Animal-assisted psychotherapy: A meta analytic review

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Germain, Sarah Meghan
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Limited research exists examining animal-assisted psychotherapy, which is surprising given its current popularity. I conducted three meta-analyses to examine the efficacy of animal-assisted psychotherapy (AAPT) to address this research gap. The first study examined the effect of AAPT on mental disorders (Study 1). The second study examined the effect of AAPT on internalizing disorders (Study 2). The third study examined the effect of AAPT on individuals who had experienced a trauma (Study 3). I also conducted a systematic review for Study 2. The results of Study 1 found a large effect for pre-versus post intervention comparisons for all disorders, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, reading disability, and trauma/PTSD. I found a moderate effect for the pre-versus post-comparison for autism. Additionally, I found a large effect for treatment versus control comparisons for anxiety disorders, and a moderate effect for the treatment versus control comparison for all disorders, reading disability, autism measures, and trauma/PTSD. The systematic review in Study 2 (internalizing disorders) found that the majority of studies reported no statistical difference between their experimental group and their control group (treatment versus treatment-as-usual). The meta-analytic results indicated a significant large effect. In study 3 (trauma) I found a large effect size for the pre-versus post-comparison analysis and a moderate effect size for the treatment versus control comparison analysis. Overwhelmingly, the majority of the moderator analyses were non-significant. Moderators that emerged as significant across studies were ‘place of study,’ ‘percentage of women’ (in the total sample and in the treatment group), and ‘provider of the intervention.’ The results of this dissertation tentatively support the use animal-assisted psychotherapy programs to reduce mental disorder symptoms. I used a measure (Grading of Recommendations, Assessment, Development and Evaluation – GRADE) to assess the quality of the studies included in this dissertation, and is included in the general discussion chapter. The results of the GRADE Analyses for Study 1, however, indicated a score of very low quality on the assessment. Therefore, only tentative conclusions about the efficacy of animal-assisted psychotherapy can be drawn. Overwhelmingly, very little primary research exists on animal-assisted psychotherapy, despite its popularity. Grant funders should call for research in this area to address both the lack of research generally, and the lack of high-quality research in this area.
Animal-assisted psychotherapy, Meta-analysis, Mental disorder, Treatment, Internalizing disorders, Depression, Anxiety, Trauma, Post-traumatic stress disorder, PTSD
Germain, S., Wilkie, K. D., Milbourne, V. M., & Theule, J. (2018). Animal-assisted psychotherapy and trauma: A meta-analysis. Anthrozoos, 31, 141–164. doi:10.1080/08927936.2018.1434044