There is a lot of confusion around the terms that encompass therapy and pets.
So let’s start from the basics: Therapy.
Therapy is the process of meeting with a therapist to resolve problematic behaviours, beliefs, feelings, difficulties, or challenges, whether emotional, mental or physical. In all modes of therapy, a goal is established and the steps it will take to get there are determined. Whether in an individual or group setting, the relationship with the therapist is a confidential one and it focuses on the content of what is talked about and on the therapeutic process.
A therapist is a certified professional who will support you, listen attentively, model a healthy and positive relationship experience, give you appropriate feedback, and follow ethical guidelines. Good therapy should be tailored to you and your experiences.
The terms pet therapy and zootherapy are confusing because they are too often used to describe animal-assisted therapy and animal-assisted activities, both of which involve the presence of an animal for clinical or recreational purposes. But not all pet therapy is “therapy.”
Animal-assisted activities are not therapy. They have a general purpose, usually recreational or educational, and do not have to be overlooked by a professional or therapist. They often include informal activities in non-medical settings such as universities to help people deal with stress and anxiety, and nursing homes to provide enjoyment and a sense of comfort.
Animal-assisted therapy (the “real” zootherapy) is a professional therapeutic process in which an animal is introduced as an intermediate between the therapist and the individual facing difficulties. The animal is seen as a “partner” who helps facilitate the process in order to reach the specific therapeutic goals.