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Animal Assisted Play Therapy

*Please note, AAPT currently only available at Woodland Park Location

Animal Assisted Play Therapy (AAPT)™is a full integration of play therapy with animal-assisted therapy, primarily for mental health/psychotherapy and education purposes. It is valuable in helping children, adolescents, and adults, and can be provided for individuals, groups, and families. VanFleet and Faa-Thompson (2017) have defined it as the integrated involvement of animals in the context of play therapy, in which appropriately trained therapists and animals engage with clients primarily through systematic playful interventions, with the goal of improving clients' developmental and psychosocial health, while simultaneously ensuring the animal's well-being and voluntary engagement. Play and playfulness are essential ingredients of the interactions and the relationship. VanFleet, R., & Faa-Thompson, T. (2017). Animal Assisted Play Therapy. Sarasota, FL: Professional Resource Press.


AAPT emphasizes the importance of relationships--the relationships between therapists and their animals, between therapists and clients, and between clients and animals. All activities and decisions are made within the frame of mutually respectful, beneficial, and fun relationships. Not only must client needs be met, but the sessions must be voluntary and enjoyable for the animals. Equipment is used minimally or not at all so that the animals can make choices about their own participation.


Play isn't just for children! Interactions are playful and light in tone. This is to provide emotional safety for clients of all ages. Problems are taken seriously, but therapeutic interventions use playfulness and humor to help achieve client goals.

Relationship and Animal Welfare Emphasis 

Play Emphasis

Goal Areas & Applications

AAPT has wide applicability and can be used by therapists using all theoretical orientations. There are directive and nondirective forms of it, with interventions that involve differing levels of structure. AAPT has been used with most major client problem areas, including attachment and trauma problems, anxiety, autism spectrum disorders, behavior issues, attention and learning challenges, relationship problems, and with those who have histories of harming animals. AAPT is an empowerment approach, focusing on building strengths while resolving difficulties. Primary mental health goal areas include (1) self-efficacy, (2) attachment and relationship, (3) empathy, (4) self-regulation, and (5) specific problem resolution. 

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