It’s been a VERY busy month with lots happening. On the 18th May I presented to a group of people interested or already involved in Care Farming at a small care farm in Shopshire. The location was stunning and whilst the weather wasn’t fantastic, it was good enough for us to go for  a brief tour after lunch to see some of the animals on the farm. The course looked at “Animal Assisted Therapy in Care Farming” and addressed the history of Animal Assisted Therapy, the background to Care Farming, AAT’s potential role in Care Farming, possible techniques and of course, the all essential Health & Safety! The day went very well and feedback was more than encouraging and gave me the little “oomph” I needed to prepare for the “Animal Assisted Therapy in Counselling” course.

Here is one of the feedback comments:

      ” I thought what a lovely lass she was. All the content and information was there, and it was in informative bite sized chunks. I really enjoyed it. When I saw how she relaxed with the animals I almost wished we had done things the other way around, as she positively shone from then on.

Well that was all the encouragement I needed to get myself into gear and prepare for the upcoming “Animal Assisted Therapy in Counselling” course. The course took place on the 9th June at Keele Sustainability Hub at Keele University, Staffordshire. It was very well attended on the day with a comfortable group size and no sooner did the click hit 9:30am than people started coming through the door. Delegates were welcomed enthusiastically by Flossie, who went up to each person, sniffed and wagged and waited for a fuss. I had forewarned delegates that Flossie would be attending and nobody objected and her presence really seemed to add to the experience (as was noted on multiple feedback forms!) for many. In fact Flossie took a particular like to a few people & throughout the day returned to them on a few occasions almost as if she was checking up to see if they were ok (on the pretense of having a fuss… or was that the other way around?!). She was quite restless for a good part of the day, we think because her “Uncle Richard” was there, helping me out (and without whom the day would not have been possible!) and took the role of general “dogsbody” (couldn’t resist! Sorry!).

Richard not only chauffeured us there, he helped bring the food up, prepare it, lay it out, washed up, hosted and took photographs!

(I have to say that aside from anything else, running the course really demonstrated to me who my true friends are and the really important people I have in my life! I am enormously grateful!)

The day started with a very welcome introduction from our wonderful Director & Senior Lecturer in Psychology at Keele University, Dr John Hegarty. John is also the founder (along with his wife) of Green Age at Blore Heath Farm – a care farm that specifically works with older adults through a “natural health service”.

Those who attended were a great mix of people from different backgrounds and geographical areas – from as far as Surrey and with others from nearby Cheshire and Stoke-on-Trent.

The morning was packed full of information; again looking at the history of Animal Assisted Therapy and the potential applications of AAT within the counselling experience. Delegates were very attentive and seemed to enjoy themselves.

One of our most engaging activities (as proven by the feedback) involved recounting particularly memorable experiences with animals & considering the feelings involved and senses engaged. One lady talked about her experience with a horse that she knew so well, she would lay on the ground with it and rest her head on its flank, another lady spoke of an exotic bird that she bonded with and that whilst it was wild, would spend time with her in her home almost as if a pet. It was also interesting to hear the resulting emotions evoked as a result of recounting their memories. Mostly, people felt the positive emotions they had felt at the time of the event they were recalling.

Lunch was eaten with gusto and was a great opportunity for people to mingle and tell each other their stories, backgrounds and interests. I had prepared a table with a variety of books from my collection concerning AAT, the human-animal bond and AAT in Counselling and it was encouraging to see people as eager as I have been to find out more about the books others read! I always say that if you want to really get to know a person, look at their bookshelf. It will give you quite the insight into their personalities and interests of course. I can’t help but wonder what my own book collections say about me!

Some of the books I brought included:

  • Burch, M. (2003) “Wanted! Animal Volunteers”, Howell Book House, New York
  • Chandler, C. (2005) “Animal Assisted Therapy in Counselling”, Routledge
  • Fine, A. (2006) “Handbook of Animal Assisted Therapy: Theoretical Foundations & Guidelines for Practice”, Academic Press
  • Levinson, B. & Mallon, G. P. (1997) [2nd Ed] “Pet Oriented Child Psychotherapy”, Charles C. Thomas Pub Ltd
The above books are a great start for those interested in incorporating Animal Assisted Therapy into their practice and the information isn’t limited to psychotherapy. Many of the principles and ethical considerations, for example, will apply across the board regardless of the health profession you are representing.

Later on I invited delegates to participate in a little activity where they were given a case study example, some props and had to think about how they might approach the scenario given using the props they had. It was a great opportunity for people to talk about and explore what they had learnt so far on the day and to put it into action.

This really got the students going and (once someone had reminded me that we needed to feedback on the activity…!) really showed some good insight and abstract thought about working with animals in counselling situations.

We also explored the importance of considering the pros and cons of the different models of AAT that can be utilised – for example a situation where there is an animal handler involved may be easier logistically as there is less responsibility on the therapist for the animal’s welfare but at the same time, confidentiality could be compromised with an additional person in the dynamic. Clients may find it harder to trust the therapist in this situation or to talk freely.

“Why?” AAT should be considered as an adjunct to therapy was also discussed. Reasons for employing AAT are on the increase thanks to the increasing research and evidence supporting it’s application but it is also vital that practitioners considering working with AAT think about maintaining, upholding and furthering the reputation of AAT if it is to be taken seriously by other professionals and the public.

All in all, the day, I think, would be counted as a great success and I believe participants enjoyed themselves and learnt much. The feedback from the day spoke for itself with scores of mainly 4 and 5 (out of 5). However, I do know that next time around I will be incorporating a greater number of interactive activities that will hopefully get participants applying the theory that they learn in the earlier part of the day.

Speaking of “next time around“…

following the success of our first course, HumAnima CIC is holding the next “Animal Assisted Therapy in Counselling” course on the 6th October at Keele Sustainability HubKeele University.

I will post a flyer for the next course on the blog page and if you would like to attend, please email me (info(at)humanima.co.uk) and I will send you a booking form together with the course brochure.

As the course was such a success, I have already had significant interest for the next date and I am anticipating places to fill up fairly quickly. Places are will be allocated on a first come, first serve basis. If you do have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Oh, I forgot to mention… the windows were Flossie friendly 🙂