The Animal as a Relational Medium: An Object Relations Approach to Animal-Assisted Psychotherapy
As mentioned in chapter 1, The Presence of Animals and all its Implications as a Unique Medium in Psychotherapy, the animal’s presence, characteristics and behavior stimulate the client’s sensory system, in turn activating in the client’s emotional and cognitive reactions such as associations, thoughts, and interpretations, eventually leading to verbal and behavioral reactions.  These reactions are likely to be influenced by the client’s internal models of interpersonal interaction based upon his history of interaction with significant others in his interpersonal world. This process is reminiscent of Bowlby’s (1969) theory of internal working models, which states that the nature of people’s interactions with others in the present is based upon their inner representations, or internal working models, of interpersonal interaction, originating in their early experiences with their parents and other significant figures.  The animal also brings into the situation his own (species-specific as well as individual) personality traits, and also his internal models, attachment patterns, and past experiences of interpersonal interactions with humans.  Just as the client has free will (in terms of choice of activity, choice to draw near or keep one’s distance, etc.), so does the animal.  The client may initiate interaction with the animals by calling the dog, picking up the hamster, threatening the cockatiel, teasing the dog with food.  The dog may react by running toward the client, the hamster by biting, the cockatiel by flying away, or the dog by barking. The animal will also initiate interaction: a dog may look into client’s eyes, bring a toy to invite the client to play, a bird may fly to the client, or a dog may lean against the client for a pat. The client may react by yelling at the dog, throwing the toy for a game of fetch, brushing the bird away, or cuddling with the dog.  There are tail wags and smiling, cowering, begging for attention, ignoring, rejecting, and feeding – all within the context of social interaction, the initiating with and reacting to a living other.

Form the first  chapter of the book
Oren, D., Parish –Plass, N.(2013).  The Present of Animals and all its Implications as a Unique Medium in Psychotherapy, Chapter 1, in  Animal-Assisted Psychotherapy: Theory, Issues and Practice (New Directions in the Human-Animal Bond), Edited by Parish-Plass, N. Purdue University Press.

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