Researcher aims to enhance animal-assisted therapy | UniSC | University of the Sunshine Coast, Queensland, Australia

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Researcher aims to enhance animal-assisted therapy

New research is being conducted at USC to help improve the delivery of animal-assisted therapy.

Master of Social Work by Research student Natalie Menyweather, who runs a private equine therapy service at Mooloolah, is keen to help establish procedures to ensure the ethical support of animals in social work practice, research and policy.

While her service gives children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) the opportunity to connect with horses, other animal-assisted therapy services involve clients spending time with cats and dogs.

“The human and animal bond is such a special relationship and I want to ensure, going forward, that animals are treated with respect and equality in the field of social work,” Natalie said.

Natalie started her own private practice in 2013 and has been amazed by the outcomes, whether animal-assisted therapy is used exclusively or in conjunction with conventional forms of therapy.

“I run a support group with USC for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder. It amazes me how people, especially those with ASD, are drawn to animals,” she said.

Natalie said animal-assisted therapy in Australia was an area that had not been researched significantly.

Her research supervisor, USC Senior Lecturer in Social Work Dr Dyann Ross, said the study was very timely.

“This research is ground breaking in recognition of the absence of multi-species ethics and practice standards in social work and, in this regard, has much to contribute to the future development of social work and related helping professions,” Dr Ross said.

“We are seeing an increased adoption of animal-assisted practices in society and with this comes the real challenge of 'doing things differently' so that traditional ways of working with animals shift and perhaps enable gentler, more mutual relationships with people as well.”

Photo of Natalie Menyweather with miniature horse  by Tiadrop Photography

— Kristy Wright

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