Animal-Assisted Therapy in the Treatment of Substance Use Disorders: A Systematic Mixed Methods Review

Marie Gading Klemetsen1 & Torill Christine Lindstrøm2
1 Department of clinical activity, Hjellestad, The Bergen Clinics Foundation
2 Department of Psychosocial Science, University of Bergen

There is a need for evidence-based interventions that can contribute to more positive treatment outcomes for substance use disorders. Animal-assisted therapy is a supplementary intervention in which certified animals are used in a structured and goal directed manner in the treatment of various health problems. This review aims to systematically investigate and evaluate the available literature and thus hopefully contribute to future research. The electronic searches were performed in the databases PsycInfo, Medline, and Web of Science. Searches of reference lists were also performed. As the research on this particular field is scarce, the inclusion criteria had to allow for a relatively great variation in methods, interventions, and populations. Still, only ten studies were included, of which three were quantitative, six were qualitative, and one was a mixed methods study. All of the included articles examined the effect of AAT in the treatment of substance use disorders. The populations investigated included both women and men aged 13 to 55 years undergoing treatment for substance use disorder. A segregated design was applied, where the quantitative results were pooled using narrative synthesis and the qualitative using metasummary, all of which were combined in a final configuration. Three of the quantitative studies found significant correlations, and the metasummary indicated several reoccurring themes across the qualitative studies. However, a general lack of systematic investigation and an excess of explorative research were identified, and the majority of the articles neglected to report information important for replication. More thorough and systematic investigations are needed. A tentative explanatory model, with a hypothesis generating aim, is presented, in which the qualitative findings function as moderators or mediators of the relationships indicated by the quantitative studies.

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