Expo 2020 Dubai: Animal therapy for abuse victims launched at Dubai Cares pavilion

The therapy will help victims cope with trauma by interacting with dogs, cats, horses, birds and turtles

Photo: @dubaicares/Instagram
Photo: @dubaicares/Instagram

Anjana Sankar

Published: Thu 4 Nov 2021, 3:41 PM

In an innovative approach to mental healthcare, the Dubai Foundation for Women and Children has launched a new programme that will use animals to help and heal victims of domestic violence and trafficking.

The animal assisted therapy will help women and children cope with trauma and regain social and psychological well-being by interacting with dogs, cats, horses, birds and turtles, to name a few.

The programme was officially launched on Thursday at the Dubai Cares pavilion at Expo 2020.

“We are here at Expo. So, we think about the future. This could be the future of therapy,” said Ghanima Hassan Al Bahri, care and rehabilitation director at the foundation.

Sheikha Saeed Al Mansouri, acting director-general of Dubai Foundation for Women and Children, and Ahmed Darwish Al Muhairi, chairman of the board of directors, were also present at the launch.

In an interview with Khaleej Times, Al Bahri said the foundation aims to support victims of violence, abuse and exploitation, and that the therapeutic intervention using animals can have immense benefits for victims suffering trauma.

“We can replace traditional therapy with animal assisted therapy. By using animals, we will be able to enhance their social performance, psychological well-being and their social functioning," she said.

The foundation aims to support women and children who are victims of domestic violence, child abuse and human trafficking.

"We want them all to feel normal because they are normal people just like you and me. They are suffering from severe trauma resulted from violence and abuse. Our end goal is to reintegrate those people back into community,” Al Bahri said.

Al Bahri said the foundation has been trying traditional face-to-face therapies to help them, but it was not “giving immediate, effective results.”

But animal assisted therapy is yielding many positive results in Western countries, which is why the foundation wanted to bring its benefits to people in the UAE.

“Even normal interaction with animals has a therapeutic effect. That is why children feel healthier and happier after they visit a barn. Animals help many people relax and even some hospitals are allowing patients to have animals for emotional support," Al Bahri said.

After extensive research about the benefits of the programme, the foundation decided to partner with the American Wellness Centre that has a qualified professional.

Al Bahri said the social workers at the foundation underwent a seven-week, intensive training, where staff and volunteers role-played as victims and used animals for their therapeutic sessions.

“We did bring animals into the training and we tried it on ourselves. So, what happened was that we did role play. We did not want to use it on victims before we felt confident,” she said.

Al Bahri said the treatment plan was designed based on the victim’s history, which animal they felt comfortable with and allergies to certain animals.

She said the foundation will start activating the therapy in the coming weeks and have partnered with Dubai Police, who will bring trained dogs to the therapy sessions.


Al Marmoom Initiative, which provides alternative therapy for people with special needs, will offer their stables for therapy sessions with horses.

Dr Muhammad S Tahir, child, adolescent and adult psychiatrist at the American Wellness Centre, said the animal assisted therapy is an additional way of helping people cope with trauma.

“It can help develop their relationship skills, social skills, and also their self-confidence. When there is a therapy give with the animals, it is a very confidence enhancing and comforting experience for the victims,” he said.

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