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The Effect of Animal-Assisted Therapy on Empathy and Self-Esteem in At-Risk Adolescents

ProQuest Dissertations and Theses, 2011
Dissertation
Author: Cynthia Bilinsky
Abstract:
The relationship between self-esteem and the development of self-confidence is particularly strong in adolescence, a period of development filled with changes in socio-cognitive skills which have been linked to pro-social behaviors or empathy. Previous research has shown animal-assisted therapy (AAT) as an option for treating adolescents for depression and anxiety. However, there remains an important gap in current literature regarding the effectiveness of AAT as a means to improve self-esteem and empathy in emotionally impaired adolescents. Drawing from experiential theory, cognitive behavioral theory, and Erikson's theory of development, this study examined whether AAT would improve self-esteem and empathy among youth at risk of poor academic performance, decreased school attendance, or inadequate social skills. Additionally, gender and age were examined as possible mediating variables. Sixty-one participants, recruited from a school in a northeastern US state, aged 10-17, were assigned into either the AAT group or a traditional therapy group. Participants completed the Coopersmith Self-Esteem Inventory (CSEI) and Index of Empathy (IOE) scales before and after the intervention. Multivariate analysis of covariance demonstrated no significant differences between the AAT and traditional therapy groups on self-esteem and empathy scores. Implications for positive social change include further explorations of the potential positive impacts of AAT that can help adolescents improve social skills, self-esteem, empathy and academic performance, guiding future research with at-risk youth and AAT as a treatment modility for increasing self-esteem and empathy.

and content expert , for her continued support and encouragement. Dr. Tracy Marsh, my methods expert, for her expert feedback and gu idance regarding the methods of this research.

I would like to thank Dr. Tracy Weber, for her excellent feedback and mentoring on Animal - Assisted Interventions. Finally, I would like to thank June Cline for her expertise and guidance on the statistical a nalysis of this dissertation.

i

T able

of

C ontents

List of Tables

................................ ................................ ................................ .....................

vi

Preface ................................ ................................ ................................ ...............................

vii

Chapter 1: Introduction to the Study

................................ ................................ .................... 1

Background

................................ ................................ ................................ .................... 1

Animal - Assisted Psychotherapy

................................ ................................ .............

2

Background of the Study

................................ ................................ ............................... 3

Statement of the Problem

................................ ................................ ............................... 4

Background of the Problem

................................ ................................ ........................... 4

Purpose of the Study

................................ ................................ ................................ ...... 6

Hypothesis ................................ ................................ ................................ ...................... 7

Research Questions and Hypotheses

................................ ................................ ......

8

Teacher‟s Pet Program

................................ ................................ ................................ ... 9

Literature Review Summary

................................ ................................ ........................ 11

Theoretical Orientation

................................ ................................ .........................

11

Therapeutic Alliance

................................ ................................ .............................

12

Standards in the Field of Animal - Assisted Therapy

................................ .................... 13

Equ ine Assisted Psychotherapy

................................ ................................ ............

13

Definition of Key Terms

................................ ................................ .............................. 15

Assumptions, Limitations, Scope, and Delimitations

................................ .................. 20

Significance of the Study

................................ ................................ ............................. 22

Summary

................................ ................................ ................................ ...................... 23

ii

Chapter 2: Literature Review

................................ ................................ ............................. 24

Introduction

................................ ................................ ................................ .................. 24

Literature Review Strategy

................................ ................................ .......................... 24

Overview

................................ ................................ ................................ ...................... 25

Human - Animal Bond

................................ ................................ ................................ ... 25

Emotional Benefits of Human - Animal Interactions

................................ .............

25

Theories: An Overview

................................ ................................ ................................ 26

Developmental Theory ................................ ................................ ..........................

26

Erikson‟s Theory of Development

................................ ................................ ........

27

Erik Erikson‟s Identity Formation

................................ ................................ ............... 28

Identity versus Role Confusion

................................ ................................ .............

30

Childhood Attachment

................................ ................................ ..........................

31

Disorders and Approaches to Treat ment ................................ ................................ ...... 32

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

................................ ................................ ..............

33

Experiential Theory

................................ ................................ ................................ ..... 35

Carl Rogers and Humanism

................................ ................................ ......................... 36

Wilderness Programs

................................ ................................ ................................ ... 37

Self - esteem

................................ ................................ ................................ ................... 37

Empathy

................................ ................................ ................................ ....................... 38

Adolescent Depression and Anxiety

................................ ................................ ............ 39

Gender Differences in Depression

................................ ................................ ........

40

Extreme Emotional Dis tress and Posttraumatic Stress Disorder

................................ . 40

iii

Posttraumatic Stress Disorder

................................ ................................ ...................... 42

Substance Use

................................ ................................ ................................ .............. 43

Animal - Assisted Therapy

................................ ................................ ............................ 44

Potential Risks Associated wi th AAT ................................ ................................ ...

45

Why AAT?

................................ ................................ ................................ ............

46

Data Analysis

................................ ................................ ................................ ........

47

Summary

................................ ................................ ................................ ...................... 48

Chapter 3: Research Method

................................ ................................ .............................. 50

Introduction

................................ ................................ ................................ .................. 50

Restatement of the Purpose

................................ ................................ ...................

50

Research Design ................................ ................................ ................................ ....

50

Research Questions and Hypotheses

................................ ................................ ........... 51

Description of the Teacher‟s Pet Program

................................ ................................ ... 53

Setting for the Study

................................ ................................ .............................

53

Participants

................................ ................................ ................................ ................... 54

Population

................................ ................................ ................................ .............

54

Selection Criteria

................................ ................................ ................................ ..

54

Instrumentation and Materials

................................ ................................ ..............

55

Index of Empathy (IOE)

................................ ................................ .......................

56

Coopersmith Self - Esteem Inventory (CSEI)

................................ ........................

56

Administration of Measurement T ools

................................ ................................ .

57

Protection of Participants‟ Rights

................................ ................................ ................ 58

iv

Demographic Information

................................ ................................ .....................

58

Data Collection

................................ ................................ ................................ .....

59

Statistical Analysis

................................ ................................ ................................

59

Data Analysis

................................ ................................ ................................ ........

61

Chapter 4: Results

................................ ................................ ................................ .............. 63

Introduction

................................ ................................ ................................ .................. 63

Description of the Participants

................................ ................................ ..............

63

Pre - test Equivalency Tests

................................ ................................ ....................

65

Research Questions and Hypotheses

................................ ................................ ....

66

Research Question 1 :

................................ ................................ ............................

66

Research Question 2:

................................ ................................ ............................

68

Research Question 3

................................ ................................ .............................

70

Summary

................................ ................................ ................................ ...................... 74

Chapter 5: Discussion, Conclusions, and Recommendations

................................ ............ 76

Discussion

................................ ................................ ................................ .................... 76

Limitations

................................ ................................ ................................ ................... 77

Recommendations for Future Study

................................ ................................ .....

79

Implications for Social Change

................................ ................................ .............

80

References

................................ ................................ ................................ .......................... 82

Appendix A: CBEIP Criterion

................................ ................................ ........................... 99

Appendix B: Coopersmith Inventory Pre - Session

................................ ........................... 100

Appendix C: The Pet Bonding Scale Pre - Session

................................ ........................... 102

v

Appendi x D: Index of Empathy

................................ ................................ ....................... 104

Appendix E: Relationship with Animals

................................ ................................ ......... 106

Appendix F: The Pet Bonding Scale Post - Session

................................ .......................... 111

Appendix G: Index of Empathy Post - Session

................................ ................................ . 113

Appendix H:

Post Survey ................................ ................................ ................................ . 115

Appendix I: Emotional Impairment Eligbility Criteria for the State of Michigan

.......... 119

Appendix J: Cognitive Impairment Eligibility Criteria for the State of Michigan

.......... 120

Curriculum Vitae

................................ ................................ ................................ ............. 123

vi

List of Tables

Table 1. Erikson‟s Eight Stages of Identity Formation ................................ .....................

30

Table 2.

Hypothesis and A ssociated Statistical Analyses

................................ .................

59

Table 3:

Gender by Assigned Therapy Group

................................ ................................ ..

64

Table 4.

Age by Group Membership

................................ ................................ ................

64

Table 5.

t - Test for Two Independent Samples –

Pre - test Scores for Self - esteem and Empathy by Group Membership

................................ ................................ ...............

65

Table 6.

Repeated Measures A nalysis of Variance –

Self - Esteem by Group

...................

67

Table 7. Descriptive Statistics –

Self - Esteem by Group

................................ ...................

68

Table 8 . Repeated Measur es Analysis of Variance –

Empathy by Group

........................

69

Table 9.

Empathy Scores by Treatment Group

................................ ................................ .

69

Table 10.

2 x 2 Factorial Analysis o f Variance –

Self - Esteem by Group and Gender

.....

71

Table 11.

2 x 2 Factorial Analysis of Variance –

Empathy by Group and Gender

..........

72

Table 12.

2 x 2 Factorial Analysis of Variance –

Self - esteem by Group and Age

...........

73

Table 13.

2 x 2 Factorial Analysis of Variance –

Empathy by Group and Age

...............

74

Table 14: Historical Perspective of Animal Assisted Therapy

................................ .......

121

vii

Preface

One example of how students are affected by interacting with a dog from the Teacher‟s Pet program come s from a poem ,

writ ten after graduation by a student who worked with Duggan, a dog participating in the Teacher‟s Pet program.

I never thought a dog could ever mean so much to me.

I never thought a dog could show me who I‟m supposed to be.

I never thought a dog could ever h elp me when life‟s hard.

I never thought a dog could show me how to fade my scars.

And now I have to say goodbye „cause you‟ve got to help someone else.

„Cause I have known you long enough to stand up for myself.

You look at me with your brown eyes and the n I understand.

Why the saying has always been “dogs are man‟s best friend.”

Robin

1

Chapter

1: Introduction to the Study

Background

Animals have

played a significant role in the lives of humans for ages, with a recent interest in

utilizing animals

as a treatment modality

for mental health issues.

Animals are used in several capacities to facilitate healing and growth in the human population.

Domesticated animals have provided comfort, companionship, and support for individuals for hundreds of years

(Hooker, Freeman, & Stewart, 2002).

It seems a natural sequence for domesticated animals to be used to facilitate human healing and well - being.

Animals play an integral role in the treatment of human illness, and the specific role the animals play is depe ndent upon the view and belief systems associated with the particular animal (Serpell, 2006).

Through this premise, the use of animals has been explored as a treatment modality in addressing pre

adolescent and adolescent emotional and mental health needs.

Dogs, cats, birds, and horses are taken into schools, hospitals, and nursing homes to connect with humans and fulfill their emotional needs.

A connection between animal and human can occur through touch, sound, and other sensory contact.

Animals have been used since the 1960s as therapeutic aids in institutional settings when brought into a clinical environment or by living as a resident pet (Conniff, Scarlett, Goodman, & Appel, 2005; Johnson, Odendaal & Meadows, 2002).

The use of animals in therapy is grow ing from occasional use to a research - supported activity (Hooker et al., 2002).

Animals used in treatment will be discussed in c hapter 2 and Table I offers a historical progression of AAT.

2

Dogs play several roles to facilitate improved health, as well as mobility.

For example, since 1939, Leader Dogs for the Blind (2010) provide s

trained dog guides for individuals who have substantial visual impairments, to increase their independence and daily functioning.

Service dogs such as Leader Dogs are working part ners to those with a disability, going everywhere with their owners, such as the store, hospital, or other destinations (Matuszek, 2010).

Through the interaction and bond with the trained guide dog, individuals can accomplish much more independence than wi thout their assistance.

Animal - Assisted Psychotherapy

Early on in the history of animal - assisted interventions (AAI) an array of animal species were used in animal - assisted programs.

During 1970s ,

many AAI programs used various companion animals in the nu rsing home and other residential settings (Fredricksson - MacNamara & Butler, 2010).

Bringing animals into residential or treatment settings can pose some unique challenges, to the individual receiving treatment and the therapist facilitating sessions.

Over time, there has been increased awareness and concern regarding various animal behaviors, such as jumping, biting ,

and scratching, along with health concerns associated with animal diseases (Fredricksson - MacNamara & Butler, 2010).

Another species of animals

used in therapy has been the horse.

The horse is utilized to facilitate treatment of physical disabilities with the use of hippotherapy, another aspect of using animals as a therapeutic adjunct.

Horses, like dogs or other animals, can be utilized to encou rage the development of healthy relationships.

McNicholas and Collis (2006) indicate development of a relationship with an animal in

3

an AAT program has replicated some of the same benefits as developing healthy social supports.

Background of the Study

St udies have examined benefits of AAT and the impact of the human - animal bond on emotional growth in humans.

Sockalingam et al. (2008) conducted a single case - study of a 43 - year - old male diagnosed with bipolar I disorder, utilizing a form of pet therapy with

a Golden Retriever.

The authors

found that

the participant experienced improvements in mood and spontaneous speech, as well as decreased anxiety and psychomotor agitation.

Under the broad spectrum of AAI, AAT displays promising positive outcomes in mental

health treatment.

However, these practices have varying degrees of effectiveness (Kruger & Serpell, 2006).

Through AAT interventions the therapist can work toward achieving improved communication, mood, relationships ,

and various emotional struggles.

AA T encompasses a wide range of animal species, each providing a unique approach to therapy.

It is important to consider the individual animal in addition to animal species when providing AAT and AAI activities (Fredrickson - MacNamara & Butler, 2006).

Utilizi ng the best animal for participation in AAT and AAI requires an understanding of the animal - assisted process and how that will facilitate participant - specific goals (Fredrickson - Macnamara & Butler, 2010).

For example, an individual with a head injury may p artner with a dog in an in - patient rehabilitation program and once discharged may utilize a horse in a hippotherapy program to address coordination or balance deficiencies (Fredrickson - MacNamara & Butler, 2006).

4

Careful consideration of the species and de sired outcome from the interaction is important when choosing what type of animal to utilize in an AAI or AAT interaction.

Birds are used in some residential facilities for the elderly to help alleviate loneliness and reduce depression (Hart, 2010).

Access

to an aviary within a residential center for patients with Alzheimer‟s disease may assist in facilitating the patient to focus on external, environmental events rather than internalize thought processes (Fredrickson - MacNamara & Butler, 2010).

Consider an AAT situation in which the intervention is designed to encourage interaction with a child who is shy and has sensory issues related to loud noises and chaotic movement.

Selection of an animal such as a rabbit or cat may be more appropriate rather than a la rge active dog, thus reduc ing potential unwanted outcomes.

Statement of the Problem

Boris M. Levinson (1969) provided case studies and anecdotal information in his book, Pet - Oriented Child Psychotherapy ,

to describe the benefits of his dog in counseling s essions; however, there remains a gap in the literature showing the efficacy of studies (Kruger & Serpell, 2006).

Further, Kurger and Serpell state d that

the available research has not been solidly designed to lead to empirically supported treatments.

Ther e remains a gap in literature supporting the use of AAT as a means to facilitate improved empathy and self - esteem within the population of at - risk youth.

Background of the Problem

The developmental changes experienced during adolescence are empirically as sociated with an increase in prosocial behaviors (Barr & Higgins - D‟Alessndro, 2009).

5

A combination of biology and life experience is likely what affects most developmental brain changes (Steinberg, 2009).

Research suggests a correlation between poor self - e steem and depression.

Specifically, low self - esteem is found to be a predictor of depression, although depression does not appear to predict low self - esteem (Orth, Robins, & Roberts, 2008).

During early adolescence, peer expectations affect adolescents‟ ad herence to values, while there is a decline in adherence to parental expectations and values (Padilla - Walker & Carlo, 2007).

Some adolescents may have their ability to excel academically, develop healthy relationships ,

or accomplish other life goals interf ered with by peer influence.

Mental health professionals may provide treatment and interventions to address these behaviors.

During adolescence ,

youth are

able to develop adaptive problem - solving skills as they work through conflict (Rueter & Conger, 1998) .

Animal behaviorists and psychologists are beginning to understand the importance

of the therapeutic

value of the human - animal

bond.

Despite those developments,

there is an absence of empirically supported theoretical framework within the AAI field assis ting in the understanding in how human - animal relationships are possibly beneficial (Kruger & Serpell, 2010).

A

growing interest exists in understa nding the use and efficacy of AAT

treating

mental health pr oblems in children and adults (Welsch, 2009).

The AAI literature frequently presents the idea of the presence of animals providing calming effects in their interactions with humans (Kruger & Serpell, 2010).

6

Purpose

of the Study

This study

investigate d

differences in self - esteem and empathy outc omes betwe en pre

adolescents and adolescents from 10 to 17

ye ars of age who participated in

animal - assisted therapeutic interventions and

adolescents who were

part of a control group receiving the standard treatment program.

One group participated in an AAT program (Teacher‟s Pet) and the other was a control group that did not .

Each child who was selected to participate in the Teacher‟s Pet Program was selected by a group of teachers, the school social worker, and other school staff for the animal - assisted program ba sed on perceived need of the student.

The remaining students were placed in the control group setting. Additionally, this study examined gender and age differences in the participants in the Teacher‟s Pet Program.

The purpose of this study was to increase knowledge within the field of psychology on the benefits of AAT with children from 10 to 17 years of age with an emotional impairment certification.

AAT has been viewed as an area of complementary interventions .

Additionally, animals have played signific ant roles in the treatment of human illness throughout history

(Serpell, 2006) .

It can also be presumed that animals play a role in many Americans‟ lives by the 36 billion dollars annually spent on pet care and food alone (Markman, 2009). Despite these und erstandings, there is little support for AAT‟s efficacy and validity (Serpell, 2006).

This study utilized five years of historical data, from January 2006 through January 2011, collected by the social worker of the selected school and the director of the

Teacher‟s Pet Program.

The data collected i nclude

information obtained from

7

assessments and school records as part of the intake and exit process for participation in the program.

The design of this study has provided an analysis of changes in empathy and

self - esteem and the relationship

to interaction with animals along with

a comparison to the control group not participating in the Teacher‟s Pet Program.

The individual pre -

and post - assessment scores were drawn from the Coopersmith Self - Esteem Inventory

(CSEI) and the Index of Empathy (IOE), both of which were administered to each group.

Chapter 3 provides a more in - depth discussion of the variables and methodology.

Additionally, c hapter 3 discusses the data collection process and the population used

in the study.

Hypothesis

T hree research hypotheses

were tested in this study . The f irst

hypothesis was that

there w ould be a significant increase in self - esteem and empathy in a group of children who participate in the Teacher‟s Pet

Program from the beginnin g of training group sessions to their completion, in comparison to the group of children who do no participate in the program.

The s econd

hypothesis was that

female participants w ould

yield a

larger

increase in self - esteem and empathy when compared to male s within the participant groups.

Archival d ata from prior sessions including

61 children between the ages of 10 and 17

years, enrolled in a specialized school located in southeastern Michigan focused on providing educational services to special needs stude nts, were used to te st

the se

research hypothes e s .

8

Research Questions and Hypotheses

Research questions and hypotheses have been developed as a result of a review of the current literature as found in c hapter 2 in the existing literature review.

This stud y addressed

the following questions:

RQ1: Does self - esteem and empathy in pre - adolescents and adolescents increase after participating in a 10 - week animal - assisted therapy program?

H 01 : There is no significant difference in self - esteem between pre - adolesce nts and adolescents who have participated in a 10 - week animal - assisted therapy and adolescents who remained in the traditional therapy program.

H a 1 : There is a significant difference in self - esteem between pre - adolescents and adolescents who have participa ted in a 10 - week animal - assisted therapy and adolescents who remained in the traditional therapy program.

H 0 2 : There is no significant difference in empathy between pre - adolescents and adolescents who have participated in a 10 - week animal - assisted therapy and adolescents who remained in the traditional therapy program.

H a 2 :

There is significant difference empathy between pre - adolescents and adolescents who have participated in a 10 - week animal - assisted therapy and pre - adolescents and adolescents who remain ed in the traditional therapy program.

RQ2:

Does gender mediate the effect of a 10 - week animal - assisted therapy program on self - esteem and empathy in pre - adolescents and adolescents?

H 0 3 : There is no mediating influence of gender on self - esteem for adolesc ents participating in a 10 - week animal - assisted therapy.

9

H a 3 : There is significant mediating influence of gender on self - esteem for adolescents participating in a 10 - week animal - assisted therapy.

H 0 4 : There is no mediating influence of gender on empath y for pre - adolescents and adolescents participating in a 10 - week animal - assisted therapy.

H a 4 :

There is significant mediating influence of gender on empathy for pre - adolescents and adolescents participating in a 10 - week animal - assisted therapy.

RQ3:

Does

age mediate the effect of a 10 - week animal - assisted therapy program on self - esteem and empathy in pre - adolescents and adolescents?

H 0 5 : There is no mediating influence of age on self - esteem for adolescents participating in a 10 - week animal - assisted thera py.

H a 5 :

There is significant mediating influence of age on self - esteem for adolescents participating in a 10 - week animal - assisted therapy.

H 0 6 : There is no mediating influence of age on empathy for pre - adolescents and adolescents participating in a 10 - week animal - assisted therapy.

H a 6 :

There is significant mediating influence of age on empathy for pre - adolescents and adolescents participating in a 10 - week animal - assisted therapy.

Teacher’s Pet Program

The Teacher‟s Pet program is a program which matc hes at - risk youth with rescued dogs to provide basic training and increase the dogs‟ placement options . It also provides

therapy interventions for participating youth.

The program

incorporates AAT interventions to address the participants‟ mental health ne eds (Johnson, 2010).

Currently, the program has u sed

the CSEI and the IOE as pre -

and post - assessment tools, along with

10

several additional means of gathering information, such as journaling and a pet inventory questionnaire.

The Teacher‟s Pet program base d the use of these methods on Project Second Chance in New Mexico, which also u ses

the aforementioned assessment tools (Johnson, 2010).

Project Second Chance was conceptualized by Tamara Ward from the Youth Diagnostic and Development Center of New Mexico i n the spring of 2000 (Harbolt & Ward, 2001).

The program is located in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and pairs adolescent offenders with shelter dogs to develop empathy, responsibility, kindness ,

and healthy relationships skills in those who participate (Harbol t & Ward, 2001).

The program offers each child the opportunity to explore and gain confidence in another area of life, perhaps sparking ideas for future goals.

According to Laskowski (2010), many of the children at the school who have participated in the

program have developed an interest in helping animals in some capacity.

Some of the children have expressed a desire to work in pet stores, become animal trainers ,

or help rescued animals in the future.

Graduates are invited to be student mentors, assist ing children in future groups as they participate in training the dogs.

It is through this process that graduates can begin to share their experiences with the dogs in their roles as peer mentors.

The graduates provide support and suggestions to the new gr oup of students as they work through the process of training their dog.

11

Literature Review Summary

This

literature review is organized within the framework of humanistic, experiential, cognitive behavioral ,

and developmental theory.

Significant themes with in these theories were integrated to understand the development of self - esteem and empathy in adolescents.

Finally, there is a review of cognitive and emotional impairments in addition to the frequently co - occurring disorders of depression, anxiety, and po sttraumatic stress disorder to gain an understanding of the impairments and disorders which may be experienced by children participating in the Teacher‟s Pet Program.

Theoretical Orientation

Kruger and Serpell (2006) state theories supporting the benefits

of AAT focus on the ideas animals have special qualities facilitating change through the human - animal relationship, which can lead to the development of positive adaptive skills.

A dole scents come to treatment with a unique set of experiences and developme ntal issues ,

which

can challenge the therapist with ways to connect and engage in the treatment process.

Rogers (1961) state d that

facilitating personal growth can best be accomplished through the experience of a relationship.

The relationship between cli ent and animal is a very different experience than between client and therapist.

Additionally, the relationship becomes multi - dimensional, including the animal, client, therapist ,

and others.

The animal is used as a treatment modality during the session to

facilitate and encourage communication between the animal, client ,

and therapist .

A more detailed review of the literature on theoretical frameworks of AAT is presented in c hapter 2.

12

Body language is a mode of communication used to convey information to o ther species (Van den Stock and de Gelder, 2007).

Lacking a way to verbally communicate, human and animals rely on body language, tone of voice ,

and physical touch to facilitate interspecies co mmunication.

D ogs are able to rely on gestural forms of the hum an communication and

are able to comprehend to

some extent the referential nature of human pointing

(Soproni, Miklo´si,

Topa´l, & Csa´nyi, 2002).

As a result ,

well - established barriers and maladaptive coping strateg ies may not be effective in human - animal interaction.

Therapeutic Alliance

Animals augment what the therapist does and can play the role of regulating emotional climate within the treatment setting (Fine, 2006).

The therapeutic alliance, more so than treatment techniques, affect treatment outcom es positively (Yorke, Adams, & Coady, 2008).

They also assert that human - animal relationships may provide a similar therapeutic alliance within the therapist - client dynamic.

Full document contains 140 pages
Abstract: The relationship between self-esteem and the development of self-confidence is particularly strong in adolescence, a period of development filled with changes in socio-cognitive skills which have been linked to pro-social behaviors or empathy. Previous research has shown animal-assisted therapy (AAT) as an option for treating adolescents for depression and anxiety. However, there remains an important gap in current literature regarding the effectiveness of AAT as a means to improve self-esteem and empathy in emotionally impaired adolescents. Drawing from experiential theory, cognitive behavioral theory, and Erikson's theory of development, this study examined whether AAT would improve self-esteem and empathy among youth at risk of poor academic performance, decreased school attendance, or inadequate social skills. Additionally, gender and age were examined as possible mediating variables. Sixty-one participants, recruited from a school in a northeastern US state, aged 10-17, were assigned into either the AAT group or a traditional therapy group. Participants completed the Coopersmith Self-Esteem Inventory (CSEI) and Index of Empathy (IOE) scales before and after the intervention. Multivariate analysis of covariance demonstrated no significant differences between the AAT and traditional therapy groups on self-esteem and empathy scores. Implications for positive social change include further explorations of the potential positive impacts of AAT that can help adolescents improve social skills, self-esteem, empathy and academic performance, guiding future research with at-risk youth and AAT as a treatment modility for increasing self-esteem and empathy.