Are You A Therapy Human?

The therapeutic usefulness of therapy animals (most notably dogs and horses) is well known and well practiced by treatment programs across this...

Are You A Therapy Human?

Are You A Therapy Human?

Written by Laura Olivasin Section

The therapeutic usefulness of therapy animals (most notably dogs and horses) is well known and well practiced by treatment programs across this country and in the world. I asked two leading clinical professionals, each an authority on the subjects of canine and equine therapy respectively, to help me understand the characteristics of these animals that allow them to be so powerful in treatment settings. This list is a synthesis of what was explained:

Therapy Dog





Accepts unconditionally

Gives comfort

 Found to reduce stress in many contexts

Found to reduce high blood pressure

Increases physical activity


Therapy Horse

Genuine internal confidence

The effects of paying attention or genuinely ‘listening’ to the other being

It wont be manipulated

It reflects your emotional state back to you

It has a language you must learn, not the other way around

It will accept you, as you are self-accepting

It doesn't put up with bullsh!+

It will resist being controlled, but it will be invited to cooperate

It, acting according to it's nature, will act as a metaphor for the participant

Helps people be self aware of their own nonverbal cues

Helps bring to light to meaning of mutual trust and respect

Non-verbal communication, assertiveness, creative thinking and problem solving, leadership, work, taking responsibility, teamwork and relationships, confidence

What neither does:



Don’t seek to controlTherapy-Animals


What both do:

Teach by and through their way of being, not by doing anything ‘to’ the participant

Enter into a relationship

So these animals have particular characteristics that enable them to be effective treatment allies for those suffering from emotional pain, and behavioral imbalances. This got me to thinking: What characteristics make a person a Therapy Human?

In an effort to answer that question (at least in part) I submit these ideas:


Being a Provoker VS Being an Engager 

Being A Provoker

All too often, in our efforts to effect change in another, we resort to a default setting many of us grew up with. It is a default setting we may have been raised with, or coached with, or taught in school with. It has so infiltrated our society, and our own personal experiences in life, that it is difficult to avoid it even in our interactions with those whom we seek to help. It is called being a “Provoker.”

A provoker is more interested in their ability to effectuate change, than in the actual change itself. A provoker seeks to be relieved of the negative behavior of the other, or seeks to be gratified that they changed the other. A provoker will seek to have their own needs met, in the act of getting the other to change. A provoker’s focus is on the most apparent “evidence” that they are “doing a good job” as an apparent agent of change. Typically, the most apparent “evidence” will be in the form of a behavior change in the “client.” So it becomes very important to provokers that their client’s behavior comply with their (the provoker’s) desired ends. This is especially the case with those who work in treatment programs and are expected to contain students/clients or produce certain behaviors out of them.

Therefore, a provoker’s most commonly used tools will almost always contain points of control over the client’s behavior, either as a group, or as individuals. In treatment program settings, these “controls” typically include one or more of the following: Consequences, punishments, rewards of privileges or items the client would like to have, constant direct confrontations and the holding of boundaries, time limits connected to consequences, etc. These methods are most “powerful” when they include something important to the client’s most basic wants like food. (For example, one prominent wilderness program uses the taking or “granting” of brown sugar as a “behavioral negotiator.”) All these are common tools of the provoker’s trade because they change behavior, which is the most obvious indicator that the provoker is “succeeding.”

At the provokers hand there are two main results; either the student resists changing because they are actually resisting being made to change, or resisting the person trying to make them change, or the student changes because they get the reward or avoid the punishment, and still resist the provoker in their heart…. and outward change.


Reducing Resistance

Provoking someone’s compliance can be accomplished through behavior modifying techniques, engaging someone's agency cannot. It should be our hope to help the student change and grow internally...from their own motives. This kind of change only happens when they choose it...when they exercise their own agency. It is difficult to help a student to want to change, or exercise their agency in positive ways, if they are resisting the very person trying to help them. We reduce this resistance by being something other than a provoker. We reduce the resistance when we seek to “become chosen,” which requires something entirely different on our part.

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