Perceptions of a therapist using animal assisted therapy in an analogue brochure study: Is there a halo effect?

Chris Blazina1 & Lori Kogan2
1Independent researcher in private practice, Albuquerque NM
2Colorado State University

Animal assisted therapy (AAT) involves the integration of an animal (usually a dog or horse) in a clinical setting as part of treatment for a broad range of presenting problems involving emotional distress, trauma, and stress related issues. The use of ATT by therapists is on the rise. Our analogue study was designed to explore the impact a counselor’s purported use of ATT had on how they were perceived as measured by the Counselor Rating Form–Short Version (CRF-S). That is, would subjects who examined a brochure about counseling services provided by a factitious therapist rate the therapist more positively when it was stated, “Dr. Smith” provided animal assisted therapy and was accompanied by a picture of the therapy dog present in his/her office. To explore these hypotheses, two therapy brochures were developed one with and without the mention of the therapist’s integration of ATT and accompanying therapy dog. The results from our analogue brochure study found that a therapist described as utilizing AAT (which was punctuated by having a picture of the therapy dog in the office) was perceived as significantly more attractive and trustworthy, but not different in terms of being more expert-like. Therapists need to pay special attention to how clients may experience the therapist-therapy dog dyad over the course of treatment. There may be a potential halo effect that is bestowed on either the therapy dog or therapist, and/or on the team consisting of the therapeutic dyad. Implications for research and clinical practice are discussed.

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