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Animal Assisted Therapy [Feb. 1st, 2010|05:29 pm]
Physical Therapy


What I'm really interested in is using animals in physical therapy.  When I search for "animal assisted therapy" I just get things like visiting pet programs.  I know about those, and I don't want to negate their worth, but what I'm really interested in is using the animals as the tools to help patients achieve their goals.  I know there's is hippotherapy with horses and also some with dolphins, but what about using everyday animals like cats and dogs for this purpose?  Does anyone know of any PT schools that specifically focus or teach a class on this?

I currently am the Zoomobile coordinator so my job is to take animals out to schools, hospitals, nursing homes, etc.  I definitely know that I am impacting people by bringing my animals around, but it is more of an emotional, and/or psychological thing.  I have observed physical therapists in 2 different settings and can see how you can adapt some of that exercises or activities to use a cat or dog instead.  Does anyone know of any practices where they already use cats and dogs?

From what I can see it seems like the only way to integrate them is to go to PT school first.  Then get certified in animal assisted therapy.  Then open up your own business.  I don't know that I have the business sense to start my own, let alone the money after all that schooling.  That is why any insight would be appreciated!

[User Picture]From: dance_shiva
2010-02-02 06:06 am (UTC)

Never specialized or even tried this kind of thing, but a few ideas do come to mind, most of them as motivation for traditional techniques, such as stroking a calm fuzzy cat for someone with rheumatoid arthritis to gently work wrist and finger muscles and concentrating on the soft sensation rather than feeling like you're working. Or taking a cue from Cesar Milan(sp?) and using confident dog-walking to encourage good tall posture with dynamic activity.

I doubt you would need to go through PT school yourself. You might want to write up a proposal and pass it around to PT clinics in your area (most hospitals and nursing homes have PT departments) and make the offer that you're interested in helping to develop therapy techniques using your stranger-safe animals.

On the depressingly practical side, I think the biggest hurdle you'll face is in the medical coding. I will not go into a rant about the wonderful state of our health care system (!!!!!!) but basically everything that a PT does has a number that goes with it to standardize the billing process between the insurance company and the PT clinic. If a therapy doesn't exist already, it doesn't have a number, and the clinic doesn't get paid. There are ways to work with this, and you'll need to be flexible. YOu can do some digging at any medical school library (many have visitor provisions) and use their databases to look for any published studies on animals used in physical therapy to see what's been tried before and if it yeilded measurable results. Once you're armed with an understanding of what's come before, you will know where you can start from. If you're really interested in devoting time to this, look into creating your own study parameters (probably with the help of an interested PT or Physiatrist) and asking if clinics wouldn't mind offering their suitable patients a chance to opt-in as study subjects, testing techniques that incorporate animals and seeing if they yeild similar or better improvements in the patient's condition. If you're really interested in that I can write at lenght about designing a study, but I won't foist that on you if you're not really interested in that.:)

The good news is, practicing PTs already obsessively measure and record their patient's relevant motions in the process of rehab, so it's not like you're asking them to move heaven and earth to contribute information to your study.:)

WIth a little care and well trained animals, I sincerely doubt you'd manage to do anyone any harm with the kind of therapy you're describing. Worst case scenario would be that it has no measurable effect and your cats get some extra petting.:) I would definitly encourage you to talk to PTs in your area and see if the idea catches fire with anyone.

One area where I bet it would help is one of the hardest PTs have to contend with...getting patients to stick with their exercise program! Anything that is convenient to do at home (as long as I'm petting the cat, I might as well do my wirst mobility strokes) is a fine idea in my book.:)

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