As the body of research supporting Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT) grows, its use is becoming more wide-spread and demand for trained practitioners is increasing. According to the US Department of Labor, over the next decade there will be an increase in pet therapy positions available of over 27%, so if this is something you are interested in pursuing, there is a good chance you will pick up the work.
To begin with, you will want to become a certified AAT practitioner. There are a number of courses available through various institutions that can help you with this. The Animal Assisted Therapy Certificate is the main qualification available. Most educational institutions expect prospective AAT students to hold a bachelor’s degree prior to enrolment. This course is generally seen as an extension of current qualifications, for example for those who already hold psychology or counselling qualifications. Some schools will take years of experience in the field into account and will waive the bachelor’s degree requirement – you just have to do your research!
Once you are certified, there are a number of avenues you could choose to pursue career-wise. Pet therapy in schools is one growing area; as a teacher or school counselor you may like to use pets in the classroom to incorporate into lessons or reading plans. Counselors have found pets can be useful for getting kids to open up, improve self-esteem and overcome issues such as physical or mental challenges. Within the education system AAT practitioners may be independent contractors or those who already work in education.
Working within hospitals or elder-care is another option once you are a qualified AAT practitioner. Pets may be used as a part of occupational therapy in hospitals or as part of rehabilitation for those who are sick or injured. Within elder-care, pet therapy has been shown to boost self-esteem and decrease feelings of loneliness often felt by the elderly. Within these industries it is possible to work as a pet therapy assistant to a qualified therapist and help out with the day-to-day care of the pet and patients.
Therapists from all of the many fields of therapy are finding AAT is an effective way to encourage goals to be achieved more quickly as well as promoting more interaction between the client and the therapist. Pet therapy has also been found to be effective for children with special needs such as autism as it encourages them to interact more with the world around them.
If you are new to the area of pet therapy, many of the positions out there are currently filled by volunteers. This is a great way to get a foot in the door and get some industry experience so take a look at what volunteer opportunities are available in your area!