What Professional Opportunities Exist in Animal-Assisted Social Work?

animal therapySocial work professionals are trained to assist individuals, communities, and organizations with the planning, implementation, and management of a number of different services to help with improving overall quality of life.While social workers are important in several types of environments, many social work professionals have specialized in a particular area. One increasingly popular specialization is animal assisted social work.

History of Animal-Assisted Social Workers

Animal assisted therapy is a relatively new specialization within the social work profession, and its value in everything from rehabilitation to education is supported by researchers and practitioners. The connection that people are able to make with animals is often a catalyst for recovery from both physical and emotional traumas. All types of animals can be a part of this process, including cats, dogs, dolphins, and horses.

The first recognition of the benefits of using animals in therapy was noted by experts after World War II when physicians and psychiatric professionals incorporated animals into the treatments of returning war veterans. Since that time, animals have been used to help in a number of therapies and treatments in various settings.

Animal Assisted Social Work

Social work is a diverse field that enables professionals to work in diverse settings, from educational institutions to hospitals and clinics to government agencies. Social workers are an integral part of the teams at elementary and secondary schools, assisted living and elderly care facilities, hospitals, and many other rehabilitative and medical treatment facilities. The addition of animals to these treatments is a benefit for both professionals and patients or clients.

One of the growing areas for the incorporation of animals in the social work field is in education. Animals are helpful for creating trust and helping people feel less lonely and more emotionally secure. School social workers are able to use animals to help students improve self-confidence and self-esteem.

Social workers in treatment and long-term care facilities may find the use of animals helpful both for engaging clients and patients in the recovery process, as well as for physical rehabilitation through acts that require care of the animal, such as walking or brushing. Additional information on the benefits of animal assisted therapy can be found at the American Veterinary Medicine Association.

Becoming an Animal Assisted Social Worker

Many of the programs for animal assisted social work are specializations within an undergraduate or graduate degree program in social work. In addition to a background in social work or human services, graduates of these programs are able to take a number of courses to prepare them for successful incorporation of animals into various social programs and treatments. Some common courses include animal-assisted intervention, animal partners, animal behavior, animal training, and animal behavior and enrichment. Additionally, in most programs, students complete directed study courses.

Social work continues to be one of the in-demand fields in the U.S., offering qualified professionals with a number of options for where to work and what specialization to pursue. Animal assisted social work offers opportunities for social work professionals to incorporate their understanding of human behavior with specialized knowledge in animal behavior to improve the delivery and management of a number of social services and treatment plans.

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