University of Queensland students gain hands-on experience in animal-assisted therapy with the help of the therapy dog Elsa.
Elsa’s supervisor, Dr. Jessica Hill, of the UQ School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences, is behind an Australian pilot program in which students use animal-assisted occupational therapy to help children develop everyday skills.
“During the sessions, I am there as caregiver for Elsa while the students work with her to help children develop skills such as dealing with emotions, developing a morning routine and playing skills,” said Dr. Hill.
“Whether she’s teaching them to share toys or demonstrating how to control their emotions by calming down after jumping and playing, Elsa helps children find their way around and get involved in their chores.
“Animal assisted therapy is still an emerging field, with the literature and current research telling us that adequate training is required to be performed safely, ethically and effectively.
“That is why the pilot program was developed – to enable the students to have this important experience as part of their bachelor’s degree.”
The increased media attention and the introduction of the national disability insurance have led to a growing interest in animal-assisted therapy.
UQ has started adding animal-assisted services to the curriculum, but additional learning opportunities are needed to help students put their knowledge into practice.
“The opportunity to work with Elsa expands the students’ skills and strengthens their ability to use techniques innovatively,” said Dr. Hill.
“Having Elsa in the room also helps build a relationship between a child and a therapist and increases engagement within the session.
“Every child and session is different, so students develop their skills in real time and deliver goal-oriented outcomes for children and their families.”
Media: Dr. Jessica Hill, email@example.com; UQ Communications, Bridget Druery, firstname.lastname@example.org, +61 (0) 7 3366 3037.