Animal-Assisted Psychotherapy for Pediatric Chronic Pain: Case Series of an Open Pilot Study to Test Initial Feasibility and Potential Efficacy

Cosima Locher, Milena Petignat, Cora Wagner, Karin Hediger, Binia Roth, Jens Gaab, Helen Koechlin*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Objective: Chronic pain is a common complaint in children and adolescents, placing an enormous burden on individuals, their families, and the healthcare system. New innovative approaches for the treatment of pediatric chronic pain (PCP) are clearly warranted, as drop-out rates in intervention studies are high and it can be difficult to engage patients with PCP in therapy. Here, animal-assisted interventions (AAIs) might be promising, since there is preliminary evidence for the approach in adults with chronic pain, and AAIs are generally known to foster the therapeutic motivation of patients. To date, however, AAIs have not been examined in pediatric chronic pain. Methods: The aim of this open pilot study was to examine the initial feasibility of recruitment and potential efficacy of an animalassisted group psychotherapy (including horses, rabbits, chickens, goats, and a dog), providing case reports of three children with chronic pain. We applied a mixed-methods approach, including the conductance of semi-structured interviews and assessment of quantitative pre-post data with a focus on pain severity, avoidance behavior, pain acceptance, and ability to defocus from the pain. Results: The three participating girls (age: 9–12 years) reported chronic pain in the head and abdomen. The process of recruitment turned out to be challenging. All three children reported reduced pain-related disability and pain-related distress, as well as an increased ability to accept pain and to defocus from the pain. The qualitative data revealed that patients and their parents had a positive attitude towards AAIs. Conclusion: Our initial open pilot study is the first to investigate AAIs in the context of pediatric chronic pain. Notably, we had difficulties in the recruitment procedure, mostly due to the Covid-19 situation. Based on three case reports, we found some first indication that AAI approaches might be associated with symptom changes. Future randomized-control studies with larger sample sizes are clearly warranted. Identifier: NCT04171336.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1799-1811
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Pain Research
Publication statusPublished - 2023


  • animal-assisted psychotherapy
  • children and adolescents
  • chronic pain
  • group-based


Dive into the research topics of 'Animal-Assisted Psychotherapy for Pediatric Chronic Pain: Case Series of an Open Pilot Study to Test Initial Feasibility and Potential Efficacy'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this