Academics and Research

University hosts conference on animal-assisted therapy

A longtime leader in incorporating animals into therapy settings, the University of Denver’s Institute for Human-Animal Connection this week hosts a conference to explore the effectiveness of animal-assisted therapy (AAT) as a treatment method for veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, individuals recovering from devastating natural disasters, and victims of child maltreatment.

Running May 7–8 in Davis Auditorium on campus, Transforming Trauma: Methods for Animal-Assisted Interventions brings together more than 20 national experts presenting research on the revolutionary impacts of canine and equine therapy in alleviating emotional and psychological trauma in populations that haven’t found respite elsewhere. Session titles include “The Warrior Canine Connection: Creating safe, effective, non-pharmaceutical relief for those suffering from combat trauma” and “Animal-Assisted Crisis Response: Lessons from 9/11, Colorado and Beyond.”

“DU teams responded last August to assist children in their return to school in Newtown, Conn.,” says Philip Tedeschi, clinical professor of social work. “The common thread appears to be that in many cases where trauma has occurred and where the victim has been harmed by other people, animals can be highly therapeutic.”

That’s because animals are uniquely adept at providing patients with a safe, nonjudgmental relationship that enhances oxytocin, dopamine and other neurochemicals and allows for increased rates of psychological healing.

“Currently, we are losing veterans to suicide at a rate of nearly 20 per day, nationally,” Tedeschi says. “For a variety of reasons, traditional methods [of therapy] are inadequate, and veterans placed with a psychiatric service dog report a substantial new level of optimism.”

The University of Denver’s Graduate School of Social work offers the only certificates in the world specializing in animal-assisted social work. Students have enrolled from six different continents — all training to become practitioners who can incorporate animals into therapy settings.

“Denver has become a hotspot for AAT due to the program we offer at the University of Denver,” Tedeschi says. “This conference was designed to have research inform the practice of animal-assisted interventions. It is the biggest conference on this topic ever organized.”

Transforming Trauma: Methods for Animal-Assisted Interventions is open to the public.  Please register here.



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