Ramat Beit Shemesh 

Therapy Dogs

contact: info @ rbstherapydogs.com

all inquiries are kept confidential

בית שמש כלבים טיפולים


Although animals have been used for many years, including by Sigmund Freud in analysis sessions, Animal Assisted Therapy is considered a new field and is only recently being studied scientifically. It’s so new, in fact, we haven’t settled on a name yet. Some people refer to it as a subset of AAI (Animal Assisted Interventions), which includes physical therapy uses and psychological uses. The focus of this paper, however is on its psychological benefits when used in tandem with a psychologist or social worker. For this paper, for the sake of brevity, AAT will be used to refer to either AAT or AAI, depending on context.


AAT is a specific method of therapy which uses animals as a medium and a trained specialist as a facilitator. As with traditional psychology, there are many specialties which a facilitator may choose to work in or not work in. For example, a psychologist or social worker may choose to work exclusively with children, specialize in cognitive disabilities or behavioral adjustments, or a specific diagnosis, such as depression, but may not be involved with abuse and neglect cases, spectrum disorders or Down’s Syndrome patients. It really depends on the individual’s preferences and areas of focus.

AAA, or AAE – Animal Assisted Activities and Animal Assisted Education, are complimentary activities.

Certain aspects of the client patient relationship have been studied and suggest strengths in many areas which can facilitate more input from the client than in the traditional psychotherapy arena:

Transference/Projection. A major tool for analysis - animals as a medium are a common target of transference and projection. This has several advantages. First of all, it does not present the distraction that it does when the object of Transference of Projection is the therapist himself. The window into the client’s mind is observable in a very concrete way. During Animal Assisted Activities, a child may explore transference and projection which can be expanded and delved into with his therapist.

AAT vs. Play Therapy and Art Therapy. As opposed to Play and Art therapy, the client is presented with the added challenge of working with real world and unpredictable events, and can react to them instead of having to create the entire world out of fantasy or memory. This creates a safe space to deal with sudden intrusions of reality into their bubble of fantasy because it deals with a living being. For younger clients who have difficulty with play and art therapy, particularly traumatized clients, various interventions have been shown to work which can open up the patient to art therapy with his psychologist.

Attachment Theory. Studies have shown that animals fulfill all of the criteria of an attachment relationship with a human. Usually people find this attachment easier and more fulfilling because an animal will reflect unconditional love and acceptance in an uncomplicated way, but still can illicit avoidance and hyperconnected tendencies in an attached client.

Physiological Benefits. The presence of animals has been shown to release chemicals in the body which reduce stress and create a healthier atmosphere, as well as one which leads to more open conversation. 

ADHD and Cognitive functioning. With a bit of creativity, an AAI trainer can use animals in games that require memory training and problem solving to strengthen skills people with attention and cognition issues need help with. Because learning with animals is a fun and relaxing atmosphere, children will naturally be at their best. AAT also deals with the co-morbidity issues that accompany ADHD.

Autism. A particularly interesting use which has captured the attention of the general public is an animal’s ability to break ground with Austism and Spectrum disorders. Clients will form bonds and interact with animals in a way that they are not able to with humans, and this creates a place to grow for them and leads to interaction with caregivers.

Triangulation of relationships. The introduction of a third into the therapist/client relationship offers new dynamics which stretch the therapy space in beneficial ways.

In conjunction with traditional therapy methods, AAT can be used to get the ball rolling when a client is stuck and is unable or afraid to open up to the psychologist or other social worker, due to the client’s age or defense mechanisms. It can also develop a sense of trust in the facilitator if the facilitator is shown to be a safe care taker of the animal. It has been shown in many cases to work very quickly.

The job of the facilitator is to know which activities to use to create a framework for progress for a particular client, and to document responses of the client when the client is working in conjunction with a therapist.

RBS Therapy Dogs is a group of AAT Certified Facilitators with a range of specialties and experiences. Your referrals and input are greatly appreciated. Our services are covered by some Kupat Cholim in Israel, and other local community organizations.

The staff has registered Social Workers, and education experts, and AAT certifications include

חוות המערב הפרוע – מרכז חינוכי טיפולי, Pet Partners, and Oakland University School of Nursing.

We work primarily with dogs, but we also use other animals.

It should be noted that what we do should not be confused with clinical psychology, or therapy as it is technically defined, with a practicing social worker or psychologist. The socials workers on staff provide coordinate in an advisory role. RBS Therapy Dogs is able to work alongside a therapist or be able to refer issues that are uncovered to a therapist, or work as part of a comprehensive program. RBS Therapy Dogs works on general mental health issues which are needed for success in society such as general self-esteem, behavior issues, strengthening attention and cognitive ability through games and activities. Additionally, when working with schools for special needs students, it should technically be referred to as AAE or AAA.

For more on the topics above:

Transference and Projection – Bellack, Ascione and Arkow, Walsh, Cain, Melson and Fine

The link between autism and animals - Temple Grandin’s books and lectures

Basic psychological applications of AAT - Boris Levinson, Aubrey Fine, Nancy Parish-Plass
Attachment theory and pets – Zilcha-Mano, Mikulincer, & Shaver
Physiological benefits – Kosfeld, Heinrichs, Zak, Fischbacher, & Fehr
Biological benefits (biophilia hypothesis) – Kellert & Wilson
Animals, play therapy inhibitions – D Winnicott

Other Associations and Standards:

CTAC - http://www.ctac.cat/CTAC/ctacinicio.html
ISAAT - http://www.aat-isaat.org/