Date of Award

6-2019

Document Type

Project

Degree Name

Master of Social Work

Department

School of Social Work

First Reader/Committee Chair

Chang, Janet

Abstract

Evidence-based practices utilized by social workers working with veterans experiencing physical (e.g., spinal cord injuries and loss of limbs) and/or mental health (e.g., posttraumatic stress disorder, depression, substance use) issues are widely used with this vulnerable population. The number of social workers integrating animal-assisted interventions (AAI) or animal-assisted therapy (AAT) as a complementary intervention to these practices is extremely limited. A significant amount of research has been published on AAI and AAT, yet there is a gap in research regarding AAI and AAT as effective complementary approaches when working with veterans.

The qualitative method utilized in this study was interviews in which MSWs and LCSWs were asked to share personal experiences while employed at veteran-supported agencies and/or non-profit organizations. The qualitative method of interviews and content analysis were used to help identify the themes and sub-themes of this study. The themes and sub-themes supported the phrases and statements drawn from the seven interviews conducted for this study. Findings supported in this study addressed the value of the human-animal bond, how integrating AAI and AAT with evidence-based practices can assist the veteran in improving quality of life (e.g., a decrease in social isolation, increase in social activity, decrease in substance use), and how important it is to recognize the need to provide the education in this field to social workers. Findings from this study can help to provide the foundation for future research, can underscore the value of offering and integrating AAI and AAT education into more MSW programs, and can contribute to establishing policy where those who can benefit by AAI and AAT are given access to it.

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