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Effects of Animal-Assisted Therapy on Patients' Anxiety, Fear, and Depression Before ECT

Barker, Sandra B. Ph.D.; Pandurangi, Anand K. M.D.; Best, Al M. Ph.D.

Original Articles

Objective To determine whether animal-assisted therapy (AAT) is associated with reductions in fear, anxiety, and depression in psychiatric patients before electroconvulsive therapy (ECT).

Materials and Methods Before their scheduled ECT treatment, 35 patients were assigned on alternate days to the treatment condition, consisting of a 15-minute AAT session, and the standard (comparison) condition, consisting of 15 minutes with magazines. Visual analogue scales were used to measure anxiety, fear, and depression before and after treatment and standard conditions.

Results The effect of AAT on fear was significant in both the mixed-model, repeated-measures analysis of covariance (ANCOVA) (p = 0.0006) and the secondary analysis (p = 0.0050), which covaried out all of the demographic conditions (gender, race, marital status, pet ownership, age), condition order, and the pretest rating. The effect of AAT on anxiety approached significance in the ANCOVA (p = 0.0982), but in the secondary analysis, the effect was not significant (p = 0.6498). The AAT effect on depression was not significant in ANCOVA (p = 0.7665) or in the secondary analysis (p = 0.9394). A least squares mean analysis showed that AAT reduced fear by 37% and anxiety by 18%. There was no demonstrated effect of AAT on depression.

Conclusions Animal-assisted therapy may have a useful role in psychiatric and medical therapies in which the therapeutic procedure is inherently fear-inducing or has a negative societal perception.

Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, Virginia, U.S.A.

Received July 29, 2002; accepted November 22, 2002.

Address correspondence and reprint requests to Dr. Sandra B. Barker, Department of Psychiatry, Virginia Commonwealth University, P. O. Box 980710, Richmond, VA 23298-0710, U.S.A. E-mail:

© 2003 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.