Animal-Assisted Therapy

Animal-Assisted Therapy (AAT) is fairly new and is on the cutting-edge of research and development in the therapeutic world. AAT is the incorporation of animals as therapeutic agents into the counseling process; thus, counselors utilize the human-animal bond in goal-directed interventions as part of the treatment process.

AAT is integrated into sessions as the client and counselor progress and are comfortable with this particular type of therapy. AAT may not be appropriate in all situations and settings. The integration of AAT will be delivered and directed by a trained and skilled service provider.

Here at YWCA McLean County Stepping Stones we are excited to offer animal-assisted therapy. 

What is a therapy dog?
A therapy dog is trained to provide comfort and affection to people in a facility setting. Therapy dogs and their owners work together as a team to improve the lives of other people.

Therapy dogs are NOT service dogs. Service dogs are specially trained to provide a specific tasks for a person with special needs. An example of a service dog is a dog who guides an owner who is blind, or a dog who assists someone who has a physical disability. For more information about service dogs, please visit this web page.

Why a therapy dog?
As it is said, ‘dog is man’s best friend,’ but a dog can be a counselor’s best friend too. And when you’re in session, a therapy dog can be your best friend too. Therapy dogs help clients feel more comfortable, calm, and relaxed during sessions, thus studies show an increase in positive client outcomes.

Science has shown us how beneficial therapy dogs can be. Visits from a therapy dog can lower blood pressure and heart rate, reduce patient anxiety and stress, and increase levels of endorphins and oxytocin.

Spending time with animals produces marked improvements in humans, affecting the physical, mental, emotional and social aspects of their well-being.

Healing effects of therapy animal
Mental Benefits

  • Decrease in stress and anxiety, including that from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Decrease in depression, loneliness and feelings of isolation and aggressive behaviors
  • Increase in socialization with an outward focus, including opportunities for laughter and a sense of happiness and well-being
  • Increase in mental stimulation, attention skills, and verbal interactions
  • Increase in spirit, self-esteem, and feeling of acceptance, enabling a patient to further participate in mental and physical therapy; to be more involved in group activities; and to accept social and emotional support 

 Physical Benefits

  • Decrease in blood pressure, heart rate, and the stress hormone cortisol
  • Increase in hormones associated with health and feeling of well-being, including beta-endorphin, beta-phenylethylamine, dopamine, oxytocin, prolactin and serotonin 


If you are interested in receiving therapy for sexual assault or sexual abuse, please contact YWCA Stepping Stones at (309) 662-0461, ext. 275. Options for animal-assisted therapy will be presented if your counselor finds it appropriate.