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The Narrative Importance of Animals in the Lives of those who have witnessed or Caused Animal Harm

Room A

1 CE Hour

Presented By

  • -
    In-Person, Live Webinar



The foundation of narrative therapy is to assist children in the “re-authoring” of their life story, which can include how traumatic experiences are incorporated in their world view and play. This theoretical perspective encourages children to externalize the problem while also integrating an understanding of the social-cultural influences of family interpersonal violence to gain mastery and meaning of life events. A potential effective treatment for children and for some adults, who have witnessed maltreatment towards humans and animals, or perpetrated animal abuse, is to “co-create” a positive story, or successful narrative, through supervised interactions with animals in a therapeutic setting and interactive play therapy.


As outlined by Blaustein and Kinniburgh (2010) ” the creation of a narrative involves activation and integration across cortical structures: engaging in felt experiences, while reflecting upon it, and eliciting and tuning into internal experiences across “channels” (p. 231). This presentation will explore the integration of human-animal interactions and animal-themed interventions in child-centered play therapy and family therapy with children who have witnessed or perpetrated animal abuse and/or interpersonal family violence utilizing the guiding principles of storytelling in the Anicare Model for Children, the BARK program for adults (Randour, et al, 1999; Shapiro et al, 2024 ); a model of animal assisted interventions (Nicoll, 2006), as well as the incorporation of trauma-focused cognitive behavior therapy techniques to assist children in the development of personal narratives, including both a trauma and successful story which can assist with cognitive and affective processing of events (Cohen et al, 2006; Faoite,2011, Martsen,2016)


In addition, the integration of trauma and attachment informed principles of polyvagal theory as an essential component of incorporating the somatic in the clinical work involving therapy animals in play, or animal-themed play in sand tray or child-centered play therapy (Sanders, et al, 2021, Marks-Tarlow, 2017). Through the exploration of the children and adult stories of the human-animal bond, the narrative threads will be discussed including their personal descriptors in the process of sharing their trauma narrative to demonstrate issues of accountability, mastery and resilience and somatic awareness (Marks-Tarlow, 2017) Examples of the effectiveness of human-animal interaction as a therapeutic technique that can assist children in developing a successful narrative in the here-and-now will also be shared including how this interaction may help normalize their understanding of affect regulation, identifying triggers, increase the cognitive processing of traumatic material, as well as to promote future empathic connections and healthier attachments with animals.

Learning Objectives

At the end of this course, participants will be able to:

  • Participants will learn ways to integrate narrative play therapy into their assessment of both children and adults with a history of animal harm or witnessing animal harm.

  • Participants will identify 2 theoretical principles in narrative play therapy and polyvagal theory to guide the assessment and treatment of children with animal harm history.

  • Participants will gain insight into a phase-based approach to the integration of therapy animals into clinical work with those who have witnessed or perpetrated animal harm.

CE Policy
This course is fiscally sponsored by International Association of Veterinary Social Work . There may be potential biases or conflicts of interest inherent to this relationship, and it must be disclosed to participants. These conflicts of interest have no bearing on the course content and have been resolved.
Kate Nicoll
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