Firefly Institute of Research and Education
Firefly Institute of Research and Education

Animal Assisted Human Health Certificate

Animals can be a significant part of human lives, playing a role in the physical health and well-being of individuals and families. Studies of the human animal bond discuss the emotional and physical health benefits of animal connection including improved fitness, decreased anxiety and decreased loneliness (Friedmann, 1990). Further research supports physical contact with animals having health benefits by lowering blood pressure and increasing beta endorphins and dopamine production (Fine & Beck, 2010). The Human Animal Bond Research Initiative has argued that animal connection can lower the burden of healthcare related costs due to the physical and emotional health benefits animals bring into our lives.


The Firefly Institute believes that utilizing an animal within clinical practice can create enormous positive effects within the lives of those we serve, however this work needs to be done well with intentionality and education regarding applications of ethical practice standards. The Certificate in Animal Assisted Human Health is designed to prepare students with a foundational knowledge of clinical theory including: the human animal bond, clinical applications of partnering with animals in healthcare, ethical considerations of engaging in animal assisted human health and creating robust animal assisted human health programs within private practice or clinic settings.


This certificate program is designed to provide students not only with a core foundation of animal assisted human health education, but opportunities for experiential learning and practice utilizing animals. We strive for excellence and all coursework includes live in person or webinar formats which sets this program apart. Instructors are not simply monitoring discussion boards but interacting with students in meaningful ways to enhance learning and clinical practice. Coursework includes comprehensive reading lists, assignments, film and large/small groups discussion. A materials list of required texts will be provided and students are responsible for obtaining materials in preparation for coursework.


The certificate program includes four components:


  1. Foundations of Animal Assisted Human Health
  2. Animal Connections
  3. Animal Assisted Human Health in Clinical Practice
  4. Capstone

Course Descriptions:


Foundations of Animal Assisted Human Health


This course provides a comprehensive beginning to animal-assisted human health. The course reviews the human animal bond theory and begins to make connections to therapy practices. Learning will include history, ethical practices including link violence, current research and various healthcare settings animal assisted therapy can be incorporated. Participants will differentiate between animal assisted therapy and animal assisted activities. The course outlines how to differentiate between emotional support, therapy animals and service animals. First steps towards policy creation for animal assisted human health programs.


Animal Connections


This course reviews the variety of animal species which participate in animal assisted human health, however pays special attention to canine partners. Animal behavior is a central portion of this course study including animal welfare and ethics. The course covers how to select, train, screen and make decisions about animal connections within clinical practice. The course continues to review policy for building successful programs.


Animal Assisted Human Health in Clinical Practice


This course provides instruction for successfully incorporating animal assisted human health within clinical practice. Discussion will include successful treatment plan writing, clinical interventions and incorporating research and best practice guidelines into the work for effective management of the animal partners in session. The course provides opportunity to finalize policy and decision making for animal assisted human health programs in private practice or clinic settings.




Students will complete a paper and deliver a capstone presentation ‘Ted Talk’ style integrating learning from coursework into their own specialized research topic. Participants will be asked to engage in experiential demonstration of animal assisted human health applications. The session includes dialog with those in the field of animal assisted human health, group discussion and opportunities to continue connection and consultation with the animal assisted human health community.


The certificate program includes the opportunity for student work towards a child and adolescent animal assisted human health endorsement:


  1. ​Foundations of Play Therapy Practice
  2. ​Paws and Play: Animal Assisted Neurobiologically Informed Play Therapy


Child and Adolescent Endorsement Course Descriptions:


Foundations of Play Therapy Practice


This course focuses on the foundational principles of play therapy practice including history, theory and clinical application of expressive arts into our work with children and adolescents. Participants will have the opportunity to work collaboratively within play therapy offices for experiential learning. Treatment planning and ethical considerations for child practice will be reviewed with conversion regarding special populations.


Paws and Play: Animal Assisted Neurobiologically Informed Play Therapy


Combining animal assisted interventions and play therapy creates the unique opportunity for children to develop safety within the therapeutic context and have means for creative expression while processing adverse experiences. The integration of these evidenced based practices needs to be addressed carefully with focus for the ethical treatment of children and animals. This course provides information about the neurobiology of trauma and the human stress response system in conjunction with animal assisted human health. This course focuses on clinical applications and practice of animal assisted play therapy for adversity and trauma.

Animal Assisted Human Health Certificate: Learning Objectives: Students who successfully complete the Animal Assisted Human Health Certificate program will:


Demonstrate skill and expertise regarding clinical theory for animal assisted human health.

Demonstrate understanding of the human animal bond theory.


Identify and summarize how incorporating animals into clinical practice improves health outcomes, including how to write successful treatment plans.


Understand how to ethically incorporate animal assisted human health into clinical practice settings.


Demonstrate the ability to create policy and program development for animal assisted human health in clinical practice settings.


Animal Assisted Human Health Child and Adolescent Endorsement: Learning Objectives: Students who successfully complete the Animal Assisted Human Health Child Endorsement will:


Foundations of Play Therapy Practice:


Describe various theoretical perspectives of play therapy practice and identify a minimum of three attributes for each theory.


Differentiate, compare and contrast between non-directive and directive practice with mastery of skills demonstrated through experiential activities


Identify ethical considerations of working with children and families through play-based approaches.


Develop four techniques of intervention incorporating play as an essential element.


Summarize how to partner with parents successfully.


Paws and Play: Animal Assisted Neurobiologically Informed Play Therapy:


Identify and summarize four principles of the brain and nervous system including the impact of stress and resulting behavioral outcomes and how to clinically incorporate animal assisted human health


Describe the integration of interpersonal neurobiology into animal assisted practice.


Summarize how to successfully combine three play therapy practices and animal assisted interventions for children.


Demonstrate how to integrate animal assisted human health with adolescent clients

Analysis of four ethical considerations for clinical practice while playfully working with children and animals together. Special consideration will be placed on animal and child welfare in the clinical setting

Students will earn 24-32 continuing education credits for coursework. The child and adolescent endorsement carries an additional 12-16 continuing education credits and meets the criteria and standards for the Association for Play Therapy which can be counted towards obtaining or maintaining a registered play therapy certificate.




Firefly Institute Animal Assisted Human Health Certification: $400.00 (additional materials fees for required texts)

Child and Adolescent Endorsement: $300.00 (additional materials fees for required texts)




Registration is through

Complete the online application form and the continuing education director will be in contact regarding registration confirmation and payment information.

Firefly Institute

To find out more about the programs we offer, please call:                503-915-3737 -or- email:


You can also use our contact form for questions.

News & Events

New book to be released July 2019!   

"Integrating Yoga and Play Therapy: The Mind Body Approach for Healing Adverse Experiences" 

Authors: Michelle Pliske, LCSW RPT-S & Lindsay Balboa, MSSW LCSW


We are excited to be launching new continuing education programs in play therapy practices! The institute partners with Firefly Counseling Services, P.C. and all trainings include experiential work within the play therapy clinic and is approved for continuing education by the Association for Play Therapy.


Please see our continuing education program brochure for more information!

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