Therapeutic intervention with abusive parents and their children, using animals - Part 1 - trci
Therapeutic intervention with abusive parents and their children, using animals – Part 1
This article deals with group therapeutic intervention with parents who beat their children, which took place at TRCI in Tel Mond. The purpose of the intervention was to improve and rehabilitate the relationships between abusive parents and the children suffering from the violence. The parents who took part in the program were integrated into group
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This article deals with group therapeutic intervention with parents who beat their children, which

took place at TRCI in Tel Mond.

The purpose of the intervention was to improve and rehabilitate the relationships between

abusive parents and the children suffering from the violence. The parents who took part in the

program were integrated into group therapy in order to rehabilitate their relationship with their

children (once the physical abuse had stopped) as there really is no substitute for a family, even

if it is a dysfunctional one in some aspects and a source of dire frustration in the family’s life.

The combined therapy, that included animal assisted therapy, was selected due to its unique

qualities. The program included group therapy, for parents and children together at the

therapeutic kennel, with a wide range of activities that encouraged communication, enjoyment

and cooperation between parents and children. At the same time, there were therapeutic riding

lessons on horses as well as separate verbal group therapy for parents and children.

How does violence affect the mistreated children?

The level of the impact of violent behavior on children, depends on a combination of frequency

and the gravity of the violence. Children who are victims of violence in the family, will be found

to suffer from low self esteem, behavioral disorders, and difficulty in controlling impulses even

to the point of actual violence. As they grow up they experience anxieties of various kinds,

negative body image, and eating disorders. Other obvious results are a feeling of shame and

guilt. The children try and understand the violence against them and tend to self blame (very

much in accordance with the parents placing the blame on the children) and they are embarrassed

by the violence committed against them.

The therapeutic program presented, treated the children of abusive parents together with them, in

order to rehabilitate the dysfunctional relationship between them.

Animal Assisted Therapy

ATT, Animal Assisted Therapy, is therapy that uses animals, and relates to the use of animals by

therapists, in support of various kinds of treatment. The purposes of the use of animals in therapy

are: improving self image and self esteem, the ability to award warmth without any judgment,

improving communication skills, including a new object of attention in the therapy. The animal

offers consolation, soothing, security and attentiveness.

The psychiatrist A. Kutcher identified four components in the connection between man and

animals: awarding confidence, intimacy, closeness and consistency in the connection between

animals and people. The combination of these four elements provides the patient with health and

well being.

The need for family rehabilitation

In the past few years there has been an exponential increase in the number of reported cases of

violence towards children. However, experience proves that these parents are in dire distress due

to the precarious state of the family, the way legal process is carried out along with feelings of

guilt and shame. The probation services defined the purpose of therapy to stop violent behavior

towards children. Group therapy offers many advantages, as it helps deal directly with the

problem of violence and blocks it. However, putting an end to violent behavior does not do

enough to rehabilitate the family, as it is necessary to rebuild and restore the relationships

between the parents and the children. The group treatment plan with the assistance of animals at

TRCI in Tel Mond, has been chosen as the appropriate solution for the needs of both parents and


Therapeutic intervention

In this program, parents and children who were found guilty of violent behavior or neglect, were

placed together, although participation in the program is not obligatory, and therefore it was

presented to the participants as being one where only those parents who proved strong

motivation and were highly committed, would be accepted. The chosen group included twelve

families, which met once a week for two and a half hours each time, for twelve weeks. Each

session included the experience of mutual training at the therapeutic kennel with an expert on

canine therapy, a riding lesson for the children as well as small therapy groups for the parents.

After conclusion of the therapy at TRCI, the families met with a social worker once in two

weeks, for continued assistance.

Therapeutic intervention with abusive parents and their children, using animals – Part 2

During the first stage, as part of the process of mutual decision making, the parents and children

hold a discussion in which they negotiate the kind of dog they want to work with. During the

debate, issues such as compromise, parental authority and mutual respect – come into play.

Training and emphasis on boundaries

One of the most important issues in dog training, is hierarchy and authority, and this is true of

parents and children too. The differences in behavior emphasize the discrepancies between

following rules and the lack of rules.

In the parents’ group, it is noticeable that there is considerable discomfort around the

implementation of boundaries, and this can be projected onto the spontaneous behavior of the

dogs which demonstrate the challenges of the participants as parents. For example: one of the

mothers gave the instruction to a dog to sit, and when the dog didn’t react, the mother responded

with violence towards the dog, which put its tail between its legs and avoided her. The therapist

at the kennel pointed this out and as a group they analyzed and processed the incident and came

to mutual understanding that there is an essential difference between violence and authority. The

mother understood that the dog responded to her in fear, as her children did, and therefore this

experience was meaningful and empowering for her.

Communication and mutual cooperation between parents and children

The work with the dogs, provides the children and their parents with the experience of warmth

without judgment, unconditional closeness and tolerance. The activities on the ranch began with

a treasure hunt game, and each clue had a snack attached for the dogs, which they found using

their sense of smell. For example: one of the mothers who was characteristically neglectful and

helpless, left her thin son to deal with a huge dog on his own. Later during the therapeutic

session, the group conversation led her to understand that there is a necessity to hold a dialog

with the child when you are performing activities together. Then, when the child’s shoes tore, the

foster family asked her to buy him shoes. A week later, she brought her son to the session with

new shoes, which made him very happy.


The issue of trust between parents and children is particularly problematic for this population.

The parent on his part, sees the child’s filing a complaint as a break in trust. The children see the

parents as violent, and thereby consider them to have broken the unwritten contract for basic

trust in their parents to take care of them, protect them and not be violent towards them.

For example: one of the fathers spoke violently towards his divorcee and included his son with

her as one entity. Another father heard his conversation and remarked to him that his son is just

waiting for him to relate to him with warmth, for a kind word, and he doesn’t see that because he

is busy winning the game. At the next session, following the group discussion, a game was held

and in it, in contrast to his previous declarations in which he stated that he didn’t rely on his son,

he allowed the boy to lead him blindfolded.

Cooperation and encouragement

The last session dealt with washing the dogs. This activity requires cooperation and allowed for

closeness between parents and children, along with a lot of enjoyment.

Afterwards, it was decided that the parents would watch their children riding. This caused much

tension in the children who wanted to impress their parents. Significant effort was needed to

calm things down with the children and to prepare the parents to encourage their children during

their riding and to show enthusiasm.

For example: a father who was distant from his introvert and insecure son, went through a

meaningful process and defined themselves in the final feedback as “team number one in

Israel”. During the sessions it was clear that the child had started to approach his father more and

to share the riding lessons with him. The father on his part enjoyed hearing his son talk about the

experience and expressed a warm and encouraging attitude.


The children were restless towards departure, and found it difficult to cooperate, but the parents

were relaxed and tolerant of the children’s behavior.

The families and many friends were invited to the festive farewell ceremony. The children had

fun and proudly showed the guests their achievements in riding, and there was a performance,

medals and certificates of appreciation were distributed.

In summary

Throughout the process, we saw how therapeutic riding and dog training advanced the desirable

connections and social behavior of parents and children, reducing anxieties and fears and

feelings of loneliness, and served as a source of self confidence. The pleasant contact working

with the dogs, allowed for another channel of physical communication to replace the violent

contact. This therapy increases the feeling of capability in people. The work helped cope with

frustration and accepting an animal even if it doesn’t comply with the instructions given to it. It

helped parents learn how they can tame by reinforcing positive behavior and applying it to

raising their children. They learned to develop patience, to cope with frustrations and to accept

the children even if they didn’t obey them. We are hopeful that this feeling will stay with the

participants after this process and will enable the families to do well in the long run.

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