Animal Assisted Therapy

Dr. Abel mentors students interested in Animal Assisted Therapy. The use of therapy and service animals in health care and educational settings is rapidly increasing, but research in this area is lacking. We have recently begun research to determine the effects of human-animal interaction on patients, students and trainers. Current research projects include:
  • A collaboration with the Research Center for Human Animal-Interaction (University of Missouri College of Veterinary Medicine in Columbia, Mo.) to determine if volunteer therapy dog organizations can collect empirical data. Participants include patients in the psychiatric unit of Barnes-Jewish Hospital or The Rehabilitation Institute of St. Louis (TRISL).
  • Assessment of the effects of service dog training on female offenders at the women’s correctional facility in Vandalia, Mo.
  • Assessment of the effects of therapy dog interaction on student anxiety
  • Effect of the presence of therapy dogs during a health, leisure and fitness class at Labre, a transitional housing facility for men with mental illness or Safe Haven, a long-term housing facility for homeless persons
  • Effect of therapy dogs during pediatric clinical OT sessions

General Description of Student Activities

Students are expected to complete at least one hypothesis-driven project focusing on outcomes related to therapy or service animals. Students may analyze quantitative or qualitative data from ongoing projects including standardized assessments, training journals or behavioral observation. There may be publication opportunities for MSOT students. Most of the research will be completed at Barnes-Jewish Hospital; The Rehabilitation Institute of St. Louis (TRISL); Women’s Eastern Reception, Diagnostic and Correctional Center (WERDCC) in Vandalia, Mo.; Labre; Safe Haven or the Program in Occupational Therapy building. Students may occasionally need to drive if their project involves observation of animal assisted therapy or assessment of trainers at WERDCC. Some studies may involve evening or weekend research. Students are expected to work on laboratory projects and attend weekly lab meetings.

Examples of Projects

  • Assessment of the psychosocial and occupational effects of service dog training on female offenders
  • Qualitative analysis of training journals of female offenders
  • Assessment of effects of therapy dogs or other relaxation interventions on student stress
  • Description of behaviors of therapy dogs, therapy dog handlers and patients during pediatric OT sessions
  • Case studies of the impact of service dog placement on persons with physical or psychological disabilities


Regina Abel, PhD
Instructor in Occupational Therapy and Medicine

Phone: (314) 286-1649
Fax: (314) 286-1601

Ranked as the Number One OT Program in the Nation

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We welcome inquiries from prospective students, potential collaborators, community partners, alumni and others who want to connect with us. Please complete the form below to begin the conversation.

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Current, future, and accepted applicants are encouraged to visit. We also welcome people who are exploring career options and considering occupational therapy. Dr. Kathy Kniepmann, one of our faculty members, opens our visit sessions with an informal presentation and discussion, followed by a tour that’s led by one of our current occupational therapy students.

Upcoming visit sessions*:

*At least two to three visit sessions are scheduled every month. All times are Central Standard Time (CST). Click here for more info.

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Call Dr. Kniepmann at (314) 286-1610
or Robin Hattori at (314) 286-1653