Animal assisted therapy
A therapy animal is an animal a therapist uses to help their clients connect with and be involved in their therapy. Therapy animals usually belong to the therapist or therapy organisation. They generally only have contact with the client during the therapy session and don’t stay with the client after the session is finished. They’re generally used to help the client get the most out of their therapy.
Therapists use different approaches, techniques and equipment to engage their clients and help carry out an intervention. Many therapists who work with people with disability may use therapy animals in therapy sessions.
Involvement of a therapy animal is simply another tool a therapist can use as part of their program.
Feng has a psychosocial disability and asks us to fund a therapy program that uses a therapy animal during the sessions. It’s been recommended by his therapist. But the hourly rate for this program is higher than other therapy programs, which don’t involve the use of a therapy animal.
Would we fund this?
We would fund therapy programs that are reasonable and necessary for Feng’s disability support needs and meet the NDIS funding criteria. But we won’t typically fund therapy programs that use a therapy animal during the therapy sessions. This is because any additional costs of these therapy programs aren’t seen as value for money, when we compare them to the cost of other supports.
Why wouldn’t we fund it?
To decide if a support is reasonable and necessary, we look at the information Feng has given us against the NDIS funding criteria.
We think about whether the therapy program is likely to be effective and beneficial for Feng taking into account current good practice. When we say taking into account current good practice, we mean thinking about what’s recommended, or has been found to work well, for other people in situations like yours.
We’ll work out whether a therapy program is value for money, comparing the benefits Feng would get from it with the cost of other supports. We’ll see if there are other therapy programs Feng could choose that would achieve the same results at a much lower cost.
What else do we think about?
We typically won’t fund:
- Therapy programs that aren’t run by qualified therapists. For example, a horse riding school running a horse therapy program, where there’s no qualified allied health professional to give actual therapy. This is because these types of programs won’t be able to give evidence their program is based on current good practice. Therapy programs that aren’t designed or delivered by qualified therapists are likely to cause harm to you or be a risk to others.
- A therapy support where you’re expected to own, buy or train your own therapy animal. Or where you need to take care of the therapy animal in your own home after the session with your therapist. This is because animals, other than qualified and trained assistance animals, are unlikely to meet the NDIS funding criteria. See the Our Guideline – Assistance animals for more information.
Gale is 17 years old and lives with an intellectual disability. Gale is uncomfortable around people. She will withdraw or even panic if she needs to have social contact with anyone outside of her immediate family.
Gale’s therapist has given a report that recommends a psychologist who helps young people who live with social anxiety. The psychologist uses a therapy dog as part of the support. The recommended program is more expensive than other programs for social anxiety, because it includes the therapy dog. The therapist has given examples and evidence. These explain why this program is more likely to help Gale with her social anxiety than similar supports that don’t use a therapy dog.
Gale’s family sends the psychologist’s recommendation to us and asks for funding for Gale to take part in the social anxiety therapy program.
When deciding whether the therapy support is reasonable and necessary, the planner looks at the information provided against the NDIS funding criteria. The planner thinks about whether:
- the support will help Gale to mix with other people in the community, or get a job
- the support will be, or is likely to be, effective and beneficial for Gale, taking into account current good practice
- the support is value for money and the costs are reasonable, when we compare them to the cost of other supports that Gale could get benefit from.
In Gale’s case the planner decides:
- Based on the report from Gale’s therapist, the program is likely to help Gale to overcome her social anxiety. This will help build Gale’s confidence about having contact with people other than her family. This is also likely to help Gale to mix with others in the community or get a job.
- The examples and evidence show that based on Gale’s psychological needs the use of a therapy animal in the session is likely to be effective and beneficial for the management of Gale’s social anxiety.
- The program isn’t value for money because there are other therapy programs Gale could use, which would achieve the same result at a much lower cost.
The planner decides the program that uses a therapy dog during the therapy sessions doesn’t meet our funding criteria. The planner decides to fund another therapy program that doesn’t use a therapy dog.
Case example 2
Carly is 12 years old with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Carly’s family thinks she should get involved in some community activities. They believe this will help her learn to manage her behaviours and responses when she’s with other people. They look for activities that will focus on helping her to manage her behaviour and emotions, to support her disability.
Carly’s family report they want her to participate in an equine, or horse, therapy program to facilitate her social participation and help manage her behaviours. They provide information about the service they have found that involves trail rides, mixing socially with other riders and learning how to ride and care for horses. The program is run by a local riding stable with riding instructors. There is no evidence a qualified therapist or any people with disability expertise are involved in designing or running the riding program.
The family take Carly of a trial visit and find that she responds well to horses. Based on the success of this visit, Carly’s family asks us for funding for 12 months of visits. They include a brochure from the horse riding school and letter from Carly’s doctor which states:
- Carly seems to respond positively to animals, her ‘face lights up’ when she talks about horses in her therapy sessions
- learning to ride horses will improve Carly’s self-confidence
- learning how to care for horses is likely to help Carly understand routines and responsibilities, which is part of her behavioural management goals
- being around people caring for horses will model calm, quiet behaviour which may help Carly to behave in a similar way and may improve her social skills.
To work out if the riding visits are reasonable and necessary, we look at the information we’re given, against the NDIS funding criteria. We think about whether:
- the visits will be, or is likely to be, effective and beneficial for Carly, taking into account current good practice
- the riding visits are an intervention that’s run by a qualified therapist who has experience working with people with disability
- taking part in a general riding school program would be a potential risk to Carly
- whether the visits are a day-to-day living cost, and if so, whether the cost of the visits are solely and directly as a result of Carly’s disability needs
- the riding visits represent value for money when we compare its benefits to the cost of other supports that Carly could get benefit from.
In Carly’s case, the planner decides:
- While the trial session showed Carly responds well to horses, there’s no published or peer reviewed evidence to show that a general horse riding program is current good practice as a support to manage behaviour or emotions.
- There isn’t enough evidence to show the general horse riding program Carly’s parents have proposed is a professionally designed therapy program that will help Carly build her skills in managing her behaviour and emotions. This is because no allied health professional is involved in designing or running the program. This means there isn’t enough information to show the general horse riding program will give Carly the benefits she needs.
- With no evidence that an allied health professional is involved in designing or running the general horse riding program, there’s a risk this program could cause harm to Carly or others.
- There’s no evidence the general horse riding program offered to Carly is a disability related therapy. The program is about learning how to ride and care for horses, and would be more appropriately described as a recreational leisure activity than a therapy. Recreational activities like this are a day-to-day living cost. We can’t fund day-to-day living costs that anyone would be expected to pay for. The cost of the general horse riding program is not an extra living cost that’s solely and directly as a result of Carly’s disability.
- When compared to other supports Carly could choose for managing her behaviour and emotions, or building her social skills, the cost of the general horse riding program isn’t seen as good value for money.
The planner decides the program doesn’t meet our NDIS funding criteria. The program isn’t approved.
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