Date of Submission


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Psychology (PsyD)



Department Chair

Robert A DiTomasso, PhD, ABPP, Chair, Department of Psychology

First Advisor

Brad Rosenfield, PsyD, Chairperson

Second Advisor

Stephanie H Felgoise, PhD, ABPP

Third Advisor

Sbiri Sella, PsvD


Evidence-based psychotherapy is becoming an increasingly accepted way for individuals to manage a variety of clinical disorders and psychosocial stressors. Complementary therapies are designed to support, facilitate, or enhance existing treatment strategies. Animal-assisted therapy (AAT) is one such complementary treatment, in which animals are deliberately included in psychotherapeutic treatment plans in order to facilitate pre-designed treatment goals. Current literature suggests that AAT could have a multitude of benefits for both adults and children for an array of disorders and disabilities. Currently, there is a limited understanding of how AAT might contribute to learning and development for children with special needs. Furthermore, no current literature examines the experiences and perceptions of those who utilize AAT in private schools for children with special-needs. The current qualitative study was designed to gain an in-depth understanding of school faculty’s perceptions of a dog therapy program in a private school for children with Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and related disorders. In this study, school administrators, teachers, and a neuro-psychologist participated in semi-structured interviews designed to elicit their perceptions regarding the benefits of and barriers to participation in an AAT program for students with special needs that was recently implemented in their school. Participants’ perspectives were explored and then analyzed using qualitative techniques. Results of this study provide preliminary answers to questions regarding perceived benefits, barriers, costs, and risks to the implementation of an AAT program in an approved private school for children with special needs.