Animal-assisted Therapist Career Profile

Do you want to work as an animal-assisted therapist?

READ: This page helps you to read about the career and the info you need to decide on whether this is indeed the career you want to follow.

RESEARCH: ‚ÄčLearn about the skills required and minimum subjects to enter this career, as well as the places where you can study further after school.

PREPARE: If you want to plan and prepare for the career, then join the OZT Community! Members have access to tools, while chatting with other students and experts from around the world. Prepare to be amazed!

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UPDATED:

18 January 2024

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What is an animal-assisted therapist?

Animal-assisted Therapists are trained professionals (normally with some medical background) who use animals as a part of the treatment of humans with physical or mental conditions.

Dogs are most frequently used in animal-assisted therapy, but other types of animals such as cats, rabbits, horses, dolphins, and even wolves can be used.

Animal-assisted therapy can be used in various therapeutic settings, including mental health treatment, rehabilitation, and counseling. The presence of animals is believed to have a positive impact on individuals, promoting relaxation, reducing stress and anxiety, increasing motivation, and fostering a sense of connection.

Kitten 1

Alternative Names

The field of using animals in therapy goes by various names, and the specific titles or terms may vary depending on the focus or specialization of the therapist. Here are some alternative names for the career of an animal-assisted therapist:

  • Animal-Assisted Psychotherapist
  • Animal-Assisted Counselor
  • Pet-Assisted Therapist
  • Animal-Facilitated Therapist
  • Therapeutic Animal Handler
  • Animal-Assisted Mental Health Professional
  • Canine-Assisted Therapist (or Feline-Assisted, Equine-Assisted, etc.)
  • Zooeyia Therapist (referring to the concept of the health benefits of interactions with animals, sometimes used more broadly in public health contexts)

These terms may be used interchangeably, and the specific title chosen by a professional may reflect their preference, the types of animals involved, or the nature of their therapeutic practice.

Career Categories

The Animal-assisted Therapist career can be found in the following career categories:

  • Animal Health
  • Business

Different Animals?

Therapists have found that many kinds of animals can be used in therapy, including wolves and dolphins

AAT History?

The practice of AAT (Animal-assisted Therapy) has been around since the 1960's

What does an Animal-assisted Therapist do?

With which Groups of animals does an Animal-assisted Therapist work with?

Cats List Icon
Cats
Dogs List Icon OZT
Dogs
Critters List Icon OZT
Critters
Farm Animals Icon OZT
Farm Animals
Mammals List Icon OZT
Mammals

What is the level of Interaction with the Animals?

With who does an Animal-assisted Therapist work?

An animal-assisted therapist can work with a diverse range of clients across different age groups and with various needs. The inclusion of animals in therapy can be beneficial for individuals, groups, or communities facing a wide array of challenges. Here are some examples of the populations with whom an animal-assisted therapist may work:

Children and Adolescents:

  • Children with behavioural issues
  • Adolescents dealing with anxiety or depression
  • Individuals on the autism spectrum

Adults:

  • Individuals experiencing stress or anxiety
  • People dealing with trauma or PTSD
  • Those with mood disorders, such as depression
  • Adults with various mental health concerns

Elderly Individuals:

  • Older adults in assisted living facilities or nursing homes
  • Individuals facing loneliness or isolation

Individuals with Developmental Disabilities:

  • People with intellectual or developmental disabilities

Victims of Trauma or Abuse:

  • Survivors of abuse or traumatic events

Individuals with Physical Disabilities:

  • People with mobility issues or chronic illnesses

Rehabilitation Settings:

  • Individuals recovering from surgery or medical procedures
  • Individuals undergoing physical rehabilitation

Schools and Educational Settings:

  • Students with learning or behavioural challenges
  • School counselling and support programmes

Crisis Response and Disaster Relief:

  • Individuals affected by natural disasters or traumatic events

Correctional Facilities:

  • Inmates in prisons or juvenile detention centres

Animal-assisted therapy is versatile and can be adapted to a wide range of settings, making it applicable to various client populations. The therapist tailors their approach to meet the unique needs and goals of each individual or group they are working with.

What does an Animal-assisted Therapist focus on?

When animals are used for therapeutic purposes the activities are known as Animal Assisted Activities (AAA).

Animal-assisted therapists use the animals to provide touch and affection to clients, helping with anxiety issues, increasing the physical mobility of a client through direct handling, providing a topic of conversation, and giving the client an incentive to attend counseling sessions.

Disorders such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), autism spectrum disorder (ASD), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), major depressive disorder (MDD) are part of psychological disorders that can benefit from animal-assisted therapy.

When they are incorporated into teaching and learning activities it is known as Animal Assisted Education (AAE). Animals are used in certain schools by qualified teachers and counselors and have been shown to help children improve self-esteem and overcome physical and mental challenges.

What are the daily tasks of an Animal-assisted Therapist?

The daily tasks of an animal-assisted therapist can vary based on the specific setting in which they work, their client population, and the goals of therapy. However, here are some general tasks that an animal-assisted therapist may engage in on a typical day:

Animal Care and Management:

  • Ensure the well-being, health, and proper care of therapy animals.
  • Feed, groom, and attend to the physical needs of the animals.

Session Preparation:

  • Plan and prepare for therapy sessions, considering the specific needs and goals of clients.
  • Set up the therapy Environment to create a safe and comfortable space.

Client Assessment and Planning:

  • Conduct assessments to understand clients’ needs, challenges, and goals.
  • Develop individualised treatment plans incorporating animal-assisted interventions.

Therapeutic Interactions:

  • Facilitate therapy sessions, incorporating animals into the therapeutic process.
  • Guide clients through structured interactions with animals to achieve therapeutic goals.

Documentation and Progress Notes:

  • Maintain accurate and detailed records of client progress and session content.
  • Document observations, interventions, and any relevant information.

Collaboration with Other Professionals:

  • Collaborate with other mental health professionals, healthcare providers, or educators as needed.
  • Communicate with colleagues to ensure comprehensive care for clients.

Training and Supervision:

  • Participate in ongoing training to stay informed about the latest developments in animal-assisted therapy.
  • Supervise and mentor staff or volunteers involved in animal-assisted activities.

Client Education:

  • Educate clients about the benefits of animal-assisted therapy and the role of animals in the therapeutic process.
  • Provide guidance on how to interact with therapy animals safely.

Networking and Outreach:

  • Engage in community outreach and networking to promote animal-assisted therapy services.
  • Establish connections with potential clients, organisations, and referral sources.

Self-Care:

  • Prioritise self-care to manage the emotional and physical demands of the work.
  • Ensure personal well-being to be effective in supporting others.

It’s important to note that the daily tasks can vary based on the therapist’s specialisation, the setting (such as private practice, healthcare facility, school, etc.), and the specific needs of the clients they serve. Additionally, flexibility and adaptability are crucial qualities for animal-assisted therapists, as each client and session may present unique challenges and opportunities.

The working environment of an Animal-assisted Therapist

Where does an Animal-assisted Therapist work?

An animal-assisted therapist can work in a variety of indoor and outdoor settings, depending on their specialisation, the needs of their clients, and the nature of the therapy sessions. Here are examples of indoor and outdoor working environments, as well as places of employment for animal-assisted therapists:

Indoor Working Environments:

Private Practice Offices:

Animal-assisted therapists may operate their own private practice offices, where they conduct individual or group therapy sessions with clients.

Mental Health Clinics and Centres:

Therapists may work in established mental health clinics or counselling centres, providing animal-assisted therapy alongside traditional therapeutic approaches.

Hospitals and Healthcare Facilities:

Some animal-assisted therapists collaborate with healthcare professionals in hospitals or rehabilitation centres to provide therapy to patients recovering from medical procedures or facing health challenges.

Schools and Educational Institutions:

Therapists can work in schools, either as part of the school staff or through external partnerships, offering animal-assisted interventions to students with special needs or emotional challenges.

Senior Living and Care Facilities:

Animal-assisted therapy is used in senior living communities and nursing homes to enhance the well-being of elderly residents.

Crisis Response and Disaster Relief Centres:

Animal-assisted therapists may be involved in providing support to individuals affected by crises, disasters, or traumatic events.

Correctional Facilities:

Therapists may work in prisons or juvenile detention centres, using animal-assisted therapy as part of rehabilitation programmes for inmates.

Therapeutic Riding Centres:

Some therapists work in equine-assisted therapy centres, providing therapeutic interventions with the help of horses.

Outdoor Working Environments:

Equine-Assisted Therapy Centres:

Therapists specialising in equine-assisted therapy may conduct sessions in outdoor arenas or on horseback trails.

Nature-Based Therapy:

Some animal-assisted therapists incorporate outdoor or nature-based elements into their sessions, taking advantage of natural settings to enhance the therapeutic experience.

Animal-Assisted Activities and Events:

Therapists may organise or participate in outdoor events, such as petting zoos, where animals are used to promote well-being and stress relief.

Places of Employment:

Nonprofit Organisations:

Animal-assisted therapists may work for nonprofit organisations that specialise in animal-assisted therapy or support specific populations.

Government Agencies:

Some therapists find employment in government agencies, particularly those focused on healthcare, mental health, or social services.

Rehabilitation Centres:

Therapists may be employed by rehabilitation centers, including those that focus on physical rehabilitation or addiction treatment.

Educational Institutions:

Schools, colleges, and universities may employ animal-assisted therapists to work with students, faculty, or staff.

Private Companies and Businesses:

In some cases, businesses may hire animal-assisted therapists to provide stress relief or well-being programmes for employees.

Animal-Assisted Therapy Organisations:

Therapists may work for organisations specifically dedicated to animal-assisted therapy and activities.

The working environment can vary widely based on the specific focus of the therapist and the populations they serve. Whether indoors or outdoors, the goal is to create a safe and supportive space for clients to benefit from therapeutic interactions with animals.

What is the average annual salary of an Animal-assisted Therapist?

It’s challenging to provide specific and up-to-date salary information for animal-assisted therapists in different countries and regions, as salaries can vary based on factors such as experience, education, location, and the specific employer. Additionally, the field of animal-assisted therapy may have different levels of recognition and compensation across various countries.

Here are rough estimates:

United States (USA):

Salaries for mental health professionals, including animal-assisted therapists, can vary widely. On average, mental health counsellors in the U.S. might earn a median annual salary ranging from $40,000 to $60,000 or more, depending on factors mentioned earlier.

Canada:

In Canada, mental health professionals may earn an average annual salary ranging from CAD 50,000 to CAD 80,000 or more.

United Kingdom (UK):

Salaries for mental health professionals in the UK can vary, with average annual earnings ranging from £30,000 to £50,000 or more.

India:

Salaries for mental health professionals in India can vary significantly based on factors such as location and experience. The range might be INR 300,000 to INR 800,000 or more annually.

Australia:

Mental health professionals in Australia may earn an average annual salary between AUD 60,000 and AUD 90,000 or more, depending on factors like experience and location.

New Zealand:

Salaries in New Zealand can vary, with mental health professionals earning an average annual income ranging from NZD 60,000 to NZD 80,000 or more.

Nigeria:

Salaries for mental health professionals in Nigeria can vary based on factors like location and experience. The range might be NGN 1,000,000 to NGN 5,000,000 or more annually.

Kenya:

In Kenya, salaries for mental health professionals can range from KES 500,000 to KES 1,500,000 or more annually.

South Africa:

Salaries for mental health professionals in South Africa may vary, with an average range of ZAR 200,000 to ZAR 600,000 or more annually.

Regional Estimates:

For South America, Europe, and Southeast Asia, salary ranges for mental health professionals can vary widely. In South America and Southeast Asia, salaries might be lower on average compared to Western countries, while in Europe, the range could be similar to or higher than that of the United States.

Can an Animal-assisted Therapist be promoted?

Promotion levels for an animal-assisted therapist can vary based on factors such as education, experience, responsibilities, and certifications. Below are three prominent promotion levels with associated headings for each level:

Entry-Level Animal-Assisted Therapist

Education:

Bachelor’s degree in a relevant field (e.g., psychology, counselling, social work). Completion of animal-assisted therapy training or certification programmes. Basic knowledge of therapeutic interventions and animal behaviour.

Responsibilities:

Assisting in the planning and implementation of animal-assisted therapy sessions. Providing support to clients under supervision. Collaborating with senior therapists and other healthcare professionals. Basic administrative tasks related to client documentation.

Certification:

Basic certification in animal-assisted therapy. Compliance with any relevant state or national regulations. Training in first aid and animal handling.

Mid-Level Animal-Assisted Therapist

Education:

Master’s degree in a relevant field (e.g., counselling, clinical psychology, social work). Continued education in specialised areas of animal-assisted therapy. In-depth knowledge of therapeutic modalities and interventions.

Responsibilities:

Independently conducting animal-assisted therapy sessions. Developing and implementing treatment plans. Providing supervision and mentorship to entry-level therapists or interns. Collaborating with interdisciplinary teams for comprehensive client care.

Certification:

Advanced certification in animal-assisted therapy.
Maintaining required licences for independent practice. Specialised certifications in areas such as trauma-focused therapy or specific client populations.

Senior-Level Animal-Assisted Therapist

Education:

Doctoral degree (Ph.D. or Psy.D.) in a relevant field. Continuous professional development and research contributions. Expertise in advanced therapeutic techniques and animal-assisted interventions.

Responsibilities:

Leading and supervising animal-assisted therapy programmes. Conducting research and contributing to the field’s knowledge base. Training and mentoring junior therapists and students. Engaging in community outreach and advocacy.

Certification:

Advanced certifications in specialised areas of animal-assisted therapy. Leadership certifications or credentials. Active involvement in professional organizations and contributions to the field.

What difficulties can an Animal-assisted Therapist face?

Animal-assisted therapists may encounter a variety of challenges in their profession. These challenges can span physical, emotional, regulatory, and business-related aspects. Here are some potential challenges that animal-assisted therapists might face:

Physical Demands:

Working with animals can be physically demanding, especially in settings such as equine-assisted therapy, where therapists may need to handle and care for large animals.

Safety Concerns:

Ensuring the safety of both therapists and clients is crucial. There is a risk of injuries from bites, scratches, or other animal-related incidents. Proper training and precautions are essential to mitigating these risks.

Variability in Working Conditions:

Working conditions can vary widely, from indoor therapy rooms to outdoor settings. Therapists may need to adapt to different environments, weather conditions, and facilities.

Emotional Challenges:

Dealing with clients who have emotional issues or trauma can be emotionally taxing. Therapists may need to manage their own emotional well-being and establish effective coping mechanisms.

Business Management:

Animal-assisted therapists who operate private practices or work independently may face challenges in managing the business aspects of their practice, including client scheduling, billing, and marketing.

Regulatory Compliance:

Compliance with regulations and standards for animal welfare and therapy practices is essential. Therapists must stay informed about local, state, or national regulations governing their profession.

Continuing Education:

Staying updated on advancements in both therapy techniques and animal-assisted interventions is crucial. Continuing education can be challenging to balance with the demands of a busy practice.

Unpredictable Work Hours:

Animal-assisted therapists may have irregular or unpredictable work hours. This can be due to the nature of client schedules, the availability of therapy animals, or the need to accommodate various settings.

Interpersonal Dynamics:

Managing interactions between clients and therapy animals, as well as addressing any client allergies or fears, requires strong interpersonal skills. Therapists must be adept at handling both human and animal dynamics.

Client Retention and Recruitment:

Building and maintaining a client base can be challenging. Therapists may need effective marketing strategies and client engagement efforts to ensure a steady flow of clients.

Animal Welfare:

Ensuring the well-being and ethical treatment of therapy animals is a primary responsibility. Therapists must prioritise the welfare of their animal partners, including proper training, care, and monitoring for signs of stress.

Insurance and Liability:

Securing appropriate liability insurance is essential to protect against potential legal issues arising from accidents, injuries, or other unforeseen events during therapy sessions.

Navigating these challenges requires a combination of professional expertise, ongoing training, effective business management skills, and a commitment to both client and animal welfare. Therapists may benefit from networking with peers, seeking mentorship, and staying informed about best practices in the evolving field of animal-assisted therapy.

‚ÄčFuture growth and Possibilities

A few years ago, the concept of an animal-assisted therapist used to be unfamiliar, but with great research done on the benefits of using animals in treating patients, the market for this qualification is growing steadily. Prospects of employment are high, especially when going into private practice.

Here are some insights into the trends and possibilities that may influence the future of the animal-assisted therapy industry:

Growing Recognition of Animal-Assisted Therapy:

There is an increasing awareness of the benefits of animal-assisted therapy in various healthcare and mental health settings. This growing recognition may lead to expanded opportunities and the integration of animal-assisted interventions into conventional treatment plans.

Expanding Range of Applications:

Animal-assisted therapy is being explored for a broader range of applications, including rehabilitation, stress reduction in workplace settings, and support for individuals with diverse needs. This expansion could create new opportunities for animal-assisted therapists in different industries.

Research and Evidence-Based Practice:

Ongoing research in the field is contributing to the establishment of evidence-based practices. As the body of scientific evidence supporting the efficacy of animal-assisted therapy grows, the demand for these services may increase.

Integration into Traditional Healthcare:

There is a trend towards integrating complementary therapies, including animal-assisted therapy, into traditional healthcare settings. This integration may result in more job opportunities within hospitals, clinics, and rehabilitation centers.

Increased Use in Educational Settings:

Schools and educational institutions are recognizing the positive impact of animal-assisted therapy on student well-being. As a result, therapists may find opportunities to work in schools and colleges.

Telehealth and Virtual Platforms:

The use of telehealth and virtual platforms in therapy is becoming more prevalent. Animal-assisted therapists may explore innovative ways to deliver their services through online platforms, reaching clients who may benefit from remote interactions.

Advocacy and Regulation:

Continued efforts in advocacy and regulation may lead to clearer standards and guidelines for the practice of animal-assisted therapy. This could contribute to the professionalisation of the field and enhance its credibility.

Global Adoption:

While animal-assisted therapy has gained popularity in certain regions, there is potential for increased global adoption. Therapists may find opportunities to work in diverse cultural contexts and contribute to the international growth of the field.

Individuals interested in pursuing a career in animal-assisted therapy should stay informed about developments in the field, engage in continuing education, and consider networking with professionals to stay current with industry trends.

Availability of Jobs

Good

Which Skills are required by an Animal-assisted Therapist?

The skills required for a career as an animal-assisted therapist can be divided into two very important groups. The first is the group containing life skills, which are the core skills that are necessary or desirable for full participation in everyday life. The second group is career skills, or the specific skills required to allow a person to enter and operate effectively within a specific career. Some or maybe even all of the life skills can assist in strengthening the career skills, and they might even be the same for specific careers.

Life Skills

  • Self-awareness
  • Empathy
  • Critical thinking
  • Creative thinking
  • Decision making
  • Problem Solving
  • Effective communication
  • Interpersonal relationship
Life Skills
40%

Career Skills

  • Good handling and caring of animals
  • Excellent people and customer service skills
  • Good health and physical fitness
  • Basic computer literacy
  • ‚ÄčGood business knowledge
Career Skills
60%

Which Subjects must I have at School to prepare for this career?

The subjects you choose at school are important as they lay the foundation for further studies at college or university. While still at school, it’s also important to learn more about the animals you will work with, as well as gain some experience.

OZT has a list of various tertiary institutions where you can study further, after school. Each of these institutions also have their own Group page on OZT where you will find the exact subjects they require of you to have passed in school. Keep these requirements in mind, and discuss it with your school, guidance counselor and parents to ensure that you are prepared!

What will I need to Study to become an Animal-assisted Therapist?

Minimum educational requirements

A minimum educational requirement is a bachelor’s degree in a relevant field such as psychology, counselling, social work, or a related discipline. This provides a foundational understanding of human behaviour, mental health, and counselling techniques.

Study Focus

Subjects for Further Study (Bachelor’s Level):

Psychology:

Courses in general psychology, abnormal psychology, and developmental psychology provide a strong foundation for understanding human behaviour and mental health.

Counselling or Social Work:

Courses in counselling theories, therapeutic techniques, and social work principles are essential for developing the skills needed in therapeutic practice.

Biology or Animal Science:

Understanding basic biology, anatomy, and animal behaviour is beneficial. Some programmes may require coursework related to animal science or biology.

Communication Skills:

Courses in communication, interpersonal skills, and effective communication techniques are important for building strong relationships with clients.

Advanced Studies (Master’s or Doctoral Level):

Master’s Degree (M.A. or M.S.) in Counselling, Psychology, or a Related Field:

Many animal-assisted therapists pursue a master’s degree to gain advanced knowledge and skills in counselling or psychology. This degree often includes specialised coursework and practical training.

Doctoral Degree (Ph.D. or Psy.D.):

Some therapists choose to pursue a doctoral degree, which can lead to more advanced career opportunities and the ability to conduct research in the field. A Ph.D. or Psy.D. in clinical psychology or a related area is common.

Optional Short Courses and Certifications:

Animal-Assisted Therapy Certification Programmes:

Completing a certification programme specifically focused on animal-assisted therapy is beneficial. Organisations like the International Association of Canine Professionals (IACP) and the American Humane Association offer such certifications.

First Aid and CPR Certification:

Obtaining certification in first aid and CPR is important for handling any emergencies that may arise, ensuring the safety of both clients and therapy animals.

Equine-Assisted Therapy Training:

If you are interested in equine-assisted therapy, specific training programmes are available to learn how to work with horses in a therapeutic context.

Specialised Workshops or Conferences:

Participating in workshops, conferences, or seminars related to animal-assisted therapy, counselling techniques, and related topics can enhance your skills and keep you updated on industry trends.

Study Duration

The duration of College and Bachelor’s Degrees can be up to 3 or 4 years. Short Courses are usually between a few weeks and a year.

Possible Career Preparation Paths

If this is your dream career that you want to pursue, then it’s important to plan the way forward.

Why is planning important?

‚ÄčTo ensure that you understand the requirements for your career, and that you are always prepared for the next step on the road towards your dream. A preparation path is like a road map to where you want to be.

Possible Paths:

Here is a step-by-step career preparation path for a high school student interested in pursuing a career as an animal-assisted therapist:

1.  Attend Career Guidance Sessions:

Attend career guidance sessions at school to gain insights into various professions and learn about the field of animal-assisted therapy.

2.  Research All Possible Careers:

Conduct thorough research on careers related to animal-assisted therapy, considering various roles within the field, educational requirements, and potential career paths.

3.  Explore Educational Paths:

Identify educational paths that lead to a career in animal-assisted therapy. This may involve pursuing a bachelor’s degree in psychology, counselling, social work, or a related field.

4.  Align High School subjects with the Educational Path:

Choose high school subjects that align with the chosen educational path, such as biology, psychology, and communication skills. This will lay a solid foundation for further studies.

5.  Obtain a High School Diploma or Equivalent:

Focus on academic performance to obtain a high school diploma or equivalent qualification.

6.  Learn About Animals That Will Work With:

Research and learn about the different types of animals commonly used in animal-assisted therapy. Gain an understanding of their behaviour, needs, and suitability for therapeutic interventions.

7.  Align Post-School Path:

Consider whether to enter the job market directly after high school, pursue further studies (e.g., a bachelor’s degree), or explore entrepreneurship.

8.  Gain Experience Through Volunteering, Internship, Mentorship, etc.:

Seek opportunities for hands-on experience by volunteering at animal shelters, therapy centres, or other relevant organisations. Explore internships or mentorship programmes to gain insight into the field.

9.  Pursue Extracurricular Activities:

Participate in extracurricular activities related to animals, therapy, or counselling. This could include joining a school club, participating in community service, or attending workshops.

10. Join Professional Associations:

Explore and join professional associations related to animal-assisted therapy to connect with professionals in the field, access resources, and stay updated on industry trends.

11. Gain Specialised Skills:

Consider acquiring specialised skills through additional courses or workshops related to animal-assisted therapy, animal behaviour, and therapeutic interventions.

12. Network with Professionals:

Network with professionals in the field through events, conferences, and informational interviews. Building connections can provide valuable insights and potential mentorship opportunities.

13. Enter the Job Market, Finish Tertiary Studies, or Launch a Business:

Based on the chosen path, enter the job market, pursue tertiary studies (if applicable), or explore entrepreneurship opportunities, such as starting a small animal-assisted therapy business.

14. Stay Updated and Pursue Continuing Education:

Stay informed about advancements in the field by pursuing continuing education, attending workshops, and staying connected with professional associations. This ensures ongoing growth and competence.

By following these steps, a high school student can gradually prepare for a career as an animal-assisted therapist, gaining the necessary knowledge, skills, and experiences to succeed in the field.

Possible Combined Career Paths

It is possible to sometimes combine two or more related careers. This normally happens when you study and practice a specific main career, but the knowledge and experience gained also help you to have a paying hobby or secondary income career.

Possible Alternatives (there are a lot more):

Stepping stone

A stepping-stone career refers to a job or position that serves as a transitional or intermediate step towards a long-term career goal. Individuals may take on a stepping-stone job as it requires minimum education or finances to enter, or to gain relevant experience and develop skills, or to make professional connections that will ultimately help them progress towards their desired career path.

These interim positions may not be the ultimate or dream job, but they provide valuable learning opportunities and contribute to the individual’s overall career development. Stepping-stone careers are often seen as a strategic approach to building a successful and fulfilling professional trajectory, allowing individuals to gradually move closer to their desired roles or industries.

Choosing a career as an animal-assisted therapist can provide individuals with valuable skills and experiences that can be transferable to various related fields. Here are several career paths that individuals who have worked as animal-assisted therapists may consider as potential stepping stones or transitions in the future:

Training and apprenticeship

On-the-job training and apprenticeship requirements for animal-assisted therapists can vary depending on the specific setting, employer, and local regulations. Here are some general considerations:

Education and Certification:

Most animal-assisted therapists start by obtaining a relevant education in fields such as psychology, counselling, social work, or a related discipline. Additionally, completing certification programmes in animal-assisted therapy is often a requirement or strongly recommended. These programmes provide both theoretical knowledge and practical training.

Supervised Internship or Practicum:

Many educational programmes include supervised internships or practicum experiences where students can gain hands-on training in animal-assisted therapy under the guidance of experienced professionals. This is an essential component of the education process.

Volunteer or Entry-Level Positions:

Before or during formal education, aspiring animal-assisted therapists may benefit from volunteering or working in entry-level positions at animal shelters, therapeutic riding centres, or organisations that offer animal-assisted activities. This provides exposure to working with animals and client populations.

On-Site Training:

Upon securing a position as an animal-assisted therapist, there is typically on-the-job training provided by the employer. This training may include specific protocols, safety procedures, and guidelines for working with therapy animals and clients.

Animal Handling Skills:

Training in proper animal handling is crucial. This may involve learning about the behaviour of therapy animals, understanding signs of stress or discomfort, and mastering techniques for ensuring the safety and well-being of both the animals and the clients.

Observation and Supervision:

New therapists often work closely with experienced professionals for an observation period. During this time, they observe therapy sessions, participate in client interactions, and receive feedback and guidance from a supervisor.

Client Interaction and Communication Skills:

Developing effective communication skills with clients is a critical aspect of the training process. Therapists learn how to assess client needs, set goals, and facilitate therapeutic interactions using animals.

Ethical and Professional Standards:

Training includes understanding and adhering to ethical standards and professional conduct in animal-assisted therapy. This encompasses maintaining confidentiality, respecting client autonomy, and ensuring the welfare of therapy animals.

First Aid and Safety Training:

Training in first aid and safety procedures is essential for handling unforeseen situations, ensuring the well-being of clients, and addressing any emergencies that may arise during therapy sessions.

Ongoing Professional Development:

Animal-assisted therapists are encouraged to engage in ongoing professional development to stay current with best practices, new research, and advancements in the field. This may involve attending workshops, conferences, or additional courses.

It’s important to note that specific training requirements may vary by region, employer, and the nature of the therapeutic practice. Additionally, therapists may need to comply with any relevant regulations or licencing requirements in their area.

Average level of education of those entering the career

High School Certificate 0%
Diploma or Short Courses 0%
Degree or Higher Studies 0%

Licenses, Certificate, Registration and Professional Associations

The requirements for licences, certificates, and legal registration to become an animal-assisted therapist can vary based on the specific country, state, or province and local regulations. Licencing and certification requirements are often put in place to ensure the safety and well-being of clients, therapy animals, and the effectiveness of the therapy. Below are some general considerations, but it’s crucial to research and adhere to the specific requirements in the jurisdiction where you intend to practice:

Educational Requirements:

Many jurisdictions require animal-assisted therapists to have a minimum level of education in a relevant field, such as psychology, counselling, social work, or a related discipline. Some may require a master’s or doctoral degree for licensure.

Certification in Animal-Assisted Therapy:

Obtaining certification in animal-assisted therapy from reputable organisations is often a requirement or a strong recommendation. These certifications demonstrate that therapists have received specialised training in integrating animals into therapeutic interventions.

Licencing for Mental Health Professionals:

In many places, animal-assisted therapists are required to be licenced mental health professionals, such as licenced professional counsellors, clinical psychologists, or licenced clinical social workers. Licensure requirements may include completing a certain number of supervised clinical hours, passing an exam, and meeting educational criteria.

Animal Handler Certification:

Depending on the nature of the therapy and the type of animals involved, there may be certification requirements for handling therapy animals. Certification programs often cover topics such as animal behavior, welfare, and the safe integration of animals into therapy sessions.

Business Licences:

If operating a private practice or offering services independently, therapists may need to obtain the necessary business licences and comply with local business regulations.

Liability Insurance:

Animal-assisted therapists are typically required to carry liability insurance to protect themselves in case of accidents, injuries, or other unexpected events during therapy sessions.

Compliance with Animal Welfare Laws:

Adherence to local and national animal welfare laws and regulations is essential. Therapists must ensure the well-being and humane treatment of therapy animals.

Ethical Standards and Codes of Conduct:

Therapists are expected to adhere to ethical standards and codes of conduct established by professional organizations and licensing boards. This includes maintaining client confidentiality, obtaining informed consent, and upholding the highest standards of professional conduct.

Continuing Education Requirements:

Some licencing boards and certifying bodies may have ongoing education requirements to ensure that therapists stay current with best practices and advancements in the field.

State or Regional Regulations:

Research and understand the specific regulations and requirements in the state, province, or country where you plan to practice. Different regions may have distinct licensing boards and regulatory bodies overseeing mental health professionals.

It’s important for individuals considering a career as an animal-assisted therapist to consult with relevant professional organizations, licensing boards, and legal advisors to ensure compliance with all applicable laws and regulations in their specific location. This information is subject to change, and staying informed about updates in the field is crucial for maintaining a legal and ethical practice.

Professional Associations

Here are some key associations related to animal-assisted therapy:

International Association of Canine Professionals (IACP):

Website: https://www.canineprofessionals.com/

Pet Partners:

Website: https://petpartners.org/

American Humane Association:

Website: https://www.americanhumane.org/

Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association (EAGALA):

Website: https://www.eagala.org/

Animal-Assisted Therapy in Counseling (AATC) Division of the American Counseling Association:

Website: https://www.animalassistedtherapyinstitute.com/aatc

Delta Society (now Pet Partners):

Website: https://petpartners.org/

International Association for Human-Animal Interaction Organizations (IAHAIO):

Website: https://iahaio.org/

Australian and New Zealand Animal-Assisted Therapy Association (ANZATSA):

Website: https://anzatsa.org/

European Society for Animal-Assisted Therapy (ESAAT):

Website: https://www.esaat.org/

Association for the Advancement of Animal-Assisted Play Therapy‚ĄĘ (AAAPT):

Website: https://www.a4pt.org/

National Association of Professional Canine Handlers (NAPCH):

Website: https://napch.org/

Where can I study further?

All of the above information will help you understand more about the Career, including the fact that there are different paths to take to reach it. But if you are almost done with High School (Grades 11 or 12), you also need to start thinking about further studies, and WHERE you will study.

See the List of Universities, Colleges and Online Training Academies who offer courses towards therapy.

How do I start to prepare for this Career?

If you do decide on following this career, then OZT can assist you in gaining knowledge about the career and the animals you will be working with. We do this by offering you thousands of FREE short courses.

A. You can access the specialised study guide that fits in with the above preparation path

B.  If you are still uncertain about choosing this career, then have a look at our special series of WHAT NEXT courses. They take you through all of the questions you might have on how to choose the right career, what to do while and after school, and even how to start your own business.

C.  Or, join OZT as a member to access easy-to-use lists of courses to make your career preparation as smooth as possible! And yes, membership is always free.

Join the OZT online community for special access to more tools!

Join us as a special member and learn more about becoming an animal-assisted therapist.

Members of the Platform have special access to:

  • Info on the best places where you can study (colleges, universities and online)
  • Expertly designed¬†advice to prepare you for the career, and links to places where you can gain valuable experience. For some career experience is necessary, otherwise you wont get the job!
  • Top notch info¬†on each of the different species you will work with
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If you have decided on being an Animal-assisted Therapist, please click on the JOIN GROUP button. Members will be directed to the Group, while non-members will be assisted to register first.

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Some of the best websites to help you decide on the Career:

  1. Pet Partners:

    • Website: https://petpartners.org/
    • Overview: Pet Partners is a leading organization in the field of animal-assisted interventions. Their website provides resources on therapy animal training, certification programs, and information for both professionals and volunteers involved in animal-assisted therapy.
  2. International Association of Canine Professionals (IACP):

    • Website: https://www.canineprofessionals.com/
    • Overview: The IACP is an organization that supports and educates canine professionals, including those involved in animal-assisted therapy. The website offers information on training, certification, and networking opportunities for professionals working with therapy dogs.
  3. American Humane Association:

    • Website: https://www.americanhumane.org/
    • Overview: The American Humane Association is committed to ensuring the well-being of both children and animals. Their website includes information on various programs, including animal-assisted therapy initiatives, and resources related to the human-animal bond.

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