Animal assisted therapy in a paediatric urban Indigenous health setting

Mrs Ashley Potgieter1

1The Institute For Urban Indigenous Health, Brisbane, Australia

Background: Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT) has long been recognised as a valuable tool to engage clients and provide physical, social and emotional outcomes. AAT can help clients with supporting their ability to regulate emotions, improve motivation to participate, hand function and can decrease hyperactivity behaviours (Elmaci, & Cevizci, 2015). The Institute for Urban Indigenous Health (IUIH) has established a System of Care, which guides the operation of the organisations services to ensure that we are being culturally responsive in all activities that are undertaken. This presentation will provide an overview of AAT and how it has been used in a culturally responsive manner within this setting.

Method: The IUIH Allied Health team utilise an inter-professional approach where possible when working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander clients. A certified therapy dog has attended Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Community Controlled Health Clinics in South East Queensland to provide Animal Assisted Therapy services to children and their families within this inter-professional service delivery model.  Examples of integrating AAT within an IP team will be provided including de-identified case studies to demonstrate the effectiveness of this intervention. Client outcomes are measured using the Australian Therapy Outcome Measure for Indigenous Clients (ATOMIC).

Discussion: The incorporation of a therapy dog has complemented using a yarning approach and has assisted clinicians to build connections with clients, the foundation for intervention. Since using this approach, client attendance has improved, and findings from outcome measures indicate that within sessions, clients are more relaxed and motivated to engage.


Elmaci, D, & Cevizci, S. (2015). Dog-assisted therapies and activities in rehabilitation of children with cerebral palsy and physical and mental disabilities. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 12(5), 5046-5060.


Ashley Potgieter is an Occupational Therapist currently working at The Institute for Urban Indigenous Health. She graduated from the University of Queensland in 2013 as an Occupational Therapist (B.Occ Thy), and completed further post graduate study MAdv Occ Thy. She completed Animal Assisted Therapy training in 2016 and has since worked in a variety of settings using this approach. Ashley started working with the Institute in 2017 and is committed to helping First Australians to improve health outcomes. She values working in a multidisciplinary team with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and their families, as well as working with adults.

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