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What Is Animal Assisted Therapy?

Melissa Winkle, OTR/L, FAOTA, CPDT-KA, Phoebe Yam, OTD, OTR/L

February 3, 2022



What is animal-assisted therapy?


Animal-assisted therapy is conducted by occupational therapists, nurses, counselors, or social workers. These are goal-directed therapeutic intervention plans that promote physical, cognitive, psychosocial, behavioral, and/or emotional functioning. Again, the provider is educated and licensed. OTs are licensed, work within their scope of practice, and have specialized continuing education. Finally, the process is evaluated and documented. Figure 1 is an example of a dog doing animal-assisted therapy.

Figure 3

Figure 1. Example of a girl in animal-assisted therapy.

The therapist is trained to be in this environment, with a specific population, and work on individual goals. Her goals might be sensory integration, motor planning, body awareness, et cetera.

melissa winkle

Melissa Winkle, OTR/L, FAOTA, CPDT-KA

President, Dogwood Therapy Services

Melissa Y. Winkle OTR/L, FAOTA, CPDT-KA is both an Occupational Therapist & a Certified Professional Dog Trainer. She is co-founder and President of Dogwood Therapy Services, a private practice in Albuquerque, NM; and of Animal Assisted Intervention International, a European-based organization for healthcare and human service providers who include animals in professional practice. She is adjunct faculty and clinical instructor at several universities and organizations, where she designs and delivers curriculum. Melissa is a practitioner, a researcher, an author and speaks internationally about disability, integrated & community-based program development, animal-assisted interventions, and service dogs. She is a proud UNM OT Program Alumni and a Fellow of the American Occupational Therapy Association. 

phoebe yam

Phoebe Yam, OTD, OTR/L

Phoebe Yam OTD, OTR/L is an occupational therapist from Arcadia, California who graduated from the University of Southern California. She has dedicated the past 3 years at Dogwood Therapy Services to pursue her goal of specializing in animal assisted therapy. She enjoys working with people of all abilities and ages. Phoebe has been studying the effect of training and handling styles on the human-animal relationship and enjoys learning about how to strengthen the human animal bond. She has presented at state and national conferences on achieving competency and standards of practice to further the field of animal assisted therapy for healthcare and human service providers.

Related Courses

Animal Assisted Therapy As An Adjunct To OT
Presented by Melissa Winkle, OTR/L, FAOTA, CPDT-KA, Phoebe Yam, OTD, OTR/L


Melissa Winkle, OTR/L, FAOTA, CPDT-KAPhoebe Yam, OTD, OTR/L
Course: #5411Level: Intermediate1 Hour
  'They gave a lot of good information to think about before starting in this area'   Read Reviews
Occupational therapy practitioners who would like to include or improve their inclusion of animal-assisted therapy (AAT) in OT practice will benefit from this course. The speakers will provide a general blueprint for continuing education and skill development regardless of experience for both practitioners and the animals.

Face Masks and Communication - Audiological Implications
Presented by Barbara Weinstein, PhD


Barbara Weinstein, PhD
Course: #4972Level: Introductory1 Hour
  'Good information'   Read Reviews
Face masks may impact communication in healthcare settings, particularly for people with hearing loss. Strategies for professionals to use in order to optimize communication for all patients when face masks are worn will be reviewed.

Sensory Health: The Missing Piece in the Wellness Conversation
Presented by Catherine M. Cavaliere, PhD, OTR


Catherine M. Cavaliere, PhD, OTR
Course: #5261Level: Intermediate1 Hour
  'The instructor was very knowledgeable, easy to listen to and the way she conveyed the information made it easy to understand'   Read Reviews
This course describes the impact of sensory processing and integration on well-being and the role of sensory health in wellness models as well as the implications for health promotion and prevention through a sensory health lens.

Journaling In OT To Address Anxiety And Emotional Regulation
Presented by Aditi Mehra, DHSc, OTR/L


Aditi Mehra, DHSc, OTR/L
Course: #5580Level: Intermediate2 Hours
  'great handout'   Read Reviews
Research suggests that practitioners struggle to find simple, effective ways to address mental health issues in OT. This course combines the efficacy of 2 evidence-based strategies: the art of journaling and the psychology of Acceptance Commitment Therapy (ACT) to offer a solution. Upon completion, practitioners will be able to access downloadable worksheets required to implement these strategies the very next day, into practice.

Occupational Therapy And Long Covid: What Have We Learned?
Presented by Scott Cheatham, PhD, DPT, OCS, ATC, CSCS
Live WebinarThu, Mar 2, 2023 at 3:00 pm EST
Thu, Mar 2, 2023 at 3:00 pm EST


Scott Cheatham, PhD, DPT, OCS, ATC, CSCS
Course: #5865Level: Intermediate2 Hours
Long-COVID or Post-COVID conditions are a wide range of ongoing health problems that affect individuals who have had the virus. This presentation will provide an evidence-based update regarding the diagnosis of Long-COVID, short and long-term complications, medical management, and rehabilitation strategies for the occupational therapist.

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