Dog-Assisted Therapy in Mental Health Care: A Qualitative Study on the Experiences of Patients with Intellectual Disabilities

Anke van Schooten, Nienke Peters-Scheffer, Marie-José Enders-Slegers, Inge Verhagen, Robert Didden

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Abstract: (1) Background: Dog-assisted therapy (DAT) is an experiential intervention to promote
psychological, physical, and social functioning in children and adults. Only few studies have been
conducted on DAT in adults with a mild intellectual disability or borderline intellectual functioning
(MID-BIF). The purpose of this study was to explore the experiences of patients with MID-BIF undergoing DAT in a mental health care facility. (2) Method: Seven patients completed 13 to 15 sessions of
DAT. Within two weeks of completing the program, they were interviewed using a semi-structured
interview. The transcripts of the interviews were analysed using interpretational phenomenological
analysis. In addition, the patients’ relatives and the DAT therapist were interviewed, and a focus
group discussion took place with each patient’s treatment team. (3) Results: The patients’ experiences
were predominantly positive. Physical contact with the dog calmed them down. The dog offered
them emotional support and helped them to make contact inside and outside the therapy and the
setting where they lived. The patients also liked the fact that DAT focused on the dog rather than
their problems, that the therapy was experiential and using a positive approach, and that, during the
therapy, they did not feel like a patient but a human being. DAT is a promising therapy for patients with
MID-BIF in mental health care facilities, but more research into its effectiveness and cost-effectiveness
and ways to implement DAT in clinical practice is needed to make more definitive statements.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)540-553
Number of pages14
JournalEuropean Journal of Investigation in Health, Psychology and Education
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2024


  • Adults
  • Animal-assisted interventions
  • Animal-assisted services
  • Animal-assisted therapy
  • Borderline intellectual functioning
  • Dog-assisted therapy
  • Mental health care
  • Mild intellectual disability
  • Qualitative study


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