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How to Add Animal Assisted Therapy to Your Specialized Practice- Eating Disorders

 An Interview Series By AATPC

 Published on Octover 8th, 2021


Hello all, my name is Mike and I am a therapist here at Animal Assisted Therapy Programs of Colorado and I wanted to take the opportunity in this blog series to interview Animal Assisted Therapists about how they incorporate their other therapeutic specialities into the mix with animal assisted psychotherapy. This series of blogs will be presented in interview format. I am hoping these interviews will give you all a wider view on the nature of animal assisted therapy and also show clinicians some ways that specializations can be included into animal assisted therapy. 

For this month’s interview, I am meeting with Erin Peterson. LPCC. She is currently working to become a Certified Eating Disorder Specialist. Erin is passionate about the healing qualities of physical movement, nature, and animals, and thus engages in the therapeutic relationship in a holistic and multifaceted manner.

Erin Peterson 2021Interview

Interview with Erin Peterson, LPCC


Hello all, my name is Mike and I wanted to take the opportunity in this blog series to interview Animal Assisted Therapists about how they incorporate their other therapeutic specialities into the mix with animal assisted psychotherapy. This series of blogs will be presented in interview format. I am hoping these interviews will give you all a wider view on the nature of animal assisted therapy and also show clinicians some ways that specializations can be included into animal assisted therapy. 

For this month’s interview, I am meeting with Erin Peterson, LPCC. She is currently working to become a Certified Eating Disorder Specialist. Erin is passionate about the healing qualities of physical movement, nature, and animals, and thus engages in the therapeutic relationship in a holistic and multifaceted manner. 

Mike: Hello all! I am here with Erin. Erin is one of our clinicians over here at Animal Assisted. I wanted to thank her for joining us today. We're going to spend some time talking about Erin’s role at AATPC, as well as what areas she specializes in and how she incorporates Animal Assisted Therapy into her practice. Erin, tell me a little bit about yourself. 

Erin: Alright. I'm organizing in my head. 

Mike: Take your time.

Erin: So to start, I specialize in eating disorders and disordered eating behaviors and concerns regarding body image. I am currently working on my certificate to be a Certified Eating Disorder Specialist. I am passionate about eating disorders because I myself am in recovery. My passion is blending my clinical experience from my internship at AATPC with my own personal experience, to help put myself in the client chair.

Mike: Taking that real life experience into the fold. 

Erin: My background originally, is actually in physical movement. So I'm retired and did have to leave my previous career because of my eating disorder. I had to leave my career as a dancer especially because of my health, okay? 

Erin: So I know how it feels to have to put your health before something you equally love. If you don't, your health is going to suffer and so I try to use that empathy to work with clients. In my own recovery, I also had an animal who played a huge role, which is what inspired me to seek out animal assisted psychotherapy to start with. Mr. Kitty and he's on the poster of the pet loss group flyer. So he is my boy and I could do a whole and talk about him. He was with me during my own struggles and when I actually received treatment and started the journey of recovery, he was by my side the entire time, as this consistent, unconditional, and non judgemental force. Was. Running around my apartment, or waiting for me.  We need nutrition and water and hydration and sleep and we need all these things in order to be healthy. So when culture and my own disordered parts of myself told me nope, continue on with behaviors that are gonna harm you and or kill you, Mister Kitty was the consistent reminder of ‘Nope, we're not gonna do that!’



 How to Add Animal Assisted Therapy to Your Specialized Practice

 An Interview Series By AATPC

 Published on August 16th, 2021


 Hello all, my name is Mike and I wanted to take the opportunity in this series of blogs to interview Animal Assisted Therapists about how they incorporate their other therapeutic specialities into the mix with animal assisted psychotherapy.

 This series of blogs will be presented in interview format. An audio verison will also be availabe for this first interview through our social media platforms. Stay tuned for other presentation methods in future posts. 

 Our first interview is with one of our clinicians here at Animal Assisted Therapy Programs of Colorado, Elizabeth Worth, LPCC. She is working toward becoming a Registered Play Therapist as well as completing training in EMDR Therapy. 

 She also has a background in eco-therapy. 


Mike: All right, so I'm here with Elizabeth. Elizabeth is one of our clinicians over here at Animal Assisted and so today we're going to spend some time talking about her role at AATPC, as well as some of her specialties working here. So hello!

Elizabeth: Hi!

Mike: So first of all, thanks for joining me today. I know it's gonna be probably pretty funny for later on as I transcribe this because there's kittens moving around in the space.

Elizabeth: Gouda (kitten) is all I'm totally a part of this interview. 

Mike: Hi, buddy (petting kitten). Yeah, so I wanted to spend a little bit of time today talking about your specialty and how you approach animal assisted therapy and how you combine the two together. So whatever, you feel starting with let's start with that okay?

Elizabeth on Play Therapy, Eco Therapy and Being Mindful

Elizabeth: So I would say my specialties probably play therapy. Okay, I'm working toward my registered play therapy certification as I work toward my LPC. So, kiddos have always been the passion of mine and where I kind of want to work but I found that I like having some adults in my case load too. Having a nice balance is really good but definitely focus more so on the kiddos and that play therapy piece on top of that. 

I would say go more than just the animal system. I go more into eco therapy, so the nature therapy, those kinds of mindfulness things, okay. I love to be in the garden with clients and just set up some towels and sometimes when they're just really stressed and overwhelmed and they don't want to talk we just ground in the grass, we'll take our shoes off and literally bury our toes in the ground.

Mike: yeah.

Elizabeth: Put our feet in the grass, notice how it feels, that we notice all around us. Lately, it's been so cool and we kind of noticed that and the flowers and that will ground them so we can actually do some work and it's also kind of teaching them that skills when you feel overwhelmed that your own house, you know, you can step outside barefoot in and do the same kind of things. So I really try to at the beginning, kind of set those kinds of foundations with clients to teach them those skills and we just do them over and over together so that even if they can't do it in their spare time, they kind of have a place to do that. So very nature based.

Mike: Very nature based and it sounds as if being able to be mindful and also being able to translate some of these skills to places that such as home to so it's easy to do.

Elizabeth:  Yeah I kind of always say to my clients, I start them with the foundations of therapy. That's building a relationship and just starting with coping skills wherever you can kind of push them in and teaching them better things, whether that's body movement, whether that's nature, whether that just ‘hey your animals trying to play with you, what are they telling you? maybe you should play with them? and take that time instead of being so focused on everything else’.

Mike: Right. 

Elizabeth: Yeah so really trying to kind of find tools that fit in with their life or something they're missing. I've clients being 'I want to learn to be outside more. I want to be this."So I totally kind of take that and run with it and just see how creative I can be with them. Really make it something that fits for them per se .

Mike: What are some ways that you would say you help people connect with outside, if they're ‘oh I'm having a hard time doing that’? What are some ways you can go ‘hey let's do X Y and Z and what would you say?

Elizabeth: Yeah actually I have a client who's terrified of bugs. She was 'let's go weed in the garden'. I'm totally into it. We get there and she saw a bug and literally ran. 

Mike: Oh wow.

Elizabeth: and was done. So we kind of pull back and we went a little less. So instead, we just sit outside and just kind of observe and let the bugs kind of, you know be a little farther away so it's challenge by choice. We take it slower, if needed okay and kind of pull away from being so in nature and just kind of taking a little baby steps to get acclimated to it. And sometimes even that means inside planting something in the dirt but being in a room inside, not doing it outside right but yeah that's bringing nature into us and making it a little more attainable for someone who's maybe not  ‘hey we're gonna go ahead and jump right into it.’

Mike: But at times you're, ‘I'm gonna go ahead and take a second and start off small and then kind of build up if we need.’

Elizabeth: Exactly. Depending on the kind person. I got another client, she just came in and she couldn't even talk, she didn't even have words to talk so I said we're gonna go for a walk. That's what we did. We took one of the trails alongside here and we just noticed everything and by the time we had noticed the bugs, the butterflies, the grasses, the sun setting with the mountains, it's so beautiful here, on our property she's ‘oh my gosh, I feel better! How did that work!?’ you know, and it's such a simple thing to just take a walk in nature 

Mike: it is yeah.

Elizabeth: But it's something we take for granted right? We're not connected. We're more connected to technology, so I'm really trying to reach those skills of these simple things that really aren't hard, and are really helpful and healing and that's kind of what's helped me in my own healing is hiking and being outside so I really try to kind of utilize things that I've experienced and that I kind of practice what I preach too. I try to do that.

Mike:  Yeah it really sounds as if you do too. I hear this. “Yeah I can't get out of the garden. I'm going walking and hiking with my clients,  I'm trying to get everyone connected and grounded and mindful of the things that are going on around them”.

Elizabeth: Yeah, absolutely and then I definitely try to tie in just body movement and be holistic. There's so many parts of us, which as I work from Gestalt kind of theory, is how do I then, let them move around when we're walking and doing things? Is that spinning around? Do we need to do some stretching together? How does that kind of work, to heal those pieces and to teach them those kind of skills as well?

Mike: oh that's so awesome.

Elizabeth: Yeah, a few of my clients we do yoga together outside on towels in the grass, it's what we do every session. 

Elizabeth on Animal Assisted Psychotherapy 

Mike: So we've talked a little bit, so far about your specialties and some more of the eco therapy, play therapy and some more of that mindfulness and gestalt work. How does it look in terms of the animal work? What does that look like on your end? 

Elizabeth:  Yeah, so the animals are just another piece of the relationship. I kind of view it as,’ what animal does my client need to interact with to teach them that kind of relational skill as well’ or make that a piece of treatment?’ So kind of what they need. I have a client who's has a fear of cats and part of her goal of coming here was working through that and forming relationships with cats which normally they come up to where she is and literally she jumps and will sometimes even be like a cat. 

Elizabeth: But that's a real experience for some people too right? Most of our work is going to the FIV cat room and she started when there was only Fred and Oliver on there. And has had to kind of watch the family grow. When she was a little hesitant about and she said ' don't know how I feel about these new cats' but she's learned that they're really safe and good cats too and she actually is less jumpy with them and will pet every single one of them! Which is a huge! Yeah so I kind of just have that animal assisted piece as kind of wherever it's needed, kind of sprinkle that in and balance that with the other interventions to see what that person actually needs. I look at them and think 'What's actually helpful for you today? Is it okay to be inside sometimes and sometimes it is outside other times?’ It's yep. We're gonna go out and be with the goats or the horses and that turns into mindfulness kind of eco-therapy in itself as well.

Elizabeth on where Animal Assisted Therapy Meets Her Specialties 

Mike: Right, okay. The next question was going to be about this intersection but it sounds as if you're judging it based on the moment too and not necessarily going ‘all right, we are gonna go ahead and force the situation. Let's see what happens in the moment’ and ‘how we can kind of make that happen? Does it need to be more mindfulness time in the garden today? Sure let's go do that. Does it need to be time with the goats and running around? Hey, let's go have fun with that as well.

Elizabeth: Right.

Mike: Sounds as though you kind of flow with what they need.

Elizabeth: Yeah I do and I really try to see each of my, individual clients and base it upon what I truly think they need. I get that kind of leading edge and that intuition about them once I built that relationship to kind of just learn to know what they might need when they show up. Sometimes I have this beautiful plant thing and this is gonna be great and they show up and I feel their energy,  and I know not today, okay, it's never gonna go do this with X animal cuz you just need some animal time because that's a thing too right it is it's a real thing sometimes an actual plan intervention isn't what they need sometimes they just need to spend time with an animal and that's a different type of mindfulness, of this building that relationship and just knowing that there's not always pressure to do something. 

You're allowed to just kind of show up as you are and process through that however that looks for that.

Mike: Right, yeah because I've heard that from other people too. Where sometimes there's that pressure to go ahead and respond while in therapy and it sounds as if you're saying ‘hey hold on, let's take it moment by moment and see what fits’.

Elizabeth:  Absolutely and because I work from such a holistic perspective, some sessions me and my client we don't really talk. We just move through things together and when my clients was ‘how did you know that was what I needed? I didn't need to talk about the loss of my ex anymore. I didn’t need to talk, I need to just like move body through it’. And that's what we did. We just walk through stretches together, by the end of it she's was ‘I feel better’ and we had identified where in her body she's feeling her grief of losing her family member and then from there we just literally just moved through it she was ‘I never would have thought of doing that’. It's moments like that, I'm starting to realize and piece together and figure out, you know, kind of what everyone needs and go from there. 

Mike: That's amazing! 

Elizabeth: Thanks. 

Mike: I'm just thinking about that. I think it's really a fun approach and it's also it sounds as if it's really helpful, for your clients too.

Elizabeth:  Yeah it was at that play piece into making things fun and being kind of big and really expressing myself so clients realize that's part of being your authentic self you can express and be weird and be yourself through all this. I did a sound meditation with a client last night where you have to make ‘eh, or oh’ (Eliabeth is making faces to gesture this) I'd make it on faces because she gets really self-conscious, so we're trying to kind of break that and make her make all these weird sounds. We were both laughing so hard and she's ‘this is like a fun intervention'. This doesn't have to be serious as some of the things we do. It's balance. We gotta balance out the two.

Mike: Right

Elizabeth: That's the thing, is there's just so much we have here that's useful in therapy. right whether it be just outside the garden having the animals come and work with us. And there's 30 types of animals. Amazing for every personality of person out there. Yeah, so I think it's just so amazing that we have all these resources here, so I want to just dive into all of them and just see which ones fit which the client and how I can just kind of piece this together and make it so treatment is actually helpful. And it's maybe healing in a different way than they saw it, because healing, with animals and with nature is not what we typically see in this therapy per se right. So it's kind of my goal is to go out of the box and be just creative and just my own way.

Mike: And it sounds as if you're doing it too. It sounds at least as your clients are responding favorably to it as well.

Elizabeth: I think I surprise them sometimes. A kiddo I work with said ‘"And I was having conversation mom,and she said was ‘my therapy as a kid was sitting in a chair across from the therapist in". My client was, ‘isn't that abuse?’ Both me and mom are thinking 'you are seriously lucky man'. So I think kids especially take it for granted what a wonderful place this is to receive therapy because it is just it's magical with all the animals and this piece of property we have it just a really cool special unique place that's already so creative that I feel it just makes me want to be even more creative. 

Mike:  Oh my goodness that's amazing. Well, Elizabeth I think that's all I have for today. Thanks for coming out and sharing some of your perspective on all this.

Elizabeth: My whole goal with this has been to try to go ahead and get people to see another side of therapy and to see how the different pieces can connect together too and I'm hopeful that you know, the people will be able to see and hear the words that you said and go yeah, okay I can see how it could work for me.




























DannyDahliabuttingheadsThe COVID-19 pandemic has taken lives. It's affected jobs. It's permanently closed businesses. It's affected how we grieve. It's canceled vacations and weddings. It's caused burnout. It even managed to stop sports there for a while.

And it's not like the rest of 2020 has been much better. Kobe passed away. The senseless loss of George Floyd's life and ongoing racial injustice. The California wildfires. Political division brought on by the election. Hurricane season along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts. As you know, this list only scratches the surface.

It's...a lot.

Dog 8

Loneliness is bad for your health, but fortunately there are a few ways to combat it.


 When the temperatures soar, we need to keep a close eye on our cats to ensure they don’t suffer from heat stroke. Heat stroke is when a cat’s body temperature rises. Below you will find the symptoms to look out for and how to prevent heat stroke in cats.

FredwithClientAt AATPC we know we have wonderful, therapeutic animals. But we also know that nearly all animals can have therapeutic benefits. Both informally, and through our  Filial Pet Therapy Program we advocate for families to adopt pets from one of their local animal shelters, and find fun and helpful ways to interact.

Cooper SmilingPavlov might have called that happy look on your dog’s face a collection of conditioned reflexes, but now science is catching up with what animal lovers have always known.


ClientwalkinganimalsTeaching kids to have compassion and empathy for their furry, feathered, and finned friends is vital for preventing cruelty to animals as well as in raising them to respect and treat those who are different from them with kindness. According to the National PTA Congress, "Children trained to extend justice, kindness, and mercy to animals become more just, kind, and considerate in their relations to each other. Character training along these lines will result in men and women of broader sympathies; more humane, more lawabiding, in every respect more valuable citizens."

Fred SnugglingCats are different animals. They have many wonderful, and some frustrating qualities - just like our partners. Cats are proud, independent, stubborn, loving, devoted, and silly. To have a cat love you feels wonderful, because you know you have earned that love - a cat usually does not give its love generously. One feels privileged to be loved by a cat.


Doggone good medicine -- therapy animals spread comfort and healing in hospitals and beyond

For 14 of my 30 years I worked with my cat Norman in counseling sessions with couples and families, then incorporated my therapy dog Rupert into my work. Working with an animal as a co-therapist adds a new dimension to the process that is both enlightening and fun for the couple and the therapist. 

Dancing ratsMost of us who own pets intrinsically know the value they have in our lives. Whether seeing them as a child or an animal, we love our pets and feel that love returned. Animal love is unconditional. Of earthly relationships, our relationship with our pet may be the most honest and pure we know. While our pets may manipulate us, we generally don't lie to them, or put on airs. We don't get jealous of their friendships, or their new car. They love us with or without makeup or a bad hair day, and if we're fat or thin. They love who we are, and we love who they are because of it. 

2Addie (not her real name or photo to protect her confidentiality) came to AATPC after being referred by the local police department's victim's assistance unit. She had experienced extreme trauma in her home and had recently been moved to a temporary foster home. As a young teen Addie was not happy to be in "therapy" and refused to talk during her first two appointments at the ranch. It took a very patient and wise counselor to accept her silence as her need for control and demand for respect. Instead of talking they groomed the horses and played with the cats. Her counselor told her about the animal's histories - all had been taken from bad situations and re-homed with us - we were their permanent family now. 

AATPC sees many families, often as a result of divorce, a parent’s alcohol or drug use, or a child’s acting out behaviors. The Smith Family (not their real name) had a different story. Mr. Smith had been fighting a rare type of liver cancer for 3 years with little improvement. He was unable to work and relied on his wife’s income to support the family with 2 young boys. The family was continuing to receive a great deal of material and logistical support from their community, which helped with food and transportation for the children. But the family was fatigued from the lack of routine and continuity. While grateful and attempting to appear hopeful about Mr. Smith’s health, Mrs. Smith was becoming depressed and fearful. The boys were each acting out in school and fighting with each other. Mr. Smith felt disengaged and guilty for being unable to contribute to the family. The family was grieving but because Mr. Smith had not been told he was “terminal” they could not share this in public.

Steve, an Iraq veteran, came to AATPC after he heard that he could come to therapy at a place with animals and for a fee he could afford. His AATPC counselor had a therapy dog in the first session and Steve felt calmer immediately and was able to talk about his anxiety and increasing use of alcohol. In the next few sessions his counselor helped Steve decrease his anxiety with mindfulness exercises with the therapist’s dog, and then later with one of the miniature horses. Steve had a dog at home and practiced the same skills with his dog daily, as well as when he noticed his anxiety increasing.

Barking C.A.A.T. Ranch
(Center for Animal Assisted Therapy)
7275 Kipling Street
Arvada, CO 80005
P 720-266-4444
F 720-266-4444

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