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Invertebrates in Therapy

My name is Terri Bauer and I am a licensed clinical social worker, humane education practitioner and I happen to have passion for our smallest friends-- the invertebrates!! I am beyond thrilled to bring my passion to Animal Assisted Therapy Programs of Colorado and weave all things crawly into the work we do!!


Invertebrates are animals that do not have backbones like butterflies, moths, cockroaches and spiders. Fun Fact: according to the Butterfly Pavilion website, 97% of all animals on the plant are invertebrates. Invertebrates are important to humans and the planet we share because they are a food source for other animals, keep the ecosystem in balance and are essential to the creation of products and services that benefit humans! Did you know that it is estimated that 1 out of every three bites of food is a result of the hard work pollinators are doing!? There are also many invertebrates hard at work cleaning up our environment by scavenging on dead animals and plants recycling nutrients back into the soil. We have many things to thank invertebrates for! (https://butterflies.org/what-is-an-invertebrate/ )


Since starting with AATPC in February 2023, we have raised 2 groups of painted lady butterflies and are currently raising a group of hawk moths. These animals have provided not only an opportunity for curiosity and education about the lifecycle of butterflies and moths, but also to cultivate an understanding for the important contributions these animals make to our environment (hint: its pollination!).


At this point, you may be wondering, but what about therapy? How can clients work with invertebrates to foster their own wellbeing? Well, I just happen to have some insight. As a social worker and humane educator, I have an acute awareness of the interconnectedness of all beings and the planet we share. I am aware that by cultivating empathy and compassion for other humans and non-humans it will be easier to care for each other and the planet which will benefit us all.


I have a theory and I’m not, admittedly, the first one to have it: If one can cultivate empathy and compassion for something like a cockroach, spider or earthworm then it changes one’s perspective and insight into not only themselves but for others. Invertebrates offer many metaphors for transition, change, and resiliency that clients can identify with. I do believe that invertebrates will add breadth to the opportunities clients have at the ranch to explore their challenges, situations, and emotions and weave these experiences into a full life!


So, I bet you are now curious what this looks like in a session? Recently, I had a client resonate with the lifecycle of a painted lady butterfly and could see similarities between herself and the butterfly going from egg, to caterpillar, to chrysalis and becoming a butterfly. This insight helped her navigate several transitions she was experiencing and lessened the distress these transitions were causing.


Another session comes to mind working with a client and a hornworm (the caterpillar

stage of a hawk moth). The client was observing the caterpillar and requested to hold it. She noted the sticky feeling of the animals’ feet, the softness of its skin and the gentleness in which it crawled slowly down her arm headed back to the enclosure. After about a minute, the client expressed frustration that the caterpillar was takin

g so long and yelled “crawl faster”! The client acknowledged frustration and her feelings of impatience and with further exploration into this interaction, the client was then able to connect how these feelings impacted her overall feelings of anxiety. This led to a deeper discussion and understanding of the clients’ activators for anxiety and how she might cope with anxiety in the future.


I hope this provides you some insight and perspective of how our smallest friends will be making their impact in the work we are doing at Animal Assisted Therapy Programs of Colorado. I will leave you with one final thought on behalf of our smallest co-therapists: If you can care about a cockroach you can care about anything!


**A glimpse into the future: cockroaches, millipedes, isopods and arachnids will be joining the team in 2024!

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1 Comment


Linda Craddock
Linda Craddock
Sep 08, 2023

I am truly beginning to appreciate invertebrates because of Terri!

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