Poster Session
Issue Date: July 2015
Published Online: July 01, 2015
Updated: April 30, 2020
Animal-Assisted Therapy: Motives and Rewards
Author Affiliations
  • University of New Hampshire
  • University of New Hampshire
Article Information
Complementary/Alternative Approaches / Health Services Research and Education
Poster Session   |   July 01, 2015
Animal-Assisted Therapy: Motives and Rewards
American Journal of Occupational Therapy, July 2015, Vol. 69, 6911510037.
American Journal of Occupational Therapy, July 2015, Vol. 69, 6911510037.

Date Presented 4/16/2015

Animal-assisted therapists have specific motives that inspire involvement in therapy and have specific rewards that promote continuation. Through understanding these motives and rewards, occupational therapists can work with animal-assisted therapists to create client-centered interventions. Diversifying the field of occupational therapy with the inclusion of animal-assisted therapy would benefit clients, therapists, and the profession. This study is the first to look at the motives of animal-assisted therapists.

SIGNIFICANCE: Animal-assisted therapy (AAT) is a complementary therapy that, if paired with occupational therapy, can be a coping strategy and intervention. For individuals who are motivated by relationships with animals or who identify pet caregiving as an occupation, AAT can be incorporated into client-centered occupational therapy. AAT can also become a new occupation for aging individuals or those who desire a lifestyle change. AAT is an emerging practice area that can provide valuable treatment. The known benefits of AAT, including reduced anxiety, can enhance occupational therapy interventions. By understanding what motivates people to become and remain animal-assisted therapists, this service can be provided to more individuals who would benefit. What are the primary motives for becoming animal-assisted therapists, and what are the associated rewards? By understanding what inspires individuals to become animal-assisted therapists and the rewards that they receive, different practice settings can better recruit and retain therapists. Occupational therapists can also suggest the occupation of AAT to individuals who have similar motives. Diversifying the field of occupational therapy with the inclusion of AAT would benefit clients, therapists, and the profession. In this study, we are the first to look at the motives of animal-assisted therapists.
METHOD: This study was a mixed-methods design, including a demographic questionnaire, the Volunteer Motivation Index (VMI), and a semistructured interview. Information from the questionnaire was used to describe participants. The questionnaire and VMI were distributed to participants by mail. The semistructured interviews took place in public venues or in participants’ homes.
The 15 participants were recruited through fliers from AAT organizations in New Hampshire and Rhode Island. Most participants were in their 50s, married, and college educated. Participants were required to be certified animal-assisted therapists. Therapy could be performed with a job or as a volunteer activity.
The VMI measured 10 categories of motivation. The semistructured interviews of 1 to 2 hr had 15 core questions about the therapist, his or her dog, and therapy. Quantitative data were recorded in SPSS from the questionnaire and the VMI. Qualitative data were procured from audio-recorded interviews. These interviews were transcribed verbatim, read by the two authors, coded for themes, and then read again by the authors. Themes were determined through content analysis and were discussed by the authors. Themes were based on how often they appeared in interviews. Each theme had contextual support from quotes and VMI results to be considered viable.
RESULTS: The results demonstrate how animal-assisted therapists are a unique cohort in comparison to other volunteers. Supported by volunteer and motivation literature, it is evident that—similar to volunteers—these therapists are motivated by their values. However, they are not as selfless as other volunteers, and they have a superiority complex. They also do not participate in therapy because they derive social pleasure from it; instead, they are content to primarily work with their dogs. It is critical to know what motivates animal-assisted therapists to recruit them. Practice settings can use this information to develop support systems specifically for their therapists to create a more productive and beneficial environment. AAT can be used along with occupational therapy, because animal-assisted therapists are known to be empathetic and caring—qualities often found in occupational therapists.