In this module you will have the opportunity to increase your skills in and become more aware of how to interact with therapy dog program participants in ways that are respectful of their diversity and provide them with an inclusive therapy dog experience. You will learn about how the variety of negative stereotypes and stigmatization can impact participants and how therapy dog handler assumptions specifically can impact participants' experiences of a beneficial therapy dog visit. We will also touch on how learning from our mis-steps when interacting with diverse individuals can help us broaden our awareness and interaction skills. The second half of the module focuses on strategies to ensure our visits with therapy dog program participants are based in principles of awareness, safety, humility, competence, and sensitivity/responsiveness. We will focus on examples for providing gender-informed and culturally safe interactions, and suggest strategies you can apply to help participants feel safe and empowered during your therapy dog visits.
Essential Information for Therapy Dog Handlers
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Looking Back, Looking Forward
As a therapy dog handler, one of your more significant responsibilities will be to help provide program participants with the opportunity to make a meaningful connection with your therapy dog (and you too). This module opened by suggesting that a necessary first step is to recognize the negative treatment and dehumanizing experiences individuals may have faced due to stereotypes and stigmatization. The best way to ensure people feel safe in their therapy dog interactions with you is to do your best to avoid making assumptions or letting any judgements you may hold influence your interactions. For example, be sure to pay attention to the ways you speak with or refer to individuals, and use anti-stigmatizing language whenever possible. As therapy dog handler Jane’s recollections show, it is likely you will make some mistakes as you engage with diverse populations, and if you learn from these mis-steps it can help you make more meaningful connections and have a profound positive influence in the lives of others in the future.
Next, Nancy’s presentation identified how therapy dog handlers can base their visits around the principles of awareness, sensitivity, humility, competence, and safety (or responsiveness). This module also shared how handlers can be gender informed in part through their awareness of contemporary gender terminology. Finally, we discussed how practices based in cultural humility and cultural safety align with important movements toward reconciliation and decolonization for Indigenous populations.
Nancy’s notes on engaging with individuals in ways that provide safety and opportunities for empowerment bring us back to a significant point: the goal of the therapy dog program ultimately rests with your ability to provide people who may feel powerless and devalued opportunities to feel empowerment and validation. Providing conditions that best allow individuals an opportunity for meaningful engagement is a central goal for therapy dog handlers. Our next module shifts our focus to the equal importance of handlers providing trauma-informed therapy dog visits.
- Are you able to identify that diversity has many intersecting aspects and the implications of this for therapy dog handlers?
- Are you able to describe how we can improve our responses to two aspects of diversity – gender and culture?
- Are you able to identify how words matter in promoting safety, trustworthiness, and inclusion?
- Are you able to identify common strategies for attending to diversity, gender equity, cultural responsiveness, and inclusion?
Stereotypes and Stigma
- Understanding Stigma (Mental Health Commission of Canada)
- Addressing Stigma: Towards a More Inclusive Health System (The Chief Public Health Officer's Report on the State of Public Health in Canada 2019)
- Building a Foundation for Change: Canada’s Anti-Racism Strategy 2019–2022 (Government of Canada)
Resources for Gender-Informed Practice
- LGBTQI2S Terms and Concepts (Egale)
- TrueChild: Our Reports (TrueChild Website)
- Gender Unchained: Notes from the Equity Frontier (By Lorraine Greaves and Nancy Poole, Friesen Press)
Cultural Safety, Reconciliation and Decolonization
- Cultural Safety and Humility Resources (First Nations Health Authority)
- Reconciliation in Action: A National Engagement Strategy (Reconciliation Canada)
- Decolonization (British Columbia’s Office of the Human Rights Commissioner)