Animal-Assisted Therapy: How Important is it to a Wounded Warrior

Published: 2019-06-05 07:04:09
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In recent years, the application of Animal-Assisted Therapy in the treatment of soldiers suffering from disorders such as the Post Traumatic Stress Disorder has gained support from all corners of the world. In particular, the application of this therapeutic approach has gained unprecedented levels of support from the public as the fields of military and civilian health care continue increasing its application in routine basis. Today, Beck et al.(10) posit that Animal-Assisted Therapy is attracting massive attention owing to the realization that its usage is providing numerous benefits to a large section of the global population. However, the critics of this technique have raised a debate that has grown into a wide consensus regarding its efficacy when dealing with people with physical impairment. The unavailability of authenticated evidence has made it impossible for the two sides to reach a universal agreement. For this reason, this paper provides insight into the application of the Animal-Assisted Therapy and its benefits to wounded warriors.

In the real sense, we may start by clarifying that Animal-Assisted Therapy denotes the use of animals in some ways to induce therapy to a patient. Experts in this field apply Animal-Assisted Therapy aiming at ameliorating the individuals social, physical, cognitive and emotional functioning. According to proponents of this form of therapy, the use of animals on sick persons has a motivational and educational effectiveness to the therapy. Research has indicated that therapists who bring along a pet to the remedial session are perceived by the patient as less sinister hence boosting rapport between the patient and the therapist. Most commonly used animals in therapy are domestic animals and pets such as cats and dogs and marine animals especially dolphins. While some therapists are advocates for this kind of therapy, there is yet to be comprehensive research data to corroborate the effectiveness of animal-assisted therapy and address the methodological concerns of data (Yeager& Irwin 17). This essay will attempt to decipher the significance of AAT citing particular research data and weigh the truths from the myths.

There exists a philosophy by Wilson called the biophilia hypothesis coined in 1984 that avers that human survival has stemmed from signals communicated to as by animals as an indication of threat or safety thence our inherent interest in and attachment to animals. According to this hypothesis, humans feel a sense of tranquility when their pet animals are in a peaceful state since this signals safety and security hence allowing healing of psychologically-injured to be possible. This form of therapy cradled during the era when animals were purported to bear supernatural powers especially to the hunters and gatherers societies and its first plausible use for therapy occurring York Retreat in England to assist the mentally ill, a therapy provided by William Tuke. Sigmund Freud kept dogs for psychoanalysis innovator sessions and realized that patient with speech problems would feel encouraged to relax and confide when animals seemed relax, especially when the patients were adolescent and children, even when they stutter. In 1919, the United States Army introduced animal-assisted therapy for its wounded soldiers especially those who were psychiatrically affected. Contemporarily, animal-assisted therapies is used to induce social support and relaxation and are gradually permeating in hospitals, prisons, nursing institutions, nursing homes, hospices and homes (Hawkins 48).

There are different stages to animal-assisted therapy, and all play crucial role in the entire process. The classification falls into three stages to anima-assisted therapy; the first being Animal is gradually introduced in therapy and introduced to the client for interaction. Secondly, a bond is fostered between the client and the animal by example involving the client in feeding or grooming the animal, then later followed by verbal commands to the animal by the client such as stay and sit in case of a dog. A patient with impaired mobility can be therapized by being assigned tasks such as fetching food for the animal. Step three involves the assessment of the impact of the human-animal interaction and the therapy is deemed to have worked if the client is capable of communicating with other persons as he can with the animal. In hospitals there has been reports in improvement of pain management and mood elevation in Outpatient Care children the young adolescents when a therapy dog was present in the waiting room (Beck et al 10).

In the army, animal-assisted therapy is gaining impetus as the use of dogs is being increasingly used to therapize soldiers who emanate for the battle field with psychological and mood disorders to suppress anxiety and a study in 1998 corroborated evidence for AAT effectiveness. Research indicates that effects of AAT twice as effective on psychotic patient compared to those of recreational activity in ameliorating anxiety in these patients, by comparing scores on reduction in apprehension. Another study that involved elderly schizophrenic patients also indicated that AAT provided for companionship and relaxation especially if these patients did not have friends or family around. The increased use of animals in Animal-Assisted Therapy in the United States Army to reduce anxiety and depression in psychologically wounded soldiers has resulted in the establishment of the National Capital Therapy Dogs Inc. Company that voluntarily and non-profitably assists patient with psychotic issues (Palley 46).

PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) has become increasingly popular among soldiers returning from their line of duty especially from hardcore battlefields such as that in Iraq and Afghanistan. Several programs have been introduced in order to help soldiers suffering from different disorders. The introduction has been of great significance, and has helped in saving lives as well ensuring good health for the targeted groups. For example, the US Army introduced the Wounded Warrior Program to help assist in the recuperation of the psychological disorder, such as depression and trauma, and also physical such as burns and limb amputations incurred in the warzone. A certified occupational therapist ensures that the use of animal-assisted therapy should lead to the improvement of the Wounded Warriors physical, cognitive, psychological/behavioral, and vocational capacity to perform daily self-care, work and leisure activities (Beck et al 12) whether in help for the service man return to duty of back to civilian life. The Delta Society is a revered research sponsor for AAT in the United States who delineate the therapy as a goal-directed intervention directed and/or delivered by a health/human service professional with specialized expertise, and within the scope of practice of his/her profession. AAT is designed to promote improvement in human physical, social, emotional, and/or cognitive functioning (Hawkins 29).

The Canine dog is mostly preferred by the military for AAT, because the dog is very dependent on humans, is very social and trainable. This animal has the characteristic of being playful, alert, bright, good-nurtured, even-tempered, and can bear stressful environment and travel. Contemporarily, the US Army Occupational Therapists carry with them the dogs into combat deployment to expedite their role in therapy to soldiers in operational stress. A research study in the US military called COCS was conducted during the war in Iraq and Afghanistan to study the effectiveness of Animal-Assisted Therapy (Yount& Lee 44). The variables being assessed was the change in the mood, fatigue, resilience, stress and function to the wounded warriors.

Mood had 6 descriptors; Vigor-activity, Anger-hostility, Fatigue-inertia, Confusion-bewilderment, Depression-dejection and Tension-anxiety. A 5-point Likert scale, also Perceived Stress Scale, was used to measure stress perception by patient, with 0 connoting no stress and 4 representing feeling stressed very often.Connor-Davidson Resilience Scale was used to assess resilience with a range of 0-100 with higher scores depicting greater resilience (Fike et al 20).An 11- point numeric scale was used to measure fatigue with 0 indicating no fatigue at all while 10 signals the worst fatigue. Using a Functional Status Questionnaire (FSQ), 27 volunteers service members with psychological, emotional and physical scars were therapized using AAT.

The study involved three phases; baseline, post-intervention (4 weeks after baseline) and follow-up (8 weeks after baseline) (Fike et al 33). The FSQ assesses the aforementioned variables by inquiring into the patients work performance, social activity, Basic activities of daily living (ADL), Instrumental ADL, Quality of Interaction and Psychological function. Another questionnaire an Occupational Self-Assessment (OSA) is filled by the patients that evaluate perceived level of competence and values about participation in everyday activities (Yeager& Irwin 65). Questions commonly asked in the OSA include how well the client thinks he manages his financial affairs, how well he/she concentrates on his tasks and etcetera. A 4-point Likert type scale is used in the assessment with 1 representing numerous problems and 4 connoting extremely well. For importance of an activity to a client, 0 represents not so important to 4 for most important. A control group was also included that only received normative therapy sessions without AAT within the same time span. The dog handler was involved in teaching the client basic commands for the animal such as sit, stand, fetch, stay, and lie down, shake and etcetera. After these commands were mastered by the participant, activities with the dog followed such as walking the dog in the park, petting the dog, grooming and feeding the dog, teaching the dog new tricks and etcetera. Fidelity checks were regularly conducted to ensure the consistency of delivering interventions during the program.

Data was collected and analyzed using statistical analysis tools. The data indicated that there was no significant difference in stress, fatigue, mood, resilience and most measures of daily function in both groups. Significance differences were identified in 3 subclasses of the FSQ; Work performance, physiological function and Quality of Interaction. The index for physiological function was higher in the first phase, that is baseline, and lowest in the third phase, that is, follow-up, nonetheless, there was no significant differences in comparisons between baseline and post-intervention period. For work performance, the highest scores were in the follow up phase and lowest in the baseline phase (Gregg et al 52). There was also a high score in the follow-up phase for Quality of Interaction index compared to its baseline phase. There is notwithstanding great correlation between multiple factors and indices in the study such the correlation between stress and fatigue, stress and quality of intervention, stress and occupational performance, mood and physiological function among others.

Though there was merely a marginal significance between the AAT and OT Life Skills programs without the AAT, the study has discerned the value of the intervention with service members. Several participants of the programs indicated a better mood when working with the dogs and various others looked forward to interacting with the animals in the next sessions and wished the program was protracted so that they could keep seeing their animals. The study point out that the benefits of the AAT dissipate with time after the end of an AAT program. It has been indicated that AAT provide a transient state of emotional well-being and comfort by bringing remi...

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