ABOUT W.A.G.

Our Mission

Our Mission

W.A.G. Therapeutic Service is a private psychology practice in northern Brisbane, founded and run by Clinical Psychologist, Dr Michelle Farbotko. Dr Michelle wanted to develop a practice that provided quality, evidence-based mental health treatment in a relaxed environment. In particular, she wanted to use the playful, non-judgemental, nonverbal, and friendly attributes of animals to facilitate safe and trusting opportunities for therapy.

Wag Therapy aims to move clients towards wellbeing. Our goal is to teach clients (and their families) the skills needed to manage their own conditions, including when to ask for help.

Animal- Assisted Therapy

Animal-Assisted Therapy (AAT) is a form of creative therapy that utilises credentialed therapy animals and handlers (people who manage the animal) to provide goal-directed interventions to individuals of all ages. AAT can be used with various types of psychological, emotional, developmental, cognitive, motivational, or physical impairments.

FAQ about AAT

Benefits of Animal-Assisted Therapy
There are many potential benefits of Animal-Assisted Therapy. Some of the common benefits are listed below:

 

  • Reduces anxiety – the presence of a friendly animal reduces the physiological symptoms of anxiety (increased heart rate, breathing, high blood pressure etc.), allowing clients to feel more comfortable in therapy.

  • Allows clients to experience unconditional acceptance; in particular, therapy animals quickly communicate how special they think a child client is in a way that children understand.

  • Fosters healthy attachment relationships, not only with the animal, but also with people.

  • Develops empathy, sharing, and care-giving capabilities.

  • Builds skills and confidence in clients.

  • Helps clients share traumatic experiences in an emotionally safe way.

  • Helps clients who have been abused, neglected, or rejected, to find new hope.

  • Allows modelling of different things, one of the most beneficial being how the therapist manages the animal’s behaviour.

  • Teaches appropriate behaviour with animals, and consequently, with other people.

  • Helps clients become more motivated for exercise and fitness.

  • Helps calm clients both emotionally and physiologically.

  • Provides a unique opportunity for clients to overcome a fear of dogs, and can prepare children for encounters with unfamiliar dogs in public.

  • Provides enjoyment, especially in child and adolescent clients who are often inclined to believe that they are being taken to therapy because there is ‘something wrong with them’. Being greeted by a therapy animal and including animals in therapy often allows the young person to feel more supported.

 

 

How does AAT work?

The animal interventionist may be involved in all therapy sessions, or may be involved in only some, or part, of the sessions, depending on the therapeutic goals and plan. A number of different activities and interactions are used to accomplish therapeutic goals.  Some of these include, but are not limited to:

 

  • Clients learn to regulate their own emotions and behaviours as they interact with the dog.

  • Child clients may communicate their thoughts and feelings to the dog, either directly by telling the dog, or indirectly through stories or artwork involving the dog.

  • Child clients may engage in problem-solving by helping the dog “resolve” problems that might be similar to those experienced by the child.

  • Clients help train the dog, learning basic obedience commands and teaching the dog new tricks.

  • Clients learn how to stay safe with dogs as well as how to keep the dog safe.

  • Clients take part in grooming and caring for the dog, learning appropriate touch and sensitivity to the dog’s signals. This is often calming for both the client and the dog.

What type of client is suitable for AAT?

Anyone can engage in AAT as long as they do not have any serious phobias or allergies to the animals present.  Therapy dogs are great for treating dog phobias, however this needs to be the treatment goal, and can take some time. 

Preparation of the Client for Animal-Assisted Therapy
We prepare clients in advance of meeting the animal interventionist so they know what to expect and how to greet the animal safely. We teach clients some simple animal “body language”, basic commands, how to give the animal adequate space when interacting, and how to use treats safely. We also give the clients suggestions and reminders as they are meeting and interacting with the animal. Any behaviours by the client or the animal that could lead to injury are stopped immediately and a different activity is used.

Are the animals safe?

Every effort is made to ensure the safety of everyone involved at W.A.G. Therapeutic Service. All of our therapy animals have had intensive training and been assessed by industry professionals to be behaviourally safe, and all interactions with clients are completely supervised. Parents or caregivers (in the instance of child clients) should discuss with their therapist any pet allergies or prior negative experiences with animals that their child may have had. This program is completely voluntary. In the very unlikely event of scratches or other injuries, staff will apply first aid and immediately inform parents (in the instance of a child client). To date, the program has run successfully with no negative incidents.

 

There is always a small risk of zoonoses (diseases transferrable between human and animal).  We provide hand sanitiser at every session to control for this, and the animals are kept to a very high standard of grooming and general health (vaccinations, worming, etc.).  Please contact us if you would like more information about zoonoses.

 

Who owns the animals?

Our therapy animals are owned by, live with, and were trained by, their human counterparts who are also therapists in our Clinic.  All the animals are loved and lead enriched lives.

Humane Education

Many studies have shown a strong link between people's behaviour toward animals and their behaviour toward other people. Children who learn to be kind and sensitive with animals are much more likely to use those same behaviours with other children. W.A.G. Therapeutic Service is involved in teaching children how to have happy, healthy, and caring relationships with the animals in their lives. Dr Michelle is available to speak to school classes or other groups about a variety of animal-related topics including the benefits of human-animal bonds, the similarities of animal emotions and human emotions, and how to meet and greet animals safely. Contact W.A.G. Therapeutic Service for more information.

 

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