Mental health issues can be challenging to work through, and therapy is sometimes painful. Creative and specialized therapies can often be a roundabout way of enabling clients to open up and explore vulnerabilities more cautiously. They can help clients express emotions in ways that feel more comfortable.
Art, music, and dance therapies are referred to as “creative arts therapies” because of their roots in the arts and theories of creativity. In a similar way to using a journal or writing poetry, these therapies and others utilize self-expression in treatment and are also referred to as “expressive therapies.”
Expressive therapies, within the context of psychotherapy, counseling, rehabilitation, or medicine, are additionally sometimes referred to as “integrative” when various arts are purposively used in combination with treatment.
There are also specialized therapies such as pet therapy and aromatherapy that are used in similar ways.
These disciplines have been applied in psychotherapy and counseling with individuals of all ages, particularly children, for more than 70 years.
Music therapy is the prescribed use of music to effect positive changes in the psychological, physical, cognitive, or social functioning of individuals with health or educational problems.
Music therapy uses music to promote healing and enhance the quality of life. Music therapy may involve listening to music, creating music, singing, and discussing music, in addition to guided imagery with music.
Music is a ubiquitous human endeavor that cuts across diverse cultural differences. Whether it’s actively participating in making music or just listening to our favorite songs, we have probably all felt the tremendous impact that music can have on our moods.
The concept of using music to promote a positive mental state isn’t new. In civilizations throughout history, music has been used to heal illness and promote well-being. This practice of healing through music and rhythm continues in cultures all over the world.
How Music Therapy Affects the Brain
The goal of music therapy is to elicit changes in behavior, with a focus on interventions that contribute to a positive mental state.
Advances in technology in the realm of neuroimaging have allowed researchers to understand the neurological mechanisms and effects that music has on the brain, demonstrating that music processing is distributed throughout the cortex, subcortex, and cerebellum.
This distributed nature of music in the brain allows the preservation of musical functions despite the loss of a related non-musical function, in cases of Alzheimer’s, for example.
Music improves health and well-being through the engagement of the neurochemical systems responsible for:
Dopamine plays a significant role in reward, motivation, and pleasure. Musical pleasure is closely related to emotional arousal, suggesting that musical reward is dependent on dopaminergic neurotransmission within a similar neural network as other reinforcing stimuli.
Neuroimaging technology has been used to probe the functional activation, network connectivity, and central dopamine release that occur during music therapy.
Merely listening to music has been shown to lower requirements for opiate drugs in postoperative pain and other medical treatments. These findings suggest that music may stimulate the release of endogenous opioid peptides within the brain.
While further research in the area is warranted, the ramifications of these initial findings could be vast in terms of analgesic interventions concerning pain management.
Cortisol – the brain’s built-in alarm system – is mainly released at times of stress and arousal. The potential therapeutic effects of listening to music have been primarily attributed to its ability to reduce stress and regulate arousal levels.
Listening to ‘relaxing music’ (generally considered to have a slow tempo, low pitch, and no lyrics) has been shown to improve overall well-being while reducing stress and anxiety by alleviating cortisol secretion.
Serotonin is often referred to as the ‘happy chemical’ and plays an essential role in happiness, well-being, and numerous physiological processes.
Low serotonin levels are linked to anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, and irritability – research involving the study of neurotransmitters suggests serotonin levels within the synaptic cleft increase during enjoyable musical experiences.
The oxytocin system operates in parallel with stress response systems and cardiovascular regulation – low levels are related to pain and anxiety.
The production of oxytocin is known to decrease anger, fatigue, anxiety, and pain. Listening to pleasurable music has been shown to significantly increase levels of oxytocin and self-reported levels of relaxation in post-surgery patients.
Music Therapy for Autism
Autism spectrum disorder is characterized by severe impairments in social functioning and reciprocation, deficits in speech and language, as well as behavioral manifestations such as habitual, repetitive movements, and distress during environmental changes.
Interactive forms of music therapy use musical experiences – to positive effect – to address some of these core impairments and improve social interactions, verbal and nonverbal communication, initiating behaviors, and social‐emotional reciprocity.
The use of improvisational ‘hands-on’ music therapies such as singing, composing, and exploring sound through playing musical instruments is effective as a non-verbal means of communication for adults with autism.
After an eight-week program consisting of 90-minute weekly music sessions, post-therapy measures showed a significant increase in self-esteem, reduced self-reported anxiety, and more positive attitudes toward peers.
Using Music Therapy for Dementia and Alzheimer’s
Dementia is a global health issue and so much more than the debilitating failure of memory.
Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative diseases have profound consequences on the emotional and social functioning of people in their daily lives. There are currently around 50 million people worldwide living with dementia, and it is estimated this number will double every 20 years (Alzheimer’s Disease International).
Interestingly, individuals with neurodegenerative diseases rarely exhibit deficits in the processing of music. Evidence suggests that the appreciation and perception of music are often preserved in persons with dementia. This preservation of perception can be used to reconnect with memories and emotions, and as a new avenue for communication through music.
In recent years, non-pharmacological interventions such as music therapy have been researched and implemented as an effective supplementary tool in the treatment of behavioral and psychiatric symptoms of dementia such as apathy, delusions, hallucinations, agitation, and disturbances to motor skills.
Furthermore, music therapy has been found to alleviate self-reported anxiety and improve spontaneous speech content, attention, and language fluency in patients – including those with early-onset dementia. Creative therapies involving music also actively facilitate physical exercise through movement and reduce feelings of isolation by encouraging social interaction within group music therapy activities.
Music Therapy and Depression
An estimated 300 million people live with depression globally. With symptoms including anxiety, dysfunctional communication, low self-worth, and in severe cases, suicidal thoughts – suffering from depression can be debilitating.
Improvisational music therapy, where music is created spontaneously either alone or as a group, means there is an absence of rules regarding how or what to play. It is more like playing and exploring with sounds and expressing emotions, thoughts, and ideas through sounds.
This kind of unstructured, self-expression through music and sounds enables an individual with depression to better connect with their emotions. Developing creativity, expressive freedom, spontaneity, and playfulness through music introduces nonverbal channels of communication and a bridge to verbal communication.
Musical interventions improve depressive symptoms to a greater extent than psychotherapy alone. While medication and psychiatric counseling are commonly used in the treatment of depression, even relatively short sessions of music therapy have been shown to enhance the effects of existing psychological support.
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and Music Therapy
There is a growing body of literature focusing on the value of music therapy for people with emotional and behavioral disorders such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Exhibiting symptoms such as inattention, impulsivity, impatience, disruptive behavior, and hyperactivity, ADHD is conservatively estimated to occur in 3% to 6% of children and is predominantly identified in males.
While the presentation of ADHD may change over time, it encompasses the lifespan from children through adolescence and into adulthood.
It has been suggested that improvisational music therapy for ADHD in small groups significantly improves attention, concentration, self-control, listening skills, and the ability to attend and engage in group activities.
Music therapy with an emphasis on emotional needs provides important opportunities for those with ADHD to express themselves and to control their actions, particularly when experienced earlier in the day before arousal is increased by the environment.
Using Music Therapy for PTSD
Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a condition characterized by enduring symptoms of distressing memory intrusions, avoidance, emotional disturbance, and hyperarousal after trauma exposure.
Music therapy can be a useful therapeutic tool to reduce the symptoms associated with PTSD and strengthen functioning by fostering resilience and engaging individuals who may struggle with any perceived stigma associated with seeking professional help.
A six-week music therapy intervention for veterans of war found that weekly individual and group sessions were effective in reducing symptoms of depression and improving health-related measures of quality of life. This study highlighted the effectiveness of musical interventions and culminated in the formulation of the ‘Guitars for Vets’ program in which music therapy is advocated for veterans experiencing PTSD after severe emotional trauma linked to combat exposure.
Music therapy has also been successful in helping children, and young adults reduce symptoms of grief and loss associated with PTSD after traumatic experiences such as bereavement.
Treating Anxiety with Music Therapy
Anxiety can impact people in several ways, from sleeplessness and heart palpitations to irritability and difficulty concentrating. A study examined the effect of rhythmic music therapy on state anxiety levels. Subjects who listened to a steady beat of 66 bpm reported less anxiety than those who sat in silence, suggesting that a steady beat alone can positively impact self-reported levels of anxiety.
Working alongside the British band Marconi Union, therapists of the British Academy of Sound Therapy created a song with the specific aim of ameliorating symptoms of anxiety and stress. ‘Weightless’ is a specially designed, carefully arranged piece of music with therapeutic elements woven into the structure.
Beginning with five minutes of continuous rhythm and continuing with underlying low bass tones at a rate of 60 beats per minute, the music allows the heart, blood pressure, respiration, and brainwaves to be lulled into deep relaxation. Listening to ‘Weightless’ decreased anxiety levels by an average of 65%.
Can it Help with Schizophrenia?
Within the realm of serious mental disorders such as schizophrenia, music therapy aims to assist in the improvement of emotional and relational competencies and address issues sufferers of these disorders may not be able to verbalize.
The use of individual music therapy sessions in conjunction with medication can encourage interactive capacities and interpersonal contact, increase self-awareness of psychosocial orientation and potentially increase the patient’s ability to adapt to their social environment after discharge from the hospital. With these improvements also comes the potential to adapt to their social environment after discharge from the hospital
Additional research into the combined use of music therapy and antipsychotic medications in schizophrenia suggested a significant decrease in reported negative symptoms such as sluggishness, blunted effect, and poverty of thought when compared to medication alone. There was also a significant reduction in the severity of psychiatric disability within three months of starting the music sessions.
11 Proven Benefits Music Therapy has on Mental Health
Music therapy is a research-based practice in which music is used to actively support people as they strive to improve their health, functioning, and well-being. Engaging with music can evoke a wide range of emotions and act as a welcomed distraction from negative experiences.
The act of engaging with the creation of music has been found to motivate and empower people. Motivation is central to achieving one’s goals. In its absence, our drive to succeed, and our readiness to act on opportunities is greatly diminished.
Actively engaging in music-making can alleviate many of the negative symptoms associated with mental health issues such as low motivation, social withdrawal, diminished affective experience, and responsiveness.
Decreasing Feelings of Isolation
While there are times in life when we feel lonely and isolated, for some, this is an experience that endures. Long episodes of isolation and social withdrawal can be detrimental to mental health, increasing the likelihood of developing mood disorders such as depression.
Community music therapy sessions have been shown to decrease feelings of isolation, enhance creativity, and improve quality of life by promoting the perception of connectedness.
After experiencing a traumatic event, many people will gradually heal and recover from the emotional pain. But what happens if we can’t get past these debilitating emotions? Unresolved exposure to trauma can lead to mental health problems, such as PTSD and depression.
Music therapy provides individuals with an opportunity to be listened to, to find ways of managing distress, and to communicate experiences that are not always easily put into words (McCaffrey, Edwards, & Fannon, 2011).
Positive Impacts on Social Interactions
Participation in group music therapy, such as singing or playing an instrument with others, has been found to have positive impacts on social interactions, communication skills, well-being, hope, and optimism (Clift, 2012).
Music therapy is associated with increases in perceived enjoyment, happiness, enhanced quality of life, and improved mental health.
Carefully structured music therapy sessions enhance the potential for positive experiences, leading to positive effects on factors such as self-esteem or self-efficacy.
Self-esteem is important for mental health; if we don’t believe in our self-worth, can we ever really reach our true potential?
Encourage an Internal Locus of Control
Individuals with an external locus of control regard experiences as a result of external factors. This perceived lack of control contributes to feelings of helplessness and vulnerability.
Over time, music therapy has been shown to encourage an internal locus of control. When individuals come to understand that their abilities and actions determine the outcome of music therapy sessions, this can be extrapolated to life outside the therapy setting.
Even short sessions of music therapy can enhance the effects of psychological support and ameliorate depressive symptoms.
Managing Fear and Anxiety
Engaging in music therapy has been likened to grounding yourself in reality, replacing states like fear and anxiety.
Foster Empowering Relationships
The benefits of music therapy for mental health closely resemble the recognized benefits of recovery-oriented practice. Through the encouragement of awareness and self-determination, we can foster mutually empowering relationships.
Music therapy has the potential to evoke relaxed states that include feeling engaged, rested, refreshed, at ease, energized, mentally peaceful, thankful, and loving.
Art therapy is the purposeful use of visual arts materials and media in intervention, counseling, psychotherapy, and rehabilitation; it can be used with individuals of all ages, families, and groups.
Creating art, viewing it, and talking about it provide a way for people to cope with emotional conflicts and increase self-awareness. It also allows them to express unspoken and often unconscious concerns. The art therapist uses pictures, art supplies, and visual symbols, as well as an understanding of behavior to help patients address their concerns and conflicts.
Art therapists work with patients individually or in groups. The art therapist provides the materials necessary to create paintings, drawings, sculptures, and other types of artwork. This type of therapy can help clients express feelings through art. The art is then used to open discussions about emotions and concerns related to it.
Another form of art therapy includes viewing pieces of art, often in photographs. The client can then talk with a therapist about what they see or how they feel when they look at the images.
Art therapy can involve the use of creative techniques such as drawing, painting, collage, coloring, sculpting, and sand tray play to help people express themselves artistically and examine the psychological and emotional undertones of their art. Art therapy can be utilized by any therapist, but with the guidance of a credentialed art therapist, clients can “decode” the nonverbal messages, symbols, and metaphors often found in these art forms, which should lead to a better understanding of their feelings and behavior, so they can move on to resolve deeper issues.
Art therapy helps children, adolescents, and adults explore their emotions, improve self-esteem, manage addictions, relieve stress, improve symptoms of anxiety and depression, and cope with a physical illness or disability. Art therapists work with individuals, couples, and groups in a variety of settings, including private counseling, hospitals, wellness centers, correctional institutions, senior centers, and other community organizations. No artistic talent is necessary for art therapy to succeed, because the therapeutic process is not about the artistic value of the work, but rather about finding associations between the creative choices made and a client’s inner life. The artwork can be used as a springboard for reawakening memories and telling stories that may reveal messages and beliefs from the unconscious mind.
As with any form of therapy, therapy first starts with talking about why the client wants to find help and learning what the therapist has to offer. The therapist may, at times, simply observe the artistic process without interference or judgment. When the client finished a piece of artwork—and sometimes while they are still working on it—the therapist can ask questions along the lines of how the client feels about the artistic process, what was easy or difficult about creating the artwork, and what thoughts or memories they may have had while they were working. Sometimes, they will ask how the person or animal in the picture is feeling. Generally, the therapist will ask about the experience and feelings before providing any observations.
Art therapy is founded on the belief that self-expression through artistic creation has therapeutic value for those who are healing or seeking a deeper understanding of themselves and their personalities. Creating art can help a client express painful thoughts or memories. In conventional mental health therapy, clients talk. Talking about traumatic or painful experiences that may be hidden in the subconscious mind is an important part of the healing process. In much the same way, creating a drawing or painting of an emotion or event can serve as a tool that helps the therapist guide a client through the process of dealing with similar concerns.
Again, anyone can use art therapy from an individual seeking self-help using an adult coloring book to a therapist in a clinical setting. According to the American Art Therapy Association, art therapists who are certified are trained to understand the roles that color, texture, and various art media can play in the therapeutic process and how these tools can help reveal one’s thoughts, feelings, and psychological disposition. Art therapy integrates psychotherapy and some form of visual arts as a specific, stand-alone form of therapy, but it is also used in combination with other types of therapy.
A certified art therapist has a minimum of a master’s degree, generally from an integrated program in psychotherapy and visual arts at an educational institution accredited by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA). The initials ATR after a therapist’s name means he or she is registered with the Art Therapy Credentials Board (ATCB). The initials ATR-BC mean the therapist is not only registered but has passed an examination to become board-certified by the ATCB.
Art therapy is considered safe and may help people better deal with their emotions. Art therapy, as an addition to a regular treatment plan, has the potential to be meaningful, pleasant, and productive.
Play therapy is the systematic use of a theoretical model to establish an interpersonal process wherein trained play therapists to use the therapeutic powers of play to help clients prevent or resolve psychosocial difficulties and achieve optimal growth and development.
While it may look like ordinary playtime, play therapy can be much more than that.
A trained therapist can use playtime to observe and gain insights into a child’s problems. The therapist can then help the child explore emotions and deal with unresolved trauma. Through play, children can learn new coping mechanisms and how to redirect inappropriate behaviors. It can also be used to build rapport and distract the client from the “business” of therapy.
According to the professional organization Play Therapy International, up to 71 percent of children referred to play therapy may experience positive change.
While some children might start with some hesitation, trust in the therapist tends to grow. As they become more comfortable and their bond strengthens, the child may become more creative or more verbal in their play.
Some of the potential benefits of play therapy are:
- taking more responsibility for certain behaviors
- developing coping strategies and creative problem-solving skills
- empathy and respect for others
- alleviation of anxiety
- learning to fully experience and express feelings
- stronger social skills
- stronger family relationships
Play therapy can also encourage the use of language or improve fine and gross motor skills.
Although people of all ages can benefit from play therapy, it’s typically used with children between the ages of 3 and 12. Play therapy may be helpful in a variety of circumstances, such as:
- facing medical procedures, chronic illness, or palliative care
- developmental delay or learning disabilities
- problem behaviors in school
- aggressive or angry behavior
- family issues, like divorce, separation, or death of a close family member
- natural disasters or traumatic events
- domestic violence, abuse, or neglect
- anxiety, depression, grief
- eating and toileting disorders
- attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
- autism spectrum disorder (ASD)
Play therapy doesn’t replace medications or any other necessary treatments. Play therapy can be used alone or alongside other therapies.
Sand play therapy is a creative form of psychotherapy that uses a sandbox and a large collection of miniatures to enable a client to explore the deeper layers of his or her psyche in a new format; by constructing a series of “sand pictures,” a client is helped to illustrate and integrate his or her psychological condition.
Pet Therapy or Animal Assisted Therapy in Counseling (AAT-C) is defined as the incorporation of pets as therapeutic agents into the counseling process. Counselors utilize the human-animal bond in goal-directed interventions as part of the treatment process. Counselors can integrate animals into sessions in a variety of ways and may be appropriate across a variety of settings. Pet Therapy is delivered or directed by a professional health or human service provider who demonstrates skill and expertise regarding the clinical applications of human-animal interactions. Although training and evaluation standards are often similar for therapy pet and handler teams in other therapeutic settings (e.g., therapy pet team visits in hospitals, schools, or older adult care centers), animal-assisted therapy in counseling involves an intentional intervention, implemented by a mental health professional, that is part of the client’s treatment process. It is ideal for a counselor to employ his or her pet as a therapy animal since the bond and familiarity with one’s pet allow the owner to understand and anticipate the animal’s behavior and responses across a variety of situations. It is also important to note that there is a distinction between a personal pet and a therapy pet. This is an important distinction, as personal pets are not always suitable for work in a therapeutic setting. The qualities and characteristics that make an animal a great personal or family pet may be necessary for a counseling setting, but are far from being sufficient. It is essential for both therapy pets, and the handler undergoes special training and evaluation to ensure suitability for work in a counseling setting. The training of an animal for work in an AAT-C setting requires proper socialization, touch desensitization, and basic obedience. Mastery of these skills by a handler and the therapy animal ensures a safe and healthy interactive experience for the client, handler, and pet. To comply with a standard for suitability of temperament and quality of training, a potential therapy animal and its handler must be evaluated by, and registered with, a nationally recognized therapy animal organization with standardized evaluation procedures.
Even with rigorous training and evaluations, working with animals carries its own set of unique risks, such as accidental scratches or the development of previously unknown allergies. Such risks should be clearly outlined in an additional informed consent document, as well as reviewed with each client before counselors incorporate pet therapy into therapy sessions. Informed consent should include sections relevant to the potential harm that can occur during human-animal interactions, including unforeseeable harm, and should outline precautions and contraindications for including an animal in the counseling process. When practiced with appropriate training and education, pet therapy may facilitate the development of a positive therapeutic alliance. However, even after a therapy pet has completed a standardized evaluation, the incorporation of a therapy pet into a counseling session is not appropriate for every client. Examples of situations that may not be appropriate for pet therapy include clients with severe fear of animals, clients with animal allergies, or clients with a history of cruelty towards animals. Although the incorporation of pet therapy techniques has the potential to be beneficial for clients across a wide range of settings, counselors should evaluate the decision to incorporate a therapy animal into counseling sessions on an individual client-by-client basis.
Tips for Incorporating Animals Into Your Therapy Practice
The simple act of petting an animal can release a potent cocktail of relaxing hormones. It may also lower blood pressure and improve physical health. Inspired by emerging research pointing to the many benefits of time with animals, many therapists are interested in incorporating animals into their therapy practice.
A therapy animal is distinct from a service animal, which performs specific tasks for a person with a disability. It is also not the same as an emotional support animal, which provides companionship and support to a person with mental or physical health issues. Therapy animals undergo training to ensure they can safely and positively interact with people. They may also have additional training, depending on the purpose for which the therapist uses them.
These animals can be a catalyst for therapeutic breakthroughs. They may ease the minds of anxious children and adults and serve as an additional tool for connection in therapy. Therapy animals also present several liabilities and risks, so therapists who want to use therapy animals for anxiety or other mental health conditions should weigh the benefits and risks.
Animal-assisted therapy offers numerous benefits for all age groups. Research suggests that:
• Stroking animals can relieve stress and reduce blood pressure
• Heart rate and blood pressure responses to acute stress were moderated by the mere presence of a pet in the room while the presence of best friends or spouses resulted in dramatic increases in autonomic responses
• Patients with psychotic disorders and mood disorders had significant reductions in anxiety after animal-assisted therapy sessions
• The introduction of a friendly dog into a therapy session was associated with an increase in prosocial behavior and a decrease in autistic behavior in children
• Pets supply ongoing comfort and reduce feelings of loneliness during life crises or stressful transitions such as divorce or bereavement
• Animals improve the physical, social, emotional, and cognitive functioning of clients and can be a source of humor
• Pets improve a client’s strength, endurance, range of motion, balance, mobility, and sensation
Animals can be especially helpful in autism therapy. Some autistic children feel more comfortable with animals than with people. This can help break the ice in therapy and establish common ground. Animal lovers may feel more comfortable talking about their emotions and experiences when an animal is present. Petting an animal while discussing traumatic memories may even help those memories feel less painful.
Animal-assisted therapy is not for everyone. Fear of animals, especially dogs, is common. Some people may even enter therapy because of these fears. Gradual and consensual exposure to an animal may help. But immediate, prolonged, or unwanted contact with animals will not correct the fear, so having an animal constantly present may undermine therapy in those cases.
Therapists considering animal therapy should also decide how they will manage clients with allergies. An effective strategy for removing both the animal and any allergens they create is key to client comfort.
Some people simply do not like animals and may be uncomfortable if an animal is present during therapy. Therapists who love animals may struggle to understand this position. Because a therapist’s role is to accept a client without judgment and to take a client’s needs seriously, therapists must not force animals on people who are uncomfortable with them. This may require a therapist to have a safe, secure place to put an animal during therapy with certain clients.
Therapy Animal Certification and Education Requirements
There is no consistent or uniform standard across the nation for animal-assisted therapy. Despite this, therapists should pursue some form of certification for the animal. Education on animals in therapy can also help the therapist become more effective.
The American Kennel Club’s Canine Good Citizen certification is a good basic requirement for animals in therapy. CGC recipients are not aggressive, capable of following basic commands, and can appropriately interact with strangers. Dogs who fail this test typically exhibit behaviors that can present problems in therapy.
Several other organizations offer training and certification for therapy animals and their handlers. The Alliance of Therapy Dogs, for example, offers training, testing, and ongoing education. Local animal advocacy organizations may also offer behavior classes and various certifications.
Animals In Therapy
Therapists use a wide range of animals in therapy. Virtually any animal’s presence can be therapeutic. Some animals, however, may not be a good fit. They include:
- Animals that are difficult or impossible to move when a phobic client is present. A large tortoise might be friendly and produce no allergens, but it could be too heavy to move to another room.
- Distracting animals. This includes animals who make a lot of noise, especially dogs that bark when they want attention.
- Animals that may stoke fear in many clients. Large snakes or lizards can be scary even to people who otherwise like animals.
- Unhealthy or sick animals. They may scare children, while adults may feel anxious or sad about the animal’s condition.
When weighing animal therapy options, consider the goal of therapy, as well as how much you want to involve animals in therapy. A fish tank can feel serene and relaxing, and a cute small animal such as a gerbil may appeal to young children. Cats can be unobtrusive therapy animals who sit calmly in a client’s lap and who do not intrude on the therapy session or make noise when left in another room.
Therapists who want animals to actively engage in the therapeutic process often choose dogs. This is because dogs are friendly and affectionate, tend to like most people, and are often good at playing with children.
Not all animals are a good fit for animal therapy. While you might love your family dog, merely being friendly or likable is insufficient for a therapy animal. Some qualities of dogs who are good candidates include:
- Well-behaved and easy to control. Dogs who are very hyper, who jump on furniture, or who do not stop interacting when asked can overwhelm clients.
- Dogs who bark, whine, excessively pant, or who make other loud noises can be distracting.
- Well-groomed. A dog who smells, who sheds a lot, or who looks unkempt may be unappealing to clients.
- Non-aggressive.A dog who is friendly to people it knows or likes is not enough. The dog must be capable of being friendly to everyone and must have never shown even mild signs of aggression. Snarling, growling, snapping, aggressive barking and other aggressive behaviors should exclude a dog from consideration. ‘
- Comfortable with a wide variety of people. An animal who is fearful of people who behave unusually or who do not like children is not a good choice.
Some populations in which animal-assisted therapy has proven especially helpful include:
- Autistic individuals
- People with dementia and memory impairments
- People with chronic pain
- People with chronic or terminal illnesses, such as cancer and heart disease
- People with developmental delays
Legal Aspects of Therapy Animals
The primary legal risk of animal-assisted therapy is that the therapist could be sued if an animal injures a client. In rare cases, such as if a therapist knows an animal is dangerous, the therapist could even face criminal prosecution. If an animal bites someone, animal control may confiscate the animal or even euthanize it. State and local laws vary, so become familiar with the rules governing your area.
Just as every human is capable of behaving inappropriately, so too is every animal. Because animals cannot express themselves in words, they may express fear or frustration with aggression. Therapists should not assume that their therapy animals cannot or will not bite. Instead, they should take proactive measures to protect clients and animals. Never use an animal with any history of aggression in therapy. If an animal shows signs of fear, remove them immediately. Do not allow children to taunt animals.
Liability insurance can help protect a therapist from lawsuits. Your liability carrier will defend you if you are sued and pay the judgment—up to the policy limits—if you lose. Talk to your insurance carrier about insurance for animal-assisted therapy. In some cases, working with a certified animal may help lower insurance premiums or reduce your liability if you are sued.
Some other legal issues to consider include:
- The provisions of your lease, if you lease your office space. Some landlords forbid animals or require a substantial pet deposit.
- Local laws governing animal health care. You might be required to get an annual rabies vaccination or to register the animal.
- Animal safety and cruelty laws. You must be able to keep your pet safe and protect them from abuse. Allowing clients to mistreat the animal is almost always illegal.
- Local licensing and certification rules. Some areas require that therapy animals be registered with the county or city or that they receive specific certifications.
Animal-assisted therapy offers many benefits when therapists use it with the right people.
Although less mainstream and not necessarily something the average therapist will use in a regular clinical setting, dance/movement therapy is based on the assumption that body and mind are interrelated and is defined as the psychotherapeutic use of movement as a process that furthers the emotional, cognitive, and physical integration of the individual. Dance/Movement Therapy (DMT) affects changes in feelings, cognition, physical functioning, and behavior.
The American Dance Therapy Association (ADTA) defines dance and/or movement therapy as the psychotherapeutic use of movement to promote emotional, social, cognitive, and physical integration of the individual, to improve health and well-being.
It emerged as a field in the 1940s as early pioneers, many of whom were accomplished dancers, began to realize the benefit of using dance and movement as a form of psychotherapy (ADTA). It is a holistic approach to healing, based on the empirically supported assertion that mind, body, and spirit are inseparable and interconnected; changes in the body reflect changes in the mind and vice versa.
Dance/Movement Therapy Relies on the Following Premises:
Movement is a language, our first language. Nonverbal and movement communication begins in utero and continues throughout the lifespan. Dance/movement therapists believe that nonverbal language is as important as verbal language and use both forms of communication in the therapeutic process.
Mind, body, and spirit are interconnected.
Movement can be functional, communicative, developmental, and expressive. Dance/movement therapists observe, assess, and intervene by looking at movement through these lenses, as it emerges in the therapeutic relationship in the therapeutic session.
Movement is both an assessment tool and a primary mode of intervention.
Using these premises to guide their work, dance/movement therapists use body movement, the core component of dance, as the primary inroad to their psychotherapeutic work. Dance/movement therapists approach individual, couple, family, and group sessions by observing and assessing both their clients and their movements, using verbal and nonverbal communication to create and implement interventions that will address the emotional, social, physical, and cognitive integration of an individual.
Aromatherapy is not always recognized as a valid form of treatment in the medical community but can be an element to add to other recognized forms of treatment with the right and appropriate client.
Aromatherapy is the use of organic compounds to improve mood, mental state, or health. Those organic compounds are called essential oils. They’re made from various plant parts, such as roots, seeds, leaves, and blossoms. Using aromatherapy alongside other treatments may help boost mood and relieve stress. The therapeutic use of plant-derived, aromatic essential oils to promote physical and psychological well-being can be used in combination with other therapeutic techniques as part of a holistic treatment approach. Some therapists use aromatherapy in their offices to both effect changes in mood and to promote relaxation and also sometimes to invoke memories and state-trait changes.
Two basic mechanisms are offered to explain the purported effects of aromatherapy. One is the influence of aroma on the brain, especially the limbic system through the olfactory system. The other is the direct pharmacological effects of essential oils.
Basil is used for sharpening concentration, for its uplifting effect on depression, and to relieve headaches and migraines.
Lemon oil – Researchers at Ohio State University reveal that Lemon oil aroma may enhance one’s mood and help with relaxation.
Lavender oil is also commonly used for sleep issues and can act as a sedative.
Frankincense has been said to help lift mood and balance hormones, especially in women.
In all cases, these approaches are “brain-wise” interventions that stimulate whole-brain responses to help individuals of all ages experience reparation, recovery, and well-being. There are also creative interventions that specifically focus on verbal communication and self-expression as part of treatment, such as drama therapy, creative writing, and poetry therapy, and bibliotherapy.
While some practitioners define art, dance/movement, music, or drama therapies as play therapies, creative arts therapies and expressive therapies are not merely subsets of play therapy and have a long history in mental health with distinct approaches. While the arts may sometimes be a form of play, encouraging individuals to express themselves through painting, music, or dance involves an understanding of the media beyond the scope of play. In brief, arts therapies are different from play therapy because they integrate the knowledge of art with principles of psychotherapy and related fields.
In addition to the disciplines and approaches mentioned above, many therapists integrate activities that enhance relaxation as part of trauma intervention. Relaxation techniques often include creative components such as music, movement, or art-making. For example, guided imagery or visualization, meditation, yoga, and other methods of stress reduction are also used with individuals who have experienced trauma or loss.
There are also creative interventions that specifically focus on verbal communication and self-expression as part of treatment, such as drama therapy, creative writing, and poetry therapy, and bibliotherapy. In all cases, these approaches are “brain-wise” interventions that stimulate whole-brain responses to help individuals of all ages experience reparation, recovery, and well-being.