Study Animal-Assisted Therapy: Certificate, Bachelor's, Associate Degree Info

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Certificate, associate and bachelor's degree programs covering animal-assisted therapy can prepare you for careers in therapeutic fields and human-animal interaction. Find out about requirements and options that you might have with these programs.
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Studying Animal-Assisted Therapy (AAT): Certificates and Degrees at a Glance

AAT uses the human-animal bond to improve human physical and emotional health. AAT professionals work with animals as a means of treatment within individualized treatment plans. This distinguishes AAT from Animal-Assisted Activities (AAA), involving volunteers using pets to visit people in facilities. Although use of AAT tools may be growing in acceptance by mainstream medicine and counseling disciplines, supplemental undergraduate or graduate courses or certificate programs might be easier to find than specific degree programs. You might find research initiatives and opportunities to study AAT widely dispersed among medical, veterinary, allied health and social service programs.

From 2010-2020, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projected demand for rehabilitation counselors to grow by 28%, faster than the 14% projected for all occupations. With an associate degree that includes AAT techniques, you might become a certified rehabilitation or occupational therapist assistant under the direction of a certified professional in your field.

Associate Bachelor's Certificate
Who is this degree for? Individuals seeking an entry-level position that permits use of AAT Individuals interested in professional or management careers related to AAT Those interested in exploring the field or adding AAT skills to therapeutic practice
Common Career Paths and Salary - Dog trainer ($8.01-$42.50 per hour)***
- Program coordinator, non-profit ($35,000)**
- Occupational therapist assistant ($52,000)*
- Rehabilitation counselor ($37,000 - some positions may require advanced degree)*
- Non-profit fundraiser ($48,000)**
- Animal behavior consultant (salary unavailable)
- Healthcare social worker ($51,000 - some positions may require advanced degree)*
- Occupational therapist ($75,000 - some positions may require advanced degree)*
Time to Completion 1-2 years, full-time 4-5 years, full-time
Up to two years if part-time
Common Graduation Requirements - Typically 60-70 credits, including major area subjects and liberal arts core requirements
- Internship
- Approximately 120 credits
- Internship or capstone project
- Completion of required courses
- Possible field trips or internships
Prerequisites High school diploma or GED High school diploma or GED Vary depending on target audience; typically, bachelor's degree
Online Availability Online degrees in AAT rare to non-existent but courses may be available Online degrees rare to non-existent but some courses may be available Limited but available

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (2011 annual mean wage), **PayScale.com (September 2012 median salary), ***PayScale.com (September 2012 hourly rate).

Certificate Programs in Animal-Assisted Therapy

Certificate programs in an evolving field like AAT may serve targeted student groups. Programs could support high school graduates exploring technical or human service assisting careers or current bachelor's candidates interested in AAT training. Some are designed for degree-holding professionals in veterinary, medical or various helping professions who want to expand their knowledge of AAT and their ability to use its techniques in their practices. These postbaccalaureate programs may be designed to serve nurses, physical, recreational and occupational therapists, veterinarian technicians, clinical social workers, psychologists and others. Some programs might teach prospective entrepreneurs how to develop a business plan.

Pros and Cons of a Certificate Program in Animal-Assisted Therapy

Pros

  • Opportunity to explore this field in a short time frame
  • Relatively low cost
  • Possible comprehensive introduction to AAT
  • Could help students develop a business

Cons

  • May be non-credit or continuing education programs with credits not transferable to degree programs
  • May not be available on campus in some regions
  • Short-term programs may not provide more than a sampler of potential programs

Courses and Requirements

Programs may include clinical and non-clinical elements addressing specific disabilities. Required courses may vary depending on the educational level of students and the intent of the program. A graduate-level program offered by a school of social work might include study of social, emotional and cognitive outcomes of AAT. A program for high school graduates interested in becoming human service assistants might address history, research, safety and legal issues as well as treatment programs in varied settings.

You might encounter courses such as these in an AAT certificate program:

  • Animal interactions skills
  • History and theory of AAT
  • Applications of AAT
  • Animal partners

Online Courses

Although you may be able to complete most of your certificate program or individual coursework at your own pace on your home computer, you will likely need to attend field trips or complete internships to observe real-world clinical applications. Introductory online non-profit courses covering topics such as therapeutic applications, animal selection, organizing programs and risk and disease management may be offered by colleges or by professional organizations like Pet Partners® (formerly Delta Society®). More advanced topics may be available in graduate-level programs for working professionals.

Stand Out with a Certificate Program

You might benefit from selecting a program taught by professionals who are recognized as AAT authorities. They might be authors, trainers or credentialed therapeutic professionals with advanced degrees in your prospective field. Programs or individual courses may be eligible for school credit or continuing education credit offered by organizations such as the Certification Board for Equine Interaction Professionals, or acknowledged by the Animals and Society Institute or your professional association. Hands-on experience in an internship or part-time work could be viewed favorably by prospective or current employers.

Associate Degree in Animal-Assisted Therapy

Associate degree programs explicitly in AAT may be hard to find, but associate degree programs incorporating AAT topics may be offered by 2- or 4-year colleges. These might include nursing, social work, physical therapy, recreational or occupational or rehabilitation assistant programs. Your program could train you for a paraprofessional role helping people with physical or emotional challenges. You might learn about specific disabilities and how interactions with animals can improve the lives of your clients.

Degree programs may also prepare you for an entrepreneurial career in AAT. You might learn how to operate a small business or manage business functions of a not-for-profit or for-profit organization providing AAT services.

Pros and Cons of an Associate Degree in Animal-Assisted Therapy

Pros

  • May lead to rewarding career for students who care about people and animals
  • AAT study may be applied to a variety of occupational fields
  • Potential for entrepreneurial career
  • Higher demand than average anticipated for some therapeutic fields

Cons

  • Income potential may not equal that of other fields
  • Not all prospective employers may be familiar with the benefits of AAT, leading to need to evangelize
  • Some environments may have restrictions on animals

Courses and Requirements

Coursework may vary depending on your specific field of study. Associate degree programs often require completion of a general education core, followed by major courses and internships. An associate degree AAT program might explore the history of the field, scientific evidence of benefits, theory, therapeutic interventions and trends.

You might take courses such as these in an AAT-related degree program:

  • Developmental psychology
  • Medical terminology
  • Business of animals
  • Disability studies
  • Social and therapy animals
  • Sales and fundraising
  • Motor skill learning

Online Class Options

You may not be able to take your entire program online, but some courses may be available, depending on your school. Your school might accept some transfer credits earned online at another institution. You'll complete courses over the Internet on a more flexible schedule, possibly using prescribed software programs.

Getting Ahead with This Degree

If you're a working professional, you might supplement your skill set with continuing education credits offered by organizations in the AAT field. A combination of coursework, internship and part- or full-time work may help you qualify to take certification tests in your professional discipline. You may need to meet licensing requirements in your state. For example, an occupational therapist assistant candidate would apply to the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy to pass the test for the Certified Occupational Therapist Assistant credential.

Bachelor's Degrees Covering Animal-Assisted Therapy

Degrees with this title are rare to non-existent, but opportunities are available to take AAT-related courses in varied programs. You might find opportunities in schools offering human and animals, human-animal interaction or humane studies programs as well as in schools of social work, psychology, allied health or veterinary studies.

The curriculum and degree requirements may vary widely, but they will usually include core coursework followed by coursework in your major. Depending on your discipline, major courses may involve lab work in the sciences or quantitative courses. You may be required to complete field observations or internships.

Pros and Cons of a Bachelor's Degree Covering Animal-Assisted Therapy

Pros

  • Programs may provide a base for graduate studies
  • Bachelor's holders may be eligible for entry-level professional positions
  • AAT could be a useful addition to your helping profession toolkit

Cons

  • Some professional certifications may require a graduate degree
  • Some careers, such as social work, may require advanced degrees for management or professional-level positions
  • Income in some careers may be less than that of others with comparable educational requirements
  • Getting a job using AAT may require identifying employers that are familiar with its benefits

Courses and Requirements

After your general education or core courses, you'll need to complete courses and other requirements specific to your major. A program in occupational or recreation therapy might include activity-based interventions using AAT. Your program might require a capstone project or an internship.

You might study AAT-related topics such as these:

  • Special populations and AAT
  • Social work and the human-animal bond
  • AAT instrumentation and intervention techniques
  • Assessment, treatment and evaluation processes
  • Animal psychology
  • Abnormal psychology
  • Integrating animals in mental health practice

Online Courses

Some courses may be available online, but you may not be able to finish your degree program completely online. Many disciplines that could use AAT in practice require labs, field trips or internships. Your school may offer lower-level core courses online, or it might be willing to accept some transfer credits earned online. Online courses may offer more scheduling flexibility, but you'll be held to the same standards as in on-campus courses.

Stand Out with This Degree

If you're a prospective allied health professional, you might choose a program that offers AAT studies that is also accredited by the appropriate division of the Council on Accreditation of Allied Health Education. Schools might host departments of rehabilitation science or affiliated laboratories. Pre-vet or counseling majors might attend schools that have centers for AAT or human and animal interaction. Participating in these special programs might connect you with AAT internship opportunities. You may be able to win awards specific to your discipline.

Popular Schools

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Grand Canyon University

  • BS in Health Sciences: Professional Development & Advanced Patient Care
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Regent University

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