Animal-assisted interventions: the relationship at the center

Awareness of the benefits of the human-animal bond has been known since about 1750, when some embryonic forms of Animal Assisted Interventions (IAA)better known as Pet therapy. The IAA, with the support of the Ministry of Health, has “therapeutic, rehabilitative, educational and recreational-recreational value and include the use of pets (pets); the most used species are: dog, horse, donkey, rabbit and cat“.

What are animal-assisted interventions and how did they originate?

He Animal Assisted Interventions are interventions aimed primarily at people in situations of discomfort or disability that, thanks to the inclusion in the team of the figure of the animal with its manipulator, allow workers (psychologists, psychomotor therapists, speech therapists, doctors, teachers, educators. ..) to take advantage of the ‘opening up preferred emotional channels in users to make their action more effective.

From 1700-1800, when the first projects with horses for people with disabilities were carried out, activities continued with informal research and experiments on reducing the levels of anxiety and stress in psychiatric patients, until the in 1953 Dr. Boris Levinson, a child neuropsychiatrist. , observed that most of his young patients seemed to be much more likely to relate to his dog, present during the sessions, than to him. From there, he had the great intuition to understand that if the dog, or other animals, can open a relationship channel, it is important to grasp it and enter it with delicacy.

The formalization of Animal Assisted Interventions

It took decades for the scientific world to endorse these findings, which eventually led to the recognition of assisted programs as an integral part of current therapeutic practices. The Delta Society was founded in the United States in 1981, the leading association of the IAA. In Italy only in 2009 was the National Reference Center for Animal Assisted Interventions and Animal Therapy with the subsequent approval of the “National Guidelines for Animal Assisted Interventions (IAA)“.

The value of IAAs and some misconceptions

However, there is something confusing today and difficulty in proposing and using IAAs correctly. “That the animal is good when it is close to us because it relaxes us, because it is nice to see it … all this is one thing, but from there, to think that this can improve our living conditions is a error. It is important that within the assisted programs there are structured multidisciplinary teams, with specialized operators, because they are the ones who, having the skills, are able to improve the living conditions of the person. It is not the animal that works miracles, it is the relationship that will be established between the user and the animal that makes the difference.“, points out Marcello Galimberti, driver, IAA coach and President of AIUCA, an association that has been involved in IAA, animal education, and pet companion education for more than 30 years.

The value of animals in animal-assisted interventions – continues Galimberti – is located in the spontaneityan essential element to highlight all the positive aspects that arise in one unmanipulated relationship between man and animal “.

Animal-assisted interventions: the relationship at the center

A trained team makes the difference: the figure of the director

People who participate in assisted living programs must be professionally trained. It is a team effort, where everyone must be able to maintain their role. The handler is in charge of managing the animal involved in an assisted program and you have to make one specific training referring to the species you want to work with and learn to know and manage your animal very well. “Among the most difficult tasks – explains Galimberti – there is the acceptance of the animal itself as it is, coming out of good or bad judgment. There are no good or bad animals, it is the context that makes the difference“.

The handler must encourage the interaction between animal and user, which can happen when the animal is calm and relaxed. “The benefits in the relationship with the animal and therefore also in an assisted intervention – continues Galimberti – they do not arise because the animal does something, but because the animal is something“The animal is not critical, it accepts us as we are and without prejudice is much more direct in the relationship.”The animal does not heal, but creates a situation that allows the operator to intervene through privileged empathic channels.“.

The importance of communication and relationship

Often today the pet is playing a role that does not correspond to it, that is, to compensate for the shortcomings and difficulties that we experience with ourselves and in relationships; that is why it often distorts the behavior of animals in search of confirmation and peace of mind about our moods. “Understanding the nature of the animal and the dynamics of its way of communicating is crucial – explains Galimberti – when we do not understand communication, we do not understand the mood of the animal and therefore everything moves at the level of personal interpretation.“.

A key action to raise awareness could be to integrate these issues into school curricula: “there formation on the behavior of animals and the nuances of relationships, should be officially included in educational programs from kindergarten, only to realize how different we are from each other and get used to not thinking that the man is at the center of the world.A widespread discourse today, but perhaps not yet internalized.

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