Animal-assisted therapy in the view of staff members before and after implementation in a rehabilitation clinic

Karin Hediger1,2,3,4, Margret Hund-Georgiadis4
1: Human and Animal Health Unit, Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute, University of Basel, Socinstrasse 57, 4002 Basel, Switzerland
2: Institute of Psychology, Department of Clinical Psychology and Psychotherapy, University of Basel, Missionsstrasse 62, 4055 Basel, Switzerland
3: IEMT Switzerland, Institute for interdisciplinary research on the human-animal relationship c/o Swiss TPH, 4002 Basel, Switzerland
4: REHAB Basel, Clinic for Neurorehabilitation and Paraplegia, Im Burgfelderhof 40, 4012 Basel, Switzerland

Animal-assisted therapy (AAT) is a method that is used with increasing frequency for patients with various problems in many rehabilitation programs. The success of such programs often depends on staff members’ attitudes. However, there is little data investigating staff concerns about animal-assisted interventions and change of staff attitudes over time in a healthcare setting. The aim of this study was to investigate the attitudes of staff working in a Swiss rehabilitation center before and after the implementation of animal-assisted therapy. Before implementing animal-assisted therapy at a rehabilitation clinic in Basel, Switzerland, the expectations and concerns of the entire staff were assessed using a questionnaire with Likert scales and open questions. One year after the start of the program, staff members completed an analog questionnaire to assess actual experiences with including animals at the facility. Questionnaires were analyzed using descriptive statistics, non-parametric correlations, and comparisons of means. Prior to implementation of animal-assisted therapy, most of the clinic staff had positive expectations (91.1% positive feelings). However, a substantial number of staff anticipated problems with hygiene (30.0%) and injuries (37.9%). After implementation, significant less problems were noted (p < .001). The positive attitudes remained stable in the context of practical experiences (p = .680). Moreover, staff members were positively influenced by the presence of the animals. Staff members in healthcare settings have high acceptance of animal-assisted therapy. Actual experiences of the staff with animal-assisted therapy were more positive than their expectations. Anticipated problems were not reported after implementation and staff members expressed a positive influence from the presence of the animals, viewing it as enrichment to their job. Further research should investigate the effects of animal-assisted interventions to determine the potential for prevention of burnout in healthcare staff.

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