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Animal Assisted Therapy Case Study: Sam and a therapy horse named Rosie


Guest AuthorDaniella San Martin-Feeney is the Program Coordinator for Chimo Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT). Chimo AAT is a non-profit initiative based in Edmonton, Canada, which facilitates the implementation of AAT programs in health and social service facilities, as well as schools.  Their focus is on mental health, and their mission is to facilitate the use of animals to help those in need.

Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT) in its many shapes and forms, can have such an important therapeutic benefit.  AAT can beneficial to clients with diverse goals, and it can take place in diverse settings.  Here is the first of two case studies taken from Chimo Animal Assisted Therapy’s first manual, “Improving Mental Health Through Animal-Assisted Therapy”, by Liana Urichuk with Dennis Anderson.

The first case study shows the role animals can have in helping a client draw analogies between therapy sessions and their day-to-day life.  This case study doesn’t take place in an office, but on a farm!

Case Study 1

SAM AND A THERAPY HORSE NAMED ROSIE

Sam is small for his eight years. His parents described him as a good student, outgoing with lots of friends; that was, until he moved schools last year. Since then his grades have plummeted, no friends come round for supper anymore, and Sam rarely says a word; except to beg his Mom not to make him go to school each morning. Sam refuses to talk with the school counselor, his teacher, or with the play therapist his parents took him to see. Sam’s parents are at their wit’s end. They desperately want their son back, but Sam won’t tell them what is wrong, and the only living being he seems to trust is Benji, his pet guinea pig. Seeing this connection, Sam’s parents take him to a place they’d heard about through their church; a place where they help kids through animals. This is where I meet Sam. I’m working with an Animal Assisted Therapy program in Arizona, and Sam is my newest client.

Sam stands slightly behind his Dad, looking at the ground. He looks scared. I gently explain that there are lots of animals here who would really like to meet Sam, if he wants to. Sam nods tentatively. As we explore the farm and meet first with the smaller animals, Sam starts to talk. First with the dogs and the goats, and then, very quietly, he tells me that he has a guinea pig at home called Benji, and that Benji is his best friend.

In our next session, Sam asks to see the horses. He notices Rosie, standing by herself. ‘She looks lonely’ says Sam, ‘can we bring her in?’. Once in the corral I show Sam how to do a ‘join up’ with Rosie. Sam spends time talking with Rosie and rubbing her, then gently asks her to move away from him. Through this process Rosie decides that Sam is someone to be trusted and respected, so when Sam walks around the corral Rosie follows. When Sam, with a gentle hand on her rose, asks Rosie to back away, she takes a few steps back. As he runs circles in the corral with Rosie trotting at his heel, Sam starts to laugh, and for the first time I see a glimmer of the boy his parents described: confident, happy, and in charge. Leading Rosie back to the field Sam looks me directly in the eye:

“Rosie is so big and I’m so small, but she did what I asked her to do!”

It is then that Sam starts to tell me about the kids at school, situations when he felt very small: the bullying. With Rosie’s help, Sam’s self confidence gradually returned, he talked to his parents and teacher, and together they found ways to address the bullying at their school.

Taken from: McIntosh, S. (2001, Dec.). Four legged therapists reach children in need. Synchronicity. Sue McIntosh has shared much knowledge and expertise with the Chimo Project. Her contributions are gratefully acknowledged.  As published in Improving Health Through Animal Assisted Therapy. L. Urickuk with Dennis Anderson. 2003.

Daniella’s next post on will feature a second case study that shows how a canine named Bishop set the stage for optimal healing.

Visit Daniella at Chimo Animal Assisted Therapy web page: www.chimoproject.ca.

Check our her blog at: http://chimoaat.wordpress.com/.

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