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Animals & Eating Disorder Recovery

Exploring the relationship between animals and humans

Animals & Eating Disorder Recovery

In Dr. Flaherty-Fischette’s research, five themes emerged about AAI and eating disorder recovery. AAI was described as offering relational safety (animal as knowing what you need, animal as nonjudgmental, unconditional, and protection); AAI offering sensory engagement; AAI offering affective regulation (animal as a way for emotion (re)connection, animal as a way to practice emotion regulation, animal as emotional buffer, animal as distraction to help release emotions); AAI offering positive cognitive impact (prompting thoughts outside of eating disorder, decreasing negative thoughts about self, expansive impact on identity); and AAI offered a positive component of eating disorder treatment (animal as fun and restorative, animal as motivation in treatment; animal as motivation for recovery).

From the research, the data suggests that AAI had an impact on the individuals' affective and relational experiences. Samantha, who engaged in canine-assisted interventions, said, “I would just kind of like be playing with the animals. And I would kind of notice that it was easier for me to express my emotions when I was doing that.” Lujan, a 27-year-old with anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa, who used equine-assisted interventions, said, “it definitely taught me how to, like, let my emotions out, you know, … I’d never really done that before, and so I guess it made me feel safer to do it with other people.” Alexis, a 23-year-old diagnosed with bulimia nervosa, who used canine-assisted interventions, said “when the dogs were coming, I knew that I can connect to animals. I know that animals can connect to me. And so when the dogs were coming, the eating disorder got quieter because I knew that I was gonna be connected to something.”

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