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When Interpersonal Trauma Closes the Door to Play Therapy, Animal-Assisted Psychotherapy Opens a Window: Animal-Assisted Psychotherapy for Developmental Trauma through the Lens of Interpersonal Neurobiology of Trauma”

Room C

1 CE Hour

Presented By

  • -
    In-Person, Live Webinar



Chronic maltreatment by a caretaker in early childhood, known as developmental trauma, results in serious deleterious effects on the child’s present and future physical and psychological health, self-regulation, and ability to function in interpersonal relationships. Researchers in the field of neurobiology have discovered that the source of these problems lies in pervasive neurological implications of maltreatment, negatively affecting functioning of the neurological system. Trauma- and neurobiology-informed therapy approaches must be developed. Integration of knowledge of the psychological effects of developmental trauma with knowledge of the interpersonal neurobiology of trauma has proved useful for psychotherapists in play therapy, an approach helping the child to work through the trauma on the way to growth and resilience.


However, the symptoms of developmental trauma form barriers to some of the very principles of play therapy that are meant to treat sufferers of developmental trauma: dysregulation, collapse of potential space and inability to symbolize, and therefore a lack of ability to enter into imaginative play in the therapy setting, leading to difficulty in forming a meaningful narrative and working through the trauma and its implications. This workshop explores animal-assisted psychotherapy as an approach which addresses these issues. Experts in the field of developmental trauma state that therapy must take place in the context of relationships. Evidence points to the influence of human-animal interactions on the neurobiological system, improving its functioning. Animal-assisted psychotherapy, conducted in a highly relational environment and positively influencing the neurobiological system, may lower barriers to play therapy for children suffering from developmental trauma.


This presentation will describe some barriers to play therapy created by interpersonal trauma, and then discuss both psychological and neurobiological effects of the integration of animals into the play therapy setting that are likely to bring down or circumvent these barriers. Attendees will then be split into small groups and given a scenario of animal-assisted play therapy. The groups will be asked to think of ways, based upon the ideas from the presentation, that the presence of animals might facilitate the play therapy process in ways that play therapy without the presence of animals might not have succeeded. Then each group will present the ideas that were suggested by the participants.

Learning Objectives

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

  • Attendees will be introduced to the goals of play therapy, including psychological and neurobiological mechanisms behind play therapy, and reasons (both psychological and neurobiological) for barriers to play therapy caused by interpersonal trauma.

  • Attendees will be introduced to play therapy with the integration of animals into the play therapy setting, and then learn how the integration of animals into the play therapy setting may bring down the barriers to the therapy process caused by interpersonal trauma.

  • Attendees will experience the opportunities and process experienced by play therapists as they integrate animals into the process of play therapy in order to help the client work through their trauma experience, leading to insight and change.

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.
Nancy Parish-Plass
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