An integrative systematic review with a narrative synthesis was conducted to explore and identify the benefits of integrating a therapy animal into trauma-informed treatment for children and adolescent survivors of sexual abuse. This review detailed various ways therapy animals were incorporated into treatment and when the integration of therapy animals is most and least beneficial. Methods. Eight electronic databases were searched for relevant articles. The search was limited to peer-reviewed articles published in the English-language. Articles published in and out of the United States were included, without a limit on date published, in order to capture any cultural differences and contain all relevant articles. All studies included a therapy animal as part of the treatment modality and discussed treatment outcomes. Participants were comprised of youth under the age of 18 seeking treatment due to trauma symptoms related to sexual abuse. Results. Findings from 12 articles revealed a range of ways therapy animals were integrated into trauma treatment, including those categorized into structured, semi-structured, and unstructured approaches. Low attrition rates and significant improvements in a wide-range of trauma-related symptoms including PTSD (n=7, 58.33%), internalizing symptoms (n=9, 75.00%), externalizing symptoms (n=6, 50.00%), and interpersonal functioning (n=8, 66.67%) were indicated by outcomes from the included studies. Additionally, benefits that enhanced the treatment program (n=7, 58.33%), produced positive changes in and out of therapy (n=6, 50.00%), and augmented post-treatment outcomes (n=3, 25.00%) were associated with the therapy animal. Conclusions. Despite the wide-range of heterogenous symptoms that can develop in youth after sexual abuse and the distinctive ways animal-assisted therapy was integrated into different treatment modalities, themes emerged from the 12 articles reviewed around therapy animals supporting and augmenting treatment outcomes across age, developmental level, gender, and cultural background. Animal-assisted therapy provided additional benefits to treatment which were associated with the presence of the therapy animal. A strength of this review includes its narrative synthesis of the current literature on animal-assisted therapy and trauma-informed treatment for youth in treatment for sexual abuse, as well as its recommendations for groups impacted by child sexual abuse, such as clinicians, parents and caregivers, governing officials, and survivors.

Library of Congress Subject Headings

Animals--Therapeutic use; Therapeutics, Physiological--Child sexual abuse victims

Date of Award


School Affiliation

Graduate School of Education and Psychology



Degree Type


Degree Name


Faculty Advisor

LaTonya Wood

Included in

Psychology Commons