AAT is a specialty therapeutic service at Hillside, which provides youth with opportunities to forge connections and process difficult emotions. We are proud to be a leader in the Atlanta, Georgia community offering animal-assisted therapy for youth facing behavioral issues. AAT shows positive results with many of our clients, including some who did not find success with other, more traditional therapies.
How does Pet Therapy Work?
Our therapy animals offer children opportunities to explore relationships in new and unique ways. Working with our hermit crabs, bunnies, ferrets and our gecko, AAT allows children to develop and practice important qualities, including trust and responsibility, in a safe way. Therapy animals are specially trained and children’s interaction with them is supervised by a trained therapist.
By connecting with our therapy animals, children explore elements of relationships they previously did not enjoy with people. Children can learn the power of safe touch with our rabbits, understand the development of trust with our turtles, and relate to our hermit crabs’ movement to new shells.
Our gecko, Radical, has overcome the challenge of a missing tail and continues to live a healthy life. This story of overcoming obstacles resonates with the youth in our care. Many of them struggle with feelings of not fitting in or living like everyone else. Some even feel irreparably damaged by the events of their young lives, but they learn a new perspective from Radical.
Why Animal-Assisted Therapy?
For individuals who have difficulty participating in human interaction, developing empathetic bonds with animals can be an extraordinary step. Working with therapy animals and their handlers is a safe and effective way of exploring emotions and non-verbal forms of communication. Learning to read these cues in animals puts people one step closer to becoming adept at human interactions.
Our children may be reluctant to work on relationships with humans because of their past experiences. Most do not have previous experience with animals, though, so AAT represents new territory for them. When they successfully bond with the therapy animals, it’s easier to convince them to try again with people.
Animal-assisted therapy also reduces anxiety — a common problem among those facing mental health issues. Scientific research has proven that AAT increases endorphins and dopamine in humans and can reduce blood pressure and heart rate. Stimulating the natural development of feel-good brain chemicals can make AAT an important factor in overcoming depression and other related disorders.
Benefits of Animal-Assisted Therapy with Children
Because of the highly cognitive nature of DBT, children who are intellectually challenged, or those who have psychotic or autism/Asperger’s disorders, benefit greatly from the additional support AAT provides. AAT is an experiential therapy. Children do not have to be able to verbally expressed their issues to benefit from their therapeutic experience.
Animals have a way of drawing out children who are non-communicative or seem to be in their own world. There is an almost mystical attachment to animals that children seem to sense. They often see animals as more like themselves and less like the adults around them, believing the animals can empathize with them. AAT reaches children who have been labeled “hard to treat” or “stagnant” when traditional therapies alone cannot.
Hillside is one of the few mental health residential treatment centers for children that offers animal-assisted therapy in Atlanta, and it allows some children to make breakthroughs in their treatment that were not achievable before. Contact us to learn more today!
News & Info
Visit some of our top visited pages. This content is for parents, volunteers and the community at large.