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A case study of Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT): facilitating healing for learned helplessness.

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This study attempts to provide insight into what Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT) entails and present evidence of how AAT can be used in various settings, such as an organisation called Top Dogs. The focus is on how the organisation (Top Dogs) uses AAT to establish and enhance the human-animal bond thus improving the mental well-being of individuals who experience learned helplessness. The study used a qualitative approach, and adopted a phenomenological case study design. Purposive sampling was used to select four participants as essential information could be gained only from the participants involved in the Top Dogs process. Those interviewed included the founder of the Top Dogs organisation, an animal behaviourist, a dog trainer, and the mother of a patient who experienced a traumatic life-changing accident. The mother’s testimonial was central to illustrating the effects of AAT on the healing process of her son and how AAT benefited him. Data analysis was undertaken using thematic analysis; the six stages of Braun and Clark (2013) were used. Five themes were identified, and related sub-themes classified. The findings of the study indicate that there is room for AAT to be introduced as a psychological modality and concluded that despite the challenges that South Africa faces, AAT has an evidential benefit in assisting mental well-being, not only related to learned helplessness but also within a variety of contexts.


Masters Degree. University of KwaZulu-Natal, Pietermaritzburg.