Animal Assisted Therapy Degrees and Certificate Programs

Read about animal assisted therapy degree and certificate programs. Learn about program content, as well as career choices available to those in the animal assisted therapy field.

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Essential Information

Animal assisted therapy is a counseling technique wherein patients play with small animals to improve their mental, social and even physical well-being. The practice is not particularly common, and there are no degree programs related to the field; however, some schools do offer graduate-level animal assisted therapy certificate programs through their continuing education departments. These programs tend to be designed for working professionals in related fields, such as counselors.

A certificate program in animal assisted therapy provides students with an introduction to the theories behind human-animal interactions and the 'human-animal bond.' Certificate programs in animal assisted therapy are interdisciplinary and include courses related both to animal welfare and to human psychology. Most certificate programs in the field also include a research project or capstone project.

Education Prerequisites

Most schools offering animal assisted therapy certificate programs require students to hold a baccalaureate degree before they can enroll. Such programs are often offered as a form of continuing education credit for current counselors. Some schools accept a given number of years' worth of work experience in the field as a substitute for a bachelor's degree.

Program Coursework

Students enrolled in an animal assisted therapy certificate program study the basics of animal behavior and genetics. They also study the basics of human growth and development, emotional and mental disabilities, human psychology and other behavioral disorders. Some common course topics include:

  • Animal behavior
  • Psychology of animal assisted therapy
  • Working with animals
  • Small animal behavior and genetics
  • History of animal assisted therapy
  • Animal assisted interventions
  • Animal welfare basics

Employment Outlook and Salary Info

Having a thorough educational background in animal assisted therapy can be useful to professionals working in several different careers. Some of these include:

  • Animal assisted therapy specialist
  • Holistic counselor
  • Animal care research associate
  • Patient services technician

Some individuals who earn animal assisted therapy certificates can find work as social and human service assistants. Employment opportunities in this field were predicted to grow 28% during the 2010-2020 decade, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) - a much faster-than-average rate. As of 2012, social and human service assistants earned an average of $14.85 per hour, notes the BLS.

Certification and Continuing Education

No single association or organization oversees the certification process for professionals working in the field of animal assisted therapy. Students interested in studying the subject should enroll in a certificate program that is accredited by an organization such as the American Association for Veterinary State Boards or the International Association for Continuing Education and Training. Further resources and continuing education opportunities are made available by the Delta Society, a non-profit organization devoted to therapy animals.

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