago now I had the privilege to attend the Denver University Institute for Human Animal Connection, Transforming Trauma: Methods for Animal Assisted Interventions Conference. This was a jam packed two days exploring clinical and research approaches to advancing the use of animal assisted interventions in the treatment of trauma. While there were many fantastic presentations given over the conference, four clinical based presentations really stood out to me: Aubrey Fine reflecting on his many years of using animals in the treatment of child maltreatment, Molly DePrekel who blew me away as she pulled the links between neuroscience, Pat Ogden’s Sensorimotor Psychotherapy work and Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT) together in the treatment of trauma, Rise VanFleet who presented her dynamic work in animal assisted play therapy and Tim & Bettina Jobe presenting on their Trauma Focussed Equine Assisted Psychotherapy model.
Each presenter captured and spoke about the human animal connection that allows direct experiential feedback for the child/client. Treated as a colleague in the therapeutic process the animal (be it horse, dog, lizard or even bird) and the client form a relationship and it is in the context of this relationship that patterns of attachment and relating can be observed. The animal therapist provides immediate interactional feedback to the client that can then with the assistance of the human therapist can be reflected upon, wondered about and when appropriate redirected with skills development.
So many key messages came from the conference for me and have really led me to the realisation that I need to learn so much more about this work before I bring the new labrador I’m hoping to buy into the therapy room.
Here’s a couple of key messages I took from the conference:
- In the human-animal interaction look for the reaction of the animal to the client’s presentation, notice it and provide feedback.
- Notice both human and animal body language and reflect on and wonder about that.
- Notice your own reactions as a therapist as you watch the interaction.
- Use the feedback from the relational interactions to adjust behaviour.
- The importance of wrapping traditional skills development around these observations to change client’s relational and coping styles – for example – relaxation skills, mindfulness, EMDR, self soothing, play therapy etc.
- Remember that 40% of change in therapeutic treatment has little to do with the technique you are using – it’s about the relationships and the animal in the room can be a form of social lubricant and initial relational engagement.
- The importance of rhythm and relationships and the ability to achieve both in equine based mounted interventions using Rhythmic Riding TM and Relationship Logic TM
- Use the relationship we have as therapists with our therapy animal as a model for healthy relationships for our clients.
Want to know more??
Rise VanFleet’s Playful Pooch Program (2014) www.risevanfleet.com
Molly DePrekel: www.mwtraumacenter.com
Aubrey Fine and his many publications: www.aubreyhfine.com
Tim & Bettina Jobe and their Trauma Focussed Equine Assisted Psychotherapy TM: www.naturallifemanship.com