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Approximately 62.7 million Americans have a psychiatric diagnosis, including Alzheimer’s disease and mental disorders1,6. Adults who are diagnosed with these conditions experience a variety of limitations, including decreased quality of life4. Occupational Therapy (OT) has been shown to be an effective treatment to increase quality of life in adults with psychiatric diagnoses3. Occupational therapists working within the mental health field often need to use creative and innovative approaches to motivate their clients, including Animal-assisted therapy (AAT). AAT is a unique intervention approach that has the potential to improve a person’s emotional, physical, cognitive and social functioning5.

In order to evaluate the efficacy of AAT to improve quality of life in adults with psychiatric diagnoses, a systematic literature review was conducted. Quality of life was operationally defined as functional ability and physical, emotional, and social well-being2. Electronic databases including CINAHL, Ovid Medline, PsycINFO, and Google Scholar were used to select peer-reviewed articles from 1995 to 2013. Predefined selection criteria were used to identify AAT studies, assessing quality of life for adults with psychiatric diagnoses. All investigators assessed and subsequently agreed on inclusion. A total of 228 publications were found; thirteen studies met the inclusion criteria. The purpose of this session is to present the current evidence supporting AAT and discuss future clinical implications for occupational therapy practice. The review process, definitions, and themes will be presented.

The results describe AAT as a promising treatment intervention to improve quality of life in adults with psychiatric diagnoses. Animals have been found to increase social participation, decrease emotional and behavioral symptoms, and influence occupational performance by serving as “role models” for ADLs and related routines. Additionally, it is suggested that animals be used as a modality, with the therapist planning and guiding the treatment session. AAT may also be justified as a supplement to conventional therapy and pharmacological treatment approaches to increase quality of life for individuals with psychiatric diagnoses. To advance the knowledge of AAT in OT practice, continued research is necessary to develop specific, standardized AAT protocols, outline the role of OT in AAT, and establish credible results from high quality studies.


  1. National Institute of Mental Health. (n.d.). The numbers count: Mental disorders in america. Retrieved from
  2. Cella, D. F. (1994). Quality of life: concepts and definition. Journal of pain and symptom management, 9(3), 186-192.
  3. Graff, M. J., Vernooij-Dassen, M. J., Thijssen, M., Dekker, J., Hoefnagels, W. H., & OldeRikkert, M. G. (2007). Effects of community occupational therapy on quality of life, mood, and health status in dementia patients and their caregivers: a randomized controlled trial. The Journals of Gerontology Series A: Biological Sciences and Medical Sciences, 62(9), 1002-1009.
  4. Lehman, A. F. (1983). The well-being of chronic mental patients: assessing their quality of life. Archives of General Psychiatry, 40(4), 369.
  5. Kanamori, M., Suzuki, M., Yamamoto, K., Kanda, M., Matsui, Y., Kojima, E., ... & Oshiro, H. (2001). A day care program and evaluation of animal-assisted therapy (AAT) for the elderly with senile dementia. American Journal of Alzheimer's disease and other Dementias, 16(4), 234-239.
  6. Alzheimer's Association. (2013). Alzheimer's facts and figures. Retrieved from