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An exploration into the impact of animals as a therapeutic adjunct in education for children with behaviour, emotional and social difficulties:
A biophilic philosophy for education

Harper, Coral J


Coral J Harper


This PhD study makes an original contribution to to current research by examining through case study the impact of animal assisted activities for children and young people with Behaviour, Emotional and Social Difficulties (BESD). The thesis presents data, which supports that where contact with animals is offered as an alternative to traditional classroom based learning, children and young people with BESD are supported therapeutically, and enabled to build key relationship skills, thus enabling greater chance of success in learning.

The primary motivation for the research was a commitment to better understand and thereby contribute, to a body of literature which seeks to explain and develop solutions and interventions for children and young people with a special need described as BESD alongside a curiosity for the world of nature and animals.

Literature in this field includes consideration of frameworks which underpin work with BESD, such as research into trauma and its implications, leading to theories of attachment and in some cases, other psychodynamic concepts. Studies in Animal-Assisted Therapy and E.O.Wilson’s (2003) Biophilia Hypothesis support the consideration of animals as facilitators for mental and emotional health.

The study employs a qualitative constellation methodology looking at three main case study contexts and utilising four additional smaller case studies to triangulate the findings. Psychosocial research tools were employed in order to understand the participants ‘story’, given the complexity of working with a vulnerable and challenging group.

The main findings of the study show that animals have therapeutic potential as a conduit for relationships, being both social facilitators and taking the role of ‘the common third’ (Cameron and Moss, 2011). In a natural environment, with positive staff facilitation and purposeful activity, interventions with animals can support the development of key relationship skills such as trust, identification, empathy, nurture, understanding and self control. Further, the study shows there maybe educational impact, emotional impact, language and communication support and even health benefits. The study concludes with a discussion of the findings and makes recommendations for further empirical long-term research in the field of BESD and animal assisted activities.


A biophilic philosophy for education. (Thesis). University of the West of England

Thesis Type Thesis
Keywords biophilia, biophilic, animals, BESD, social, emotional, behaviour, therapeutic, adjunct, children, young people, intervention, education, educational, impact, exploration, attachment, disorder, relationship, mammals, oxytocin, repair, difficulties, SEBD,
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