Experiential Therapy – AAP Indoor or Outdoor with Meditation

Liz Bunting, ExperientialAAP Animal Assisted Psychotherapy is an ‘Experiential’ therapy enabling clients to learn about themselves and others by participating in activities with the dog(s), exploring how they see themselves and others, how these activities and learning relates to their thoughts, feelings and behaviours and relationships with others. Outdoor therapy can be relaxing or invigorating, providing an opportunity to get out in a natural environment such as a park or forest and can involve talking and/or meditation, whilst being out in the fresh air.

AAP can be specific indoor activities with one dog or Outdoor walking therapy with one or two dogs, observing the interactions and relationship of the dogs. It offers opportunity to address a variety of learning, development and mental health issues including anxiety, depression, relationship and communication difficulties. Skills learning include: non-verbal communication, problem-solving, creative thinking, leadership, taking responsibility and teamwork.


The first meeting between dog and young person is often significant, facilitating a bond to develop more quickly between therapist and client. Thereafter the bond that may develop from that initial interaction can enhance a client’s ability to develop relationships with others, this is particularly beneficial for young people who have experienced neglectful or abusive relationships. When a young person becomes aware of the needs of an animal such as water, food, the need to relieve themselves, the importance of play and exercise for physical and mental well being, all of these factors assist in their learning about themselves. Being able to gives commands such as sit, down, stay or come creates a sense of one’s power and ability to impact another and their behaviour. Building an obstacle course of jumps or tunnels for fun is a powerful way to develop and increase a young person’s confidence, that they can effect change and interact with another with a sense of purpose and achievement. When a dog is used in conjunction with psychotherapy it creates an awareness of safety of oneself and the dog which can significantly change a person’s awareness and perception of risk and safety. This will enable the young person to make safer choices in an autonomous way.

Liz Bunting, ExperientialFriesen (2010) states “animals provide a social and emotional support…seem non-judgemental to the child [and] is perceived as comforting, raises the child’s self esteem and makes it easier for the child to express themselves”. Animals facilitate social, emotional and behavioural changes, develop and increase confidence and motivation, “raise awareness of emotions and ways of expression, reduce passivity” (Lefkowitz et al, 2005) “close physical contact, observing breathing and feel heartbeats, having hugs and cuddles” decrease stress and anxiety and promote healing and well-being.

Furthermore, studies of the human-companion animal bond reveal many physiological and psychological benefits. “Petting a dog with which one is bonded to promotes relaxation, characterized by decreased blood pressure and increases in peripheral skin temperature” (Velde et al, 2005). Other benefits include releasing stress, increased calmness, improved patient outlook, reduced fear and anxiety.

Issues Worked With

  • Abuse – emotional & physical
  • Anxiety
  • Grief & loss
  • Bullying
  • Domestic Violence
  • Exclusion from school
  • Imprisonment of family members
  • Low confidence & self esteem
  • Looked after children or in foster care
  • Relationship difficulties
  • Stress
  • Trouble Sleeping