Academics and Research / Magazine Feature

New GSSW human-animal institute is the first of its breed

The Graduate School of Social Work (GSSW) has founded a multidisciplinary Institute for Human-Animal Connection to address the relationships, both positive and negative, between animals and people. It is the first such program to be based at a U.S. social-work school.

The institute’s mission, according to co-director and social work Adjunct Professor Philip Tedeschi, is to provide an unbiased academic setting in which to conduct research, training and education, technical assistance and advocacy projects from a human-service and animal-welfare perspective.

The institute also aims to standardize terminology, disseminate information and create an online resource index for researchers and practitioners of animal-assisted social work.

“The relationships between people and animals are some of the most important, complex and misunderstood in modern society,” says Jennifer Fitchett, the institute’s other co-director.

Such relationships can be positive when used therapeutically as clients regain a sense of trust, improve communication or enhance their sensory-motor skills through interactions with animals, she says. But, she adds, the institute will also focus on negative human-animal relationships and the frequent link between animal abuse and violence toward humans.

The institute’s development was funded by two $50,000 planning grants from the Animal Assistance Foundation and the American Humane Association.

Tedeschi has taught courses in animal-assisted social work at DU since 1999 and co-coordinates the school’s animal-assisted social work certificate program, in which 23 master’s degree students currently are enrolled. Both this academic certificate and the school’s online professional development program, “Animals and Human Health,” are a part of the new institute.

Graduate students are participating in the institute’s initial research efforts. Master’s students recently completed implementation and outcome evaluations of animal-assisted programs offered by Children’s Hospital and the Mental Health Center of Denver.

Doctoral candidates and Institute Fellows Kathryn Trujillo, Christian Anderson and Maureen Fredrickson-MacNamara are researching the role animals play in human development, the effects of animal-assisted therapy on animal-abusing youth, and animal-assisted interactions with trauma-survivors and those with chronic illnesses.

“Animal-assisted interventions offer social workers and other professionals a unique and powerful way to connect with some of society’s most vulnerable members,” says GSSW Interim Dean and Professor Christian Molidor.

“I am so pleased that GSSW is at the forefront of this cutting-edge field.”

This article originally appeared in The Source, December 2006.

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