Animal Assisted Psychotherapy and Counseling: Canine, Feline, & Equine Therapy

Online Course Materials:    ArticlesArticles    VideosVideos   

Developed by Robin R. Norris, Ph.D., LMFT

General Course Description

Animals have been aids to humans for centuries. In our modern times we have now chosen to utilize them as helpers in the psychotherapeutic process. While much of the research on animal assisted therapy is qualitative and full of personal description, researchers are now beginning to study the use of animals in a quantitative manner. Research with animals as psychotherapy assistants suggests that humans show signs of reduced stress, fear and anxiety, and increased calmness and comfort when the right animal is present. Interacting with animals can improve mental health by reducing loneliness and increasing meaning in a person’s life.

Animal assistants come in all shapes, sizes, types, and breeds. Unique to the field of animal assistants is the process of engaging with a horse also known as Equine Assisted Psychotherapy (EAP) or Equine Facilitated Psychotherapy (EFP). Animal assisted therapy is being used within many populations including, but not limited to, at-risk youth, children with language delays, geriatrics, victims of violence, wounded warriors, and those with varied mental conditions (autism, depression, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, substance dependence, mood disorders, and psychotic disorders). Overall, animals in a psychotherapy situation can enhance trust, prompt thoughts of safety, promote emotional expression, encourage the use of appropriate social skills, and empower clients.

Equine Therapy

In this intermediate comprehensive course, you will view five brief real world videos (transcripts provided) and read ten articles. The videos set the stage for working with animals both in an office and outside into another arena. Through viewing, you will notice how the presence of an animal enables a client to interact with the world around them in a special way that may not be derived at through traditional talk therapy. The articles define and describe the benefits of an animal assistant when matched with specific psychotherapy theories. In reading the articles you will learn more about how having an animal present may offer the client difference in physiological responses, various approaches, the terminology associated with, and the differences in therapy from practitioner to practitioner.

Disclaimer: This course is purely educational and does not intend to serve as a license (or permission) to mental health professionals to prescribe or practice any of the approaches discussed in this course unless they fall within the scope of practice of your profession. Check with your licensing board about the scope of practice of your profession to make sure you practice within that scope.It also does not serve as a permission to title yourself in any specific way.

Educational Objectives

    This course will teach the participant to

  • Describe some of the primary uses of an animal in a psychotherapy situation.
  • Note the kinds of animals that have been incorporated into treatment of human conditions.
  • Review the emotional, psychological, familial, and physiological benefits of animal assisted psychotherapy.
  • Demonstrate an understanding of Equine Assisted Psychotherapy (EAP) or Equine Facilitated Psychotherapy (EFP).
  • Determine how EAP/EFP might be useful alone or as an adjunct to traditional treatment.
  • Identify clients that may be helped by EAP/EFP.
  • Evaluate the effectiveness of EAP/EFP on trauma.
  • Recommend the potential directions of growth in the field.


  • Anderson S., & Meints, K. (2016). Brief report: The effects of equine-assisted activities on the social functioning in children and adolescents with autism spectrum disorder. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders 46 (10), 3344-3352.
  • Cherniack, E. P., & Cherniack, A. R. (2014). The benefit of pets and animal-assisted therapy to the health of older individuals. Current gerontology and geriatrics research, 2014, 623203.
  • Kern-Godal, A., Brenna, I. H., Arnevik, E. A., & Ravndal, E. (2016). More than just a break from treatment: How substance use disorder patients experience the stable environment in horse-assisted therapy. Substance Abuse: Research and Treatment, 10, SART-S40475.

Course Syllabus:

Introduction & History

Animal and Equine Assisted/Facilitated Psychotherapy: Defined and Described

  • The impact that animals have on human relationships
  • How therapists incorporate the use of animals as co-therapists
  • Overview of theories that can employ these forms of assistants

Special Applications of Animal Assisted Therapy

  • Working with populations including children, adolescents, elderly, sexual trauma survivors, veterans, groups, and family
  • Applications with particular diagnoses such as depression, PTDS, anxiety, substance use, autism
  • Examples of an Equine Assisted Psychotherapy Exercises


  • Synopsis of some of the international and nationally based research studies
  • Outcomes involving self report both quantitative and qualitative
  • Discussion of the emotional, psychological and physiological benefits
  • Methodological implications of designing and evaluating animal assisted interventions
  • Research Questions to Consider
CE Badge Created with Sketch. 8 CE

Cost: $79.00

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