Introduction: The field of animal-assisted counseling (AAC) is burgeoning. However, there is a paucity of research on the perspectives of mental health practitioners regarding its practice and the experience and training needed to effectively utilize AAC with clients. The purpose of this study was to explore how practitioners perceive AAC and its role in clinical settings. The findings from this study contribute to the emerging literature on animal-assisted counseling.
Methodology: Perceptions of 300 mental health practitioners were assessed using a researcher-developed survey instrument. The Practitioner Perspectives in AAC Survey included four sections: Demographic and Professional Experience, Experience with Animals, Using AAC with Clients, and AAC Training. The survey was conducted between March and June 2016. After the survey was closed, the data was uploaded to SPSS and analyzed using descriptive statistics.
Main Results: Findings indicated that a majority of practitioners (91.7%) view AAC as a legitimate counseling modality. Practitioners identified client age ranges and the top five clinical issues that would benefit from AAC. While only 12% of respondents have received training in AAC, 57% of respondents reported interest in receiving AAC training. Respondents identified types of AAC education, training and supervision that would be sufficient for clinicians to utilize AAC.
Principal Conclusions and Implications for Field: Given the strong interest in AAC and the low percentage of participants who have received training in AAC, the researchers recommend a training protocol for AAC. Training should include acquisition of knowledge, skill practice in a clinical setting, and supervision from an AAC supervisor. While the development of AAC standards and the expansion of the evidence base for AAC is ongoing, the potential for healing, enhancement of the therapeutic rapport, and clinical effectiveness with a variety of presenting issues make animal-assisted counseling an exciting new frontier in the world of counseling.