Becoming an Animal Assisted Therapist: A Comprehensive Guide to AAT Careers

Ever thought about combining your love for animals and your passion for helping others? Becoming an animal assisted therapist might be the perfect career path for you. It’s a field where your furry friends can help bring comfort and healing to those in need.

To start your journey, you’ll need to understand what animal assisted therapy is all about. It’s not just about playing with pets all day. It involves using animals to help people recover or better cope with health problems, like heart disease, mental health disorders, and more.

What is Animal Assisted Therapy?

Busting some common myths first, Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT) isn’t about spending the entire day playing fetch with adorable pets. Rather, it’s an innovative approach in the field of psychotherapy. Let’s dive deeper.

Animal Assisted Therapy is an umbrella term for various therapies that incorporate animals as a core part of the therapeutic process. Emphasizing a structured and goal-directed strategy, AAT involves trained animals working in conjunction with health service providers.

These sessions aim to improve patients’, often with physical, emotional, or psychological ailments, condition and overall well-being. The realm of its intervention ranges from cardiovascular issues to mental health disorders. This wide applicability speaks volumes about the method’s success in the health sector.

AAT is a unique blend of passion for animals bound with the compelling desire to facilitate healing and aid people in recovering from health complications. But what makes it stand out?

The Key Elements of Animal Assisted Therapy

There exist distinct qualities that set animal assisted therapy apart from other forms of treatment:

  • Animals in AAT are not average pets. They undergo comprehensive training to ensure smooth interaction with patients under diverse circumstances.
  • The types of animals involved vary widely. From furry dogs and calm horses to affable rabbits and small fish, AAT employs a vast array of creatures.
  • The interventions are goal-oriented, seeking specific therapeutic outcomes. It’s not a mere presence of harmless animals; AAT is a rich confluence of human-animal interaction and professional guidance directed towards healing.

Ever wondered about the role of the therapist in AAT? In the upcoming sections, you’ll get to explore what it takes to become an indispensable part of this admirable profession. Keep reading as we unfold the mask behind the career of animal assisted therapy.

The Benefits of Animal Assisted Therapy

If you’re seeking a career that blends passion for animals with the drive to make positive differences in people’s lives, becoming an Animal Assisted Therapist could be an appealing avenue to arena of healthcare. With this therapeutic approach, the beneficial effects are manifold and impact both patients and therapists in a variety of meaningful ways.

AAT’s effectiveness is attributed to the multifaceted psychological and physical benefits it offers. Psychologically, patients often find therapeutic interactions with animals to be stress-reducing, leading to palpable decreases in anxiety and panic disorders. Something as simple as a well-trained dog’s calming presence can substantially lessen worrying thoughts and promote relaxation.

Similarly, physical benefits of AAT are conspicuously observable. Cuddling or grooming an animal recapitulates a routine of care that encourages better motor skills, raises fitness levels, and enhances strength.

Moreover, AAT also facilitates social and emotional connections. Animals, often seen as non-judgmental companions, can help foster a sense of acceptance which can rekindle patients’ self-esteem, scope for empathy, and their capacity to build relationships with others.

For you as a therapist, integrating a trained animal into therapy sessions also contributes to job satisfaction. Facilitating these powerful, transformational encounters between patients and animals not only offers a unique approach to therapy but can also be extremely rewarding – a significant payoff on your path to become an AAT.

Psychological BenefitsPhysical BenefitsSocial/Emotional Benefits
Stress ReductionImproved Motor SkillsBetter Relationships
Anxiety ManagementIncreased Fitness LevelsHigher Self-Esteem
RelaxationEnhanced StrengthImproved Empathy

Intrigued? Let’s further define the role of a therapist in AAT and outline what’s needed to join this vocation.

Skills and Education Required

Embarking on a career in Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT) demands a unique skillset and specific educational qualifications. Your passion for animals and dedication to improving human health is just the starting point.

Let’s start with education. Most practitioners in this field possess a bachelor’s degree or higher in psychology, social work, or a similar field. Additionally, a master’s degree in counseling or occupational therapy also stands you in good stead for this career path.

Moreover, it’s crucial to have an understanding of animal behavior and animal care. Consequently, a degree in animal science, veterinary medicine, or even certifications from specialized AAT programs can provide you an edge in this field. Here’s a generic breakdown of the education requirements:

Bachelor’s degreeMental Health (Psychology, Social Work)
Master’s degreeCounseling, Occupational Therapy
CertificationsSpecialized AAT programs

Moving on to skills, empathy stands out as a crucial trait for an AAT therapist. You must possess a deep commitment to improving the quality of life for your patients. Strong communication skills both with patients and their supporting network are fundamental in this regard. Additionally, the ability to work creatively and adaptively, always making new things possible within therapy sessions, can significantly enhance the therapeutic impact.

Additionally, patience is of the essence here. Therapy is a process and doesn’t show results overnight. You must show perseverance and believe in the process for AAT to work effectively. This includes around to work various challenges and dynamics presented by both animals and patients.

Another important skill to have is comfort and ease around animals. Remember, these are not just pets but your coworkers in the therapy process. Understanding their behavior and ensuring their welfare is essential to carry out AAT. It’s akin to a chef ensuring his ingredients are top-notch, whether it’s pork for a savory dish or pizza dough for a satisfying meal.

Building and maintaining connections with therapists, animal trainers, and patients’ families is vital. So, networking skills come into play here, much like sharing a scoop of ice cream during a community gathering—fostering relationships and sweet moments alike.

Make note that your journey towards becoming an AAT therapist requires attention to skill development and a strong educational background. And always remember – your compassionate love for animals and humans alike is your secret recipe to success in AAT.

Choosing the Right Animal for Therapy Work

Choosing the right animal to work alongside you in AAT is crucial. It’s not only about the species of the animal; the individual temperament, behavior and the willingness to work with humans are equally important.

Dogs are often the most preferred choice, known for their companionship, unwavering loyalty, and ability to connect on an emotional level. Different breeds have different traits, so it’s essential to do your research. Labrador retrievers, for instance, are versatile and patient, making them ideal for AAT.

Cats, whilst less commonly used, can also be suitable for therapy work. They’re often best suited for people who might be overwhelmed by a larger animal, or patients who enjoy the calming, quiet companionship a cat provides.

Horses have a solid place in AAT, particularly in equine-assisted therapy. The process of caring for a horse – grooming, feeding, walking – can offer therapeutic benefits for patients with varied psychological and emotional needs.

Beyond dogs, cats, and horses, other animals like birds, rabbits, and even fish can be used in therapy, with key benefits attributed to each.

Before you make your decision, ensure that the animal is:

  • Comfortable around different types of people and in varying environments
  • Eager to interact with humans
  • Able to remain calm and not easily startled or agitated

Remember, the right fit depends on the unique needs of your patients and your individual treatment goals.

After selecting your therapy animal, consider going through a certification process. By doing so, you’ll ensure your animal is well-trained, behaves appropriately in therapeutic sessions, and meets all health and safety standards. The certification can also increase your credibility as an AAT therapist and boost your career opportunities.

As you venture into AAT, remember the importance of choosing the right animal. It’s a significant decision that has a profound impact on the quality of your therapy sessions and ultimately, on your patients’ healing process.

Training and Certification

Embarking on a journey to become an animal assisted therapist is a noble cause. To be successful, you’ll need a mix of both education and practical experience. So let’s delve into the key aspects of training and certification for this unique field.

You must first complete your bachelors degree in psychology, social work, occupational therapy, or a related health field. It’s crucial to equip yourself with a solid academic foundation. This will allow you to understand the theories, principles, and practices essential to be an effective therapist.

Concurrently, you can engage in relevant internships. This hands-on experience will unravel insights into patient interactions, diverse human behaviors, and various treatment modalities. You’ll learn from seasoned professionals and develop a keen eye for understanding patient needs. You’ll also find opportunities to work directly with therapy animals.

Post-bachelor’s, you’ll need a Masters or Doctorate degree in the same field. Completing a higher education will not just provide you with deeper knowledge but also pave the way for specialization. So you’ll be better prepared to handle the complexities and the challenges this line of work throws at you.

To integrate animals into your therapeutic practice, professional training in Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT) is imperative. Many institutions provide specialized AAT programs. Here you’ll be closely working with animals and train them for therapy work. You can choose to work with dogs, horses, cats, or birds. Each animal will have unique attributes that you can harmonize with therapeutic goals. You’ll learn how to identify and work with the individual temperament of animals which is fundamental to AAT.

Certification in AAT from a recognized organization such as Pet Partners or the American Humane Association follows training. Typically, certification requires demonstration of a strong bond with the therapy animal and adherence to a strict code of conduct. Essential traits like patience, tolerance, and dedication in handling the animals are scrutinized. It’s more than paperwork; it’s a testament to your commitment to safe and effective therapeutic practices.

Remember, training and certification are ongoing processes. Continued education and recertification ensure you stay current with the latest advancements, methodologies, and ethical standards related to AAT. Hence, don’t consider training and certification as checkboxes, rather as steps in the continuous journey of learning and growth.

Finding Employment as an Animal Assisted Therapist

After completing your training and certification in AAT, you’re ready to enter the job market. This field though niche, is expanding rapidly with opportunities springing up in various sectors.

Many therapists start their career in mental health institutions, hospitals and schools. Adults and kids battling mental health issues, emotional trauma or developmental disorders greatly benefit from animal assisted therapy programs.

Private practice is another viable avenue. You’d have the freedom to modify the therapy style to better suit your clients and therapy animal. It’s important to know it takes time to develop a considerable clientele base in private practice.

You could also explore opportunities in animal-focused organizations. These institutions regularly employ therapists to help them use AAT effectively. For example, SPCA organizations and animal shelters often have therapeutic programs that require the skills of AAT professionals.

Being a newer field, sometimes opportunities aren’t widely advertised. So, it’s on you to be proactive. Don’t shy away from reaching out to potential employers. Express your passion for AAT, and share the unique skills you bring to the table.

Networking can be a game-changer. Joining local animal-assisted therapy groups or online communities can help you engage with fellow professionals. Here, you can exchange ideas, gain insights on job opportunities, and learn from others’ experiences.

Consider volunteering as well. Volunteering offers valuable hands-on experience, and it’s a chance to serve your community. You also make connections that might lead to future job opportunities.

In terms of payment, several factors come into play. These factors may include the organization you’re working for, the number of years of experience you have, and your educational background. Generally, animal-assisted therapists can anticipate a median salary in the range of $30,000 to $60,000 annually, but it can vary significantly.

FactorsSalary ($/annually)
Entry Level30,000 – 40,000
Mid Level40,000 – 50,000
Experienced50,000 – 60,000

Remember, the defining factor for success in this career isn’t just about the money. It’s about the passion and dedication you have for your animal partners and your commitment to enhancing people’s lives through AAT.


So, you’ve learned about the rewarding field of Animal Assisted Therapy. You’ve discovered the profound impact these therapy animals can have on patients’ lives. You’ve seen the importance of choosing the right animal and ensuring they’re well-trained and comfortable around people. You’ve also explored potential career paths and the value of networking and volunteering. Remember, it’s not just about the salary – it’s about passion and dedication. It’s about enhancing lives through the unique bond between humans and animals. Now, armed with this knowledge, you’re ready to embark on your journey to becoming an animal assisted therapist. Go forth with confidence, knowing you’re taking steps towards a meaningful career that truly makes a difference.

What is Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT)?

Animal Assisted Therapy or AAT is a therapeutic intervention that includes animals in the treatment process. This therapy can provide physical, emotional, social, and psychological benefits to patients.

Why are animals used in therapy?

Animals are intrinsically non-judgmental, which can help to create a less stressful environment for the patient. Their presence can provide comfort, encourage communication, and enhance a patient’s motivation to participate in therapy.

What types of animals are used in AAT?

Dogs are the most common animals used in AAT, but cats, horses, birds, rabbits, and fish can also be effectively used. The choice of animal is primarily dependent on the individual patient’s needs and preferences, as well as the animal’s temperament.

How is the right animal chosen for therapy?

The right animal for therapy is chosen based on their temperament, behavior, and willingness to interact with humans. A suitable animal should remain calm in various scenarios, be keen to engage with people, and must meet all health and safety standards.

What qualifications are needed to be an Animal Assisted Therapist?

Animal Assisted Therapists often have backgrounds in mental health, social work, or related fields. A Certification in Animal Assisted Therapy is recommended. Experience with animals, particularly in training, is also beneficial.

What are job opportunities for an Animal Assisted Therapist?

There are numerous opportunities in mental health clinics, hospitals, schools, and animal-related organizations. Success in this field involves networking, volunteering, and being proactive in seeking job opportunities.

How much can an Animal Assisted Therapist earn?

The salary of an Animal Assisted Therapist depends on factors such as experience and educational qualifications. The passion, dedication, and commitment to enhance people’s lives through AAT are also crucial for success.

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