Relational Healing Through Animals: The Human-Animal Bond Therapist Toolkit

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Malone, Kate
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Early attachment experiences and the resulting attachment security that develops has a lasting impact on human mental health and well-being, as well as challenges to interpersonal relationships. Without early experiences of emotional safety and attunement in relationship, individuals develop maladaptive ways of regulating emotion, making them vulnerable to trauma and stress. In therapy, a primary goal for individuals with attachment wound is to develop a secure relationship with the therapist from which to explore their experiences and learn new ways of emotion regulation. New research into neuroscience has linked the brain and body to early attachment, which is being integrated into new therapy modalities with much success. However, for some individuals their attachment histories make it extremely difficult to develop trust with a therapist to begin this healing journey, causing them to drop out of therapy or to not see results. Animals, however, have innate qualities that enable people to develop trust and feel safe quickly. Perceived by many as alternative attachment figures, animals can offer secure corrective relational experiences for individuals with attachment wounds. Animal-assisted therapy has harnessed the human-animal bond in order to provide a safe presence in the therapy space. Outside of animal-assisted therapy, however, there is limited research into how the human-animal bond can be integrated into therapy for individuals with attachment wounds. This capstone proposes the Human-Animal Bond Therapist Toolkit, a resource to use animals metaphorically in their work with clients to move towards more secure relationships.
attachment , animal-assisted therapy , human-animal bond , affect regulation , somatic therapy
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