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Maureen D. Sanford is a 2014 graduate of the PsyD Program in Clinical Psychology at Antioch University, New England

Dissertation Committee

  • Martha Straus, Ph.D., Committee Chair
  • David Hamolsky, Psy.D. Committee Member
  • Bernie Hershberger, Ph.D. Committee Member

Document Type

Dissertation

Publication Date

2014

Abstract

College counseling centers are treating more cases of depression and anxiety than ever. Yet, despite endorsing symptoms, many students are disinclined to engage in counseling. Research shows that interacting with a therapy dog has positive psychological effects, including decreasing symptoms of depression and anxiety. I developed an on campus therapy dog pilot program (Campus Tails) as an alternative to counseling for students suffering from symptoms of depression and/or anxiety as measured by subscales of the Counseling Center Assessment of Psychological Symptoms 34 (CCAPS 34) Version 2009. I implemented Campus Tails at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine during the spring of 2013. Fourteen participants met with a designated therapy dog for a weekly animal assisted activity (AAA) session. I used a concurrent mixed methods design to study the effects of AAA sessions on symptoms. I collected quantitative data via CCAPS 34 subscales, and analyzed it using a single case design. I collected qualitative data via face to face semi structured interviews, and analyzed it via interpretative phenomenological analysis (IPA). I hypothesized that symptoms would decrease. I wanted to know what psychological themes were present in participants’ narratives of their experience, and if an ongoing therapy dog program might be feasible for Bowdoin College. Findings suggest that my hypotheses were confirmed. Psychological themes are categorized as directly or indirectly increasing the perception of wellbeing. Findings suggest that further consideration of the feasibility of an ongoing therapy dog program is justified. This study fills a gap in the literature measuring the effects of AAA on college students’ mental health.

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