Animals Helping Humans

Animals Helping Humans

According to researchers, people who suffer from, aphasia, which is a language disorder that results from damage to portions of the brain that are responsible for language (left-hemisphere), have improved through the use of animal-assisted therapy. Aphasia usually occurs suddenly, often as the result of a stroke or head injury, but it may also develop slowly, as in the case of a brain tumor. The disorder impairs the expression and understanding of language as well as reading and writing. Aphasia may co-occur with speech disorders such as dysarthria or apraxia of speech, which also result from brain damage (October 1997).

Recently at the University of Alabama, Beth L. Macauley, PhD, conducted a study where three men who suffer from aphasia due to a stroke in the left-hemisphere of the brain. The men received a semester of the traditional language therapy for aphasia and then a semester of animal assisted therapy, also known as AAT.

*In completion of the study, results of a client-satisfaction questionnaire, however, indicated that each of the participants was more motivated, enjoyed the therapy sessions more, and felt that the atmosphere of the sessions was lighter and less stressed during AAT compared with traditional therapy (May/June 2006).

The first documented use of animals in therapy occurred in 1792 at the York Retreat in England, where farm animals were used to improve the attitude of mental patients. The founder of nursing, Florence Nightingale, documented the benefits of animals in therapy settings in 1860. She "observed that a small pet is often an excellent companion to the sick.” Clinical psychologists then began to integrate the use of animals and began to see the positive effects that AAT had on their patients. The animals were seen as a part of the therapy session and not just an object for patients to focus on.
Through AAT doctors have found that patients with a variety of psychiatric and learning disorders tend to be less stressed and have less anxiety. Patients often find themselves becoming attached and forming bonds with the animals within their sessions.

AAT has also been used in nursing homes, juvenile detention centers, hospices, prisons, and schools as well.

Benefits of AAT in a School Environment

The use of AAT in a school would be very beneficial to students who suffer from speech and language difficulty due to trauma. Children who are victims of trauma or have communication disorders may perceive animals as less threatening than people. As a result, pets may help such children become aware of their feelings and develop a clearer sense of self. This would be the ideal type of treatment for school counselors to use.

  • Be sure to inquire what an individuals likes or dislikes are when choosing an animal or pet.


Journal of Rehabilitation and Research and Development (JRRD), Volume 43 Number 3, May/June 2006, Pages 357 — 366.

National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD)

Education Resources Information Center (ERIC)

Page contributed by: Kai Blackwood