Counselling Psychology degree students research positive effects of therapy animals

Georgian recently hosted a Therapeutic Animal Conference which brought students, faculty and industry experts together to learn about the implementation of therapeutic animal programs.

The conference celebrated the work related to the two-year federal research grant that Dr. Howard Bloom and Dr. Adam Stibbards have been working on with Sweet Charity and the Simcoe County District School Board. This year, Dr. Bloom and Dr. Stibbards brought Honours Bachelor of Counselling Psychology students on board to study the impacts of Sweet Charity’s Canine Ambassador program in schools and the human-animal connection.

Sarah Carder, a third-year student in the degree program, described her experience in this research project as “magical.” She helped conduct focus groups to interview high school students and faculty about their thoughts on therapy animals and draw connections between themes.

A person with blonde hair wearing a blue shirt and black pants, sitting with a Labrador therapy dog.
Third-year Georgian student Sarah Carder got to participate in the Therapeutic Animal Conference at the Barrie Campus.

“I didn’t know anything about applied research before I started this program,” Sarah says. “It was amazing meeting and interacting with the therapy dogs and hearing stories from students about how those dogs were changing their lives for the better, especially those with social anxiety.”

“I gained an unbelievable amount of knowledge and confidence from this experience, and I’m able to see how therapy animals can be replicated into many different practices. Dogs can provide a sense of calm and companionship, and I’m excited to see how I can integrate what I’ve learned into my own therapy practices in my future career,” she adds.

Dr. Bloom says it’s incredibly important to teach students about applied research and give them a space to put their learnings into practice.

Three people sit on a bench with a black therapy dog on a leash.

“This unique experiential learning opportunity allowed our students to explore the human condition and see how therapy animals can positively impact learning experiences in the college system and beyond. They also had a chance to network with others in the industry and share what they’ve learned with a larger audience, building that level of confidence to take on more projects.”

“It was wonderful to see how dedicated these students were to dive deeper into the world of research and innovation,” Dr. Bloom adds.

Throughout the process and at the conference, students were able to build relationships and collaborate with Georgian’s research and implementation partners, including Chris Samis, Superintendent of Education, Simcoe County District School Board and Jean Hargreaves, Founder of Sweet Charity.

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