Date of Award

Spring 5-16-2014

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Counseling and Psychological Services

First Advisor

Catherine Y. Chang

Second Advisor

Greg Brack

Third Advisor

Daphne Greenberg

Fourth Advisor

Jonathan Orr


Existing authors (Reichert, 1998; Watson 2009) have described the unique positive impact of Animal Assisted Therapy in Counseling (AAT-C) on the client’s perception of the therapeutic alliance as well as the professional counselor’s ability to build positive alliances quickly. When implemented with appropriate education and training, AAT-C can positively impact the therapeutic experience of a diverse range of clients across a wide variety of settings (Chandler, 2012; Fine, 2004). AAT-C requires a specialized set of skills and competencies that allows professional counselors to incorporate specially trained animals into the counseling process to influence the therapeutic process in ways that are beyond the scope of traditional counselor-client helping relationships (Stewart & Chang, 2013). However, there is currently no definition of counseling-specific competencies to guide practitioners in this specialty area.

To address this gap, the presenters conducted an investigation using the Grounded Theory Method (Charmaz, 2006; Guba & Lincoln, 1989) to address the following research question: What knowledge, skills, and attitudes are required of competent practitioners of AAT-C? Based on the themes and subthemes that emerged from the data, the authors constructed a theoretical framework which represents competencies in AAT-C. Using this theoretical framework, the authors uncovered a total of nine essential competency areas for professional counselors utilizing AAT-C. They are divided into three domains in accordance with the competency framework that includes Knowledge, Skills, and Attitudes (Myers & Sweeny, 1990).