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Animal Therapy Brings Hope to Survivors of Child Abuse

March 24, 2014



Young people who have survived abuse and neglect face a number of serious emotional challenges as they move toward healing. A variety of organizations and programs now offer survivors the chance to interact with animals as part of the therapeutic process. Experts note that the nonjudgmental, gentle, accepting presence of a dog, cat, or other animal can help create a nurturing atmosphere for children healing from the trauma of abuse. For some children who have experienced abuse, interaction with an animal provides exactly the kind of nonthreatening touch they need. In addition, children often find that it is easier to talk about their feelings with a patient and welcoming animal listener.

A range of studies has indicated that when humans interact with animals, their blood pressure and stress decrease. One recent report from Australia detailed a project that helped children and families who survived domestic violence. Many of the child participants no longer trusted adults and had not responded well to previous counseling attempts. However, the researchers found that animal-assisted therapy with guinea pigs and rabbits increased children’s feelings of empathy through caring for beings that truly needed them. The participants tended to become more caring and gentle with siblings, thus giving researchers hope that animal therapy can become a useful tool in breaking the generation-to-generation transmission of violent behavior.

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