Animal Assisted Therapy at Artius

by Franki Treccase Clinical Educator

In September, Artius welcomed their first Therapy Dog to the Mental Health Team at USQ in Ipswich. With the appointment of our new Clinical Educator & Clinical Psychologist, Franki Treccase, came her Therapy Dog and partner-in-crime Bonnie. Animal-Assisted Therapy (AAT) is fast becoming a popular and in-demand option for those seeking to engage in psychological therapy, and the evidence for it’s effectiveness is growing. AAT involves using an animal (in this case a dog) as a tool to deliver evidence-based therapies to improve a client’s social, emotional, behavioural or cognitive functioning. It’s more than just hanging out with or playing with a dog! It’s about using strategies and interventions to achieve therapeutic goals with the aid of a dog.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why would you use a dog in psychological therapy?

Preliminary research has shown that the inclusion of an animal in therapy can have the following benefits:

  • Helps clients feel more comfortable in the therapeutic environment
  • Brings down distress levels. Therapy can be a difficult process, and anything that helps to make the process less distressing is often a welcome relief for our clients
  • Helps clients develop a better rapport with their therapist (the client/therapist relationship is a big predictor of success in therapy)
  • Can increase the likelihood of an individual (particularly a child) being willing to engage in therapy
  • Can have positive physiological effects such as decreased blood pressure, increased oxytocin (known as the “love hormone”), increased dopamine (the “pleasure hormone”) and decreased cortisol levels (the “stress hormone”)

Who looks after the dog when it’s not at work?

The therapy dog, Bonnie, belongs to Clinical Psychologist, Franki Treccase. Bonnie was Franki’s fur-baby before becoming a therapy dog, so is first and foremost a treasured family pet who just so happens to have the training to accompany her mother to work and change lives!

Am I allowed to touch the dog if I see it?

Therapy Dogs are not service dogs, so the same rules do not apply as they would to a seeing-eye dog for example. If you see Bonnie around the practice, feel free to say hi, give her a pat, ask her to sit and shake, or ignore her if you’d rather!

What is involved in a therapy dogs’ training?

Bonnie has been trained to be useful and safe in a psychological therapy environment, which means that she does not have the same stringent level of obedience required in service dogs. This just means you may see more of her personality shining through! In saying that, Bonnie and her mum Franki have completed and passed an intensive training course which served the following purposes:

  • Challenged Bonnie to ensure she is ready and safe for the therapeutic environment
  • Taught Bonnie trick training and general obedience
  • Taught Franki effective ways to communicate with Bonnie and understand Bonnie’s communication with her
  • Taught Franki how to use Bonnie in psychological interventions to enhance the value and effectiveness of therapy

What if I’m afraid of dogs?

If you are scared of dogs and would rather not come across Bonnie at Artius Ipswich, give the office a call or speak to one of our friendly Customer Service Staff at the front desk about your concerns. Bonnie does not come to work every day, so we can ensure she has an annual leave day when you are at the practice or can remove her from the wait-room if you are already here. Alternatively, you can enquire about how Bonnie may be able to help you to treat your dog-phobia (using gradual and evidence-based procedures).

How do I meet Bonnie?

You may be lucky to meet Bonnie in the wait-room if your appointment with your psychologist happens to coincide with a work-day for Bonnie. Appointments for Animal-Assisted Therapy are limited. Please contact our Customer Service Staff on 1300 986 886 or email to express your interest if you would like to book an appointment.