Repeated heavy workload, unfair work distribution, monotony, deadline pressures, stressed working relationships and work-life imbalance – these are only some pain points of the corporate world workforce. According to a recent study, 87% of corporate employees are stressed due to work related issues, 56% make up excuses for unplanned leave, 79% relate their anxiety to longer working hours and 58% attribute their suffering to being underpaid or undervalued.
Stress in corporate offices is something that’s unavoidable. But imagine a set-up with an in-house stress reliever, a stress-buster zone, right inside your office complex. A fuzzy corner to go to every time your stress hormone kicks in, only to come back refreshed and rejuvenated. This is exactly what Prarthana Magod, a psychologist, is trying to achieve through Animal Assisted Intervention (AAI).
“I have also wanted to try and get animals into the corporate sector. It’s very mechanical and driven like our education system and your expectations move from one goal to another. People in corporate office settings are mentally and emotionally drained. I am exploring the idea of having animals in the corporate sector,” says Prarthana, one of the participants at the one-day workshop on AAI in Bengaluru on Sunday, February 10th.
Organized by Animal Angels Foundation, a Pune-based non profit organization working in the field of human-animal interaction and animal assisted intervention, in association with For Love of All Pets (FLOAP), an organization that provides a platform for pet owners and pet service providers to connect and help each other, the workshop was a one-of-a-kind opportunity to learn about magical things animals can do to help us overcome problems and difficulties in various ways.
Animal lovers, pet parents, special educators, psychotherapists and students were in full attendance, trying to absorb various facets of AAI and their advantages. A special educator for 15 years in China, Meera Raghu says she attended the workshop to understand how something she discovered by accident works in a formal setting. Meera works with kids suffering with learning disability related to language.
“I have had dogs at home for many years. I have kids who come home for sessions, which would include my dogs accidentally. These kids had difficulty and low confidence in reading out loud, mainly because of the difficulty they face in decoding the text in their brains. These sessions are not easy because such children are extremely shy and scared of being ridiculed for making mistakes. During a few sessions, I ended up telling them to read to my dog instead of me, and soon I could notice the confidence they built up. I have seen AAI work in an informal set up,” says Meera.
From alleviating depression and anxiety level to generating a calming effect and from improving cardio-vascular health to increasing emotional awareness and self esteem, the benefits of Animal Assisted Intervention (AAI) are many. Reduced blood pressure, lesser pain, improved motor and communication skills, increased problem solving capacity and motivation – a therapy session involving AAI can achieve it all with ease.
The workshop had participants from various walks of life but with a common need–to be able to understand AAT better and put to use its benefits. Bhavana, associated with Swakshatra, an NGO cum shelter home for rescued children, who were either victims of abuse or trafficked, attended the workshop to find out whether AAT can be used to help rescued girls get back to normal life. “All the 18 children in the home are girls and have traumatic pasts. We have housed three Indies and a cat and the girls seem to have a comfortable relationship with the animals. This has made us tap the potential of animal assisted therapy for such children and I am here to see if there is scope for it to be incorporated into our counselling process,” she said.
Similarly, Runa Sen, a private counselor in the city, wanted to strengthen her foundation in AAT. “I have done short online courses on AAT and have realised, being a pet parent, how animals have unique qualities to help humans psychologically. Facilities to become a certified therapist are non-existent in India. I came here to understand in depth about AAT,” she said.
Sonia Hillary a corporate psychology counsellor in Bengaluru says, “I wanted to be a vet and i am a pet parent of many animals-dogs, cats, rabbits…I wanted to go through this workshop to quench my thirst for knowledge on AAT and also to find out if this could help me in my work.”
Harnessing therapeutic benefits
According to Anjana Thampy, animal-assisted psychotherapist based in Chennai and the speaker at the workshop, just the presence of an animal cannot be therapeutic by itself. “Getting into a partnership with an animal for therapy is a two-way street. One has to respect the therapy animal’s space, time and mood. The handler, who can double hat as therapist, has to be trained in recognizing stress signals in therapy animals, too. The animal has to be in a social, preferably a family set-up, and should not be over-burdened with work. The kennel system does not work with therapy animals. This is one of the reasons why birds are not generally used for therapy. The animal should be provided with space and choice to walk out of session if it feels so,” said Anjana.
The workshop also addressed the issue of AAT not involving a trained psychotherapist and growing concern around the issue. According to Minal Kavishwar, founder, Animal Angels Foundation, a therapist conducting AAT should be a mental health practitioner. As per Minal, playing with a dog or just interacting with an animal cannot be termed AAT.
“A simple way to distinguish between a therapy and interaction session is by asking one simple question – in the absence of the animal, is there a person who can conduct the therapy? If the answer to this question is not affirmative, the session cannot be called a therapy session. AAT (one of the aspects of AAI) involves sessions with clear goals that can be measured. Trained psychotherapists have a checklist to observe and analyse the progress of AAT,” says Minal, stressing that while the animal interaction sessions are beneficial too, they cannot be replaced with AAT.
Who can become an Animal Assisted Therapist?
- A professional from the medical/mental health field.
- Trained and certified in AAT.
- Incorporating a trained and certified therapy animal, assisted by a handler.
- Working on goal-oriented activities with measurable changes.
- Counsellors, speech therapists, special educators, physiotherapists.
Who can become a therapy animal handler?
- Owner or a person who has had long standing relationship with animals based on trust.
- Some one who has experience.
- No mental health qualification required.
- Interested and dedicated in working with differently-abled people.
- Trained with their pets.
- Trained in understanding and protecting the well being of their animal partner.
- Evaluated and certified as a therapy dog.
Who can become a therapy animal?
- Various pets like cats, dogs, horses and rabbits.
- Social, friendly, well mannered.
- Eager to learn.
- Interested in engaging with people.
- Motivated to do various tasks.
- Able to initiate interaction.
- Comfortable with strangers as well as in unfamiliar environment.