Casey A. Culligan is a 2019 graduate of the PsyD Program in Clinical Psychology at Antioch University, New England

Dissertation Committee

  • Martha Straus, PhD, Committee Chair
  • Barbara Belcher-Timme, PsyD, Committee Member
  • Maureen Sanford, PsyD, Committee Member


prosocial behavior, volunteer, human–animal, benefits

Document Type


Publication Date



This is a dissertation project on the reciprocal benefits—to volunteers and animals—of volunteering at animal shelters, rescues, and sanctuaries. I have provided a brief literature review on the relationship between prosociality and helper/recipient wellbeing, highlighting the current scarcity of research on the human enactment of prosocial behavior with animal recipients of help. I then further supported the need for continued research in this regard by examining the emerging body of research on the suggested wellbeing-benefits of human–animal interaction. An ecopsychological framework was utilized to emphasize the potential therapeutic affects (to both humans and animals) of engaging in prosocial behaviors directed toward animals. To explore the subjective experiences and meaning making of animal shelter/rescue/sanctuary volunteers a qualitative IPA, methodology was utilized. Semi-structured interviews were held with five participant–volunteers on a one-on-one basis, and discussions were largely focused on the wellbeing-benefits they have given and gained from their service work directed toward animals in need, as well as the challenges encountered by both humans and animals involved. Through thematic analysis, I endeavored to capture the essence of the phenomenon at hand, and multiple measures were taken to best ensure its overall rigor, credibility, and transferability. Findings of the research included a range of participant-perceived benefits gained through their service work including awareness of their own self-efficacy, feeling internally fulfilled, developing a heightened sense of resilience, and connecting to others. Participants additionally identified a range of beneficial impacts to their animal counterparts which are detailed in full. Implications of the research topic were explored on individual, systemic, and theoretical levels, and future directions for research and practice were identified.


Casey A. Culligan

ORCID Scholar ID# : 0000-0003-0467-9455