If you’re curious about the therapeutic benefits of including animals in your therapy or education setting, you may be wondering what the difference is between Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT), Animal Assisted Education (AAE) and Animal Assisted Interventions (AAI), (or even Animal Assisted Activity (AAA), and which is most suitable for your clients, patients or students.

Let’s unpack the differences so you can feel confident you’re choosing the right animal assisted pathway for your setting.

Animal Assisted Interventions (AAI)

Animal Assisted Interventions are goal-oriented and structured interventions that intentionally incorporate animals in health, education and human services settings, for the purpose of therapeutic gains and improved health and wellness. Think of AAI as an umbrella term – Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT), Animal Assisted Education (AAE), and Animal Assisted Activities (AAA) are all forms of Animal Assisted Interventions. 

The animal may be part of a volunteer therapy animal team working under the direction of a professional, or an animal that belongs to the professional themselves.

Animals are seen differently by clients because they have no ulterior motive. Unlike a therapist or a teacher, the animal is not “required” to be nice to the client. Clients who have experienced abuse by other humans are especially aware of the motivations of others and may have learnt that humans can’t always be trusted. For these clients, the inclusion of animals in therapeutic and educational settings can promote feelings of trust and safety and help to build self esteem and perceptions of worth.

Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT)

Animal Assisted Therapy is goal-oriented, planned, structured, and documented. It is implemented by health and human service professionals within the scope of their own practice. This last piece is crucial, as a therapy animal is only a therapy animal when used by a professional who is qualified to deliver therapeutic services. 

A wide variety of disciplines may incorporate AAT, including dentists, occupational therapists, physical therapists, doctors, nurses, social workers, speech therapists, or other mental health professionals.

The benefits of AAT stem from its strong association with safe relational experiences, making it especially useful for client groups such as those who have experienced trauma, those on the Autism spectrum, young people and adolescents, clients who experience trust or relationship issues, and clients who experience depression and anxiety. Being able to engage with another being where felt safety and meaningful connection is experienced brings a wealth of benefits for healing. 

Animal Assisted Education (AAE)

Animal Assisted Education is a goal-oriented, planned, and structured intervention within a school setting, and is similar to AAT in that it requires a trained and certified animal to work alongside a qualified education or wellbeing professional. 

The focus of the AAE activities is on academic goals, prosocial skills and cognitive functioning, with student progress being both measured and documented.

The animal can be the subject (topic) of the learning plan or a participant in the learning plan to enhance learning outcomes.

AAE can be delivered across a range of age groups, including within preschools, primary schools, high schools and universities. 

Animal Assisted Activities (AAA)

Animal Assisted Activities provide opportunities for motivational, educational, and/or recreational benefits to enhance quality of life. While more informal in nature, these activities are delivered by a specially trained professional, paraprofessional, and/or volunteer, in partnership with an animal that meets specific criteria for suitability.

Including animals in your work in a safe and ethical way

Each of these different ways of including animals in your work as an educator or wellbeing professional can enhance your practice and offer significant benefits to those you work with.

It’s essential that anyone offering Animal Assisted Therapy, Education or other Activities is suitably qualified and skilled to ensure the safety and wellbeing of everyone involved – the client and the animal and handler team. The Professional Practice Standards and Code of Ethics (developed for Australian providers by Animal Therapies Limited) outline these responsibilities in greater detail. 

Additionally, if you would like to learn more about implementing AAT and AAE into your work in an effective and ethical way, we cover this in-depth in ‘Canine Assisted Therapy in Practice’. It includes 31 self-paced lessons, with:

  • Video content
  • Additional readings
  • Role plays and practice examples
  • Access to course creator and experienced AAT Therapist, Anita Geary. 

Find out more and register at: https://www.insighttherapiesvic.com.au/training-canine-assisted-therapy-in-practice/ 

Nancy Parish-Plass, Animal-Assisted Psychotherapy for Developmental Trauma Through the Lens of Interpersonal Neurobiology of Trauma: Creating Connection With Self and Others, Journal of Psychotherapy Integration 2021, Vol. 31, No. 3, 302–325

Zilcha-Mano et al. / Journal of Research in Personality 46 (2012) 571–580 Pets as safe havens and secure bases: The moderating role of pet attachment orientations

 Canine-Assisted Therapies in Autism A Systematic Review of Published Studies Relevant to Recreational Therapy https://bctra.org/wp-content/uploads/tr_journals/7969-27839-1-PB.pdf

 The Impact of Canine-Assisted Therapy and Activities on Children in an Educational Setting https://fisherpub.sjfc.edu/education_ETD_masters/312/

Canine co‐therapy: The potential of dogs to improve the acceptability of trauma‐focused therapies for children https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1111/ajpy.12199

 Animal Assisted Therapy and Autism Intervention: A Synthesis of the Literature https://opensiuc.lib.siu.edu/gs_rp/119/

 Exploring Animal-Assisted Programs with Children in School and Therapeutic Contexts https://www.researchgate.net/publication/226411473_Exploring_Animal-Assisted_Programs_with_Children_in_School_and_Therapeutic_Contexts