When it comes to patients with brain injuries, animal-assisted therapy can foster social competence in them and increase their emotional involvement during therapy, recent findings suggest. After a severe traumatic brain injury, patients often exhibit problems in their social behaviour. For instance, they may suffer from reduced emotional empathy and show impaired emotional expression, all contributing to communicative problems in social interactions.
According to the study, animal-assisted therapy is increasingly being used in rehabilitation in order to improve these deficits in patients' social competence. Integrating animals into therapy can, for example, stimulate patient engagement and motivation. The research involved conducting animal-assisted therapy sessions for 19 adult participants alongside conventional therapy sessions. The patients' social behavior were recorded and evaluated during over 200 animal-assisted and conventional therapy sessions. The study also documented patient mood and satisfaction and their treatment motivation - an important criterion in therapeutic success.
The results, published in the journal of Scientific Reports, showed that in the presence of an animal - which included guinea pigs, miniature pigs, rabbits, and sheep - patients exhibited more active social engagement than during the conventional therapy sessions. They expressed nearly twice as many positive emotions and communicated more frequently both verbally and non-verbally. Animal-Assisted therapy had no effect on negative emotions, such as rage or anger. If an animal was present during the therapy session, patients considered themselves more satisfied and their motivation to actively participate in the therapy higher; this was congruent with the assessments of the therapists.
"The results suggest that animal-assisted therapy can have a positive effect on the social behavior of patients with brain injuries," concluded Karin Hediger, lead researcher of the study. According to the researchers, animals can be relevant therapeutic partners, because they motivate patients to care for the animal. Secondly, animals provide a stimulus for patients to actively engage in therapeutic activities.
(With inputs from agencies.)