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Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT)

Jenny Gray - Manager

Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT) is a type of therapy that involves an animal with specific characteristics, becoming a fundamental part of a person's treatment. Animal-Assisted Therapy is designed to improve the physical, social, emotional, and/or cognitive functioning of the patient, as well as provide educational and motivational effectiveness for the participant. AAT can be provided on an individual or group basis.

Many kinds of animals are used in therapy, including dogs, cats, elephants, birds, dolphins, rabbits, lizards, and other small animals. AAT with horses is known specifically as equine-assisted psychotherapy (EAP), and is one of the many options we offer at the sanctuary.

Willows has run its AAT Programme for people with severe mental health difficulties, for approximately 20 years.

The AAT programme at Willows started out as a pilot scheme but soon came to be regarded as a useful alternative to day/hospital care by social workers, psychiatrists and employment officers in the Aberdeenshire region. Willows now has a service level agreement with Aberdeenshire Council to help people with severe and enduring mental health difficulties.

'Coming to the Willows on a Monday kick starts my week if I don’t attend my whole week doesn’t feel right' - John has suffered with severe depression for years. Willows AAT is the only activity he attends.

Since starting the programme we have identified other client groups who would benefit from using our service. Currently we are experiencing an increased demand for places from young people and especially school-phobics and troubled teenagers. More people than ever are looking into alternatives to assist with anxiety, depression, and other mental health difficulties.
Our AAT programme has boosted confidence, helped overcome anxiety, taught new skills and opened doors for employability and further education. Our therapy programme is run by a team of experienced staff (some of whom have personal experience with mental health issues themselves).

Willows acts as a life line for many vulnerable people, and in many cases it is the only programme particular clients are willing to try. We work very closely with employment officers, social workers and back to work programmes etc. This helps us to maintain the high standard of service that we provide.
'I feel being at the sanctuary has helped me move forward and I am feeling more confident' - Julie is now considering seeking paid work, the fact she is thinking about this shows how far she has come!

'Being at Willows is a chance to escape from reality!' - Jill has suffered with depression for a long time and has really blossomed since being at Willows.

'Being around all the wonderful animals has made me feel useful!' Taking part in the AAT helps people to put animals first and this can help with resolving issues at home.

Mary looks forward to her time at the sanctuary it gives her 'time out'.

'I now feel like a different person, I can now cope with people, in the past I would have tried to avoid people by crossing the street if necessary or not going out'
- Brian now feels so much better he is now helping others at Willows! Jemma feels that attending the Willows AAT programme has helped her enormously with her depression and panic attacks. She feels the animals need her to feed them and being at Willows makes her feels happy and free. Jemma also said the she 'enjoys this the most' out all of her activities.