Human-Animal Interaction in Clinical Psychology: Teaching, Research, and Practice

Angela K. Fournier

Angela K. Fournier, PhD, is a licensed psychologist in Minnesota. She is certified to provide equine-assisted psychotherapy (EAP) in the Eagala model. She is also the Director of the Human-Animal Interaction Laboratory where she studies the psychological processes and outcomes of human-animal interaction, focusing on development of theory and validated measures.

I am a professor of psychology and licensed psychologist who specializes in human-animal interaction (HAI). Like many of the professionals in this book, my career in HAI is quite broad and includes multiple roles. These roles can be categorized broadly as teaching, research, and clinical practice.

Teaching, Research, and Practice

I am a professor in the Department of Psychology' at Bemidji State University, a mid-size liberal arts university in northern Minnesota, USA. Myr main role is to teach undergraduate courses in psychology. In addition to core courses in the major, I teach a special topics course on the psychology of HAL The most rewarding aspect of teaching is witnessing students grow as they move through their studies and prepare for the next steps in their career. As the Director of the Human-Animal Interaction Laboratory, within the Department of Psychology, I work with students and community' collaborators to conduct research in HAL Our research focuses on the development of validated measures and theoretical frameworks to explain the processes and outcomes of animal-assisted interventions. My' favorite thing about research is that it is an adventure. There are highs and lows, it can be fast-paced, and the outcomes can be surprising. Currently, I spend just a few hours a week providing clinical services. This includes providing individual counseling to college students at our university' counseling center and co-facilitating EAP sessions at a local private practice.

24 Angela K. Fournier

An Average Day

During the semester, I am on campus four days per week, for about eight hours per day. My hours depend on my teaching schedule but are usually 9am—5pm. On a typical day, I teach a couple of classes, meet with students for help with coursework or advising, participate in committee meetings, and prepare the next day’s classes (e.g., create lectures, create and grade assignments). I teach both on campus and online. I work oft'campus one day per week, engaging in research, program development, or clinical practice of EAP. My schedule varies from day-to-day; it is never boring.


My interest in anthrozoology dates back to growing up in rural North Dakota surrounded by animals. Although I understood the power of animals for human health and well-being on a personal level, 1 did not initially seek a career in the field. As a first-generation college student, I began my undergraduate work in the social and natural sciences. I eventually set my sights on a career in clinical psychology; pursuing a PhD at Virginia Tech. Inspired by the animals in my life and supported by my mentors, I began applying psychology' to understand interactions between humans and animals. Once I completed my education, I began working as a faculty member in psychology. After several years of teaching and conducting research, I was introduced to EAP. I became certified as a mental health specialist through Eagala, the Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association. I now cofacilitate EAP sessions, conduct research on EAP process and outcome, and serve on the Eagala research committee.

Freedom and Flexibility: Benefits and Challenges

Working in academia allows for a great deal of freedom and flexibility, which can be both a blessing and a curse. I am able to select my teaching schedule and office hours and can work from home when I don’t have something scheduled on campus. However, because it is so flexible there aren't built-in boundaries to ensure a healthy balance between work and personal life. There is a lot of work to do—prepare the next class, answer emails, serve a committee or a community' organization—and the work is portable. So there is always work that I could bring home. With mentoring, I learned the necessity of setting my own boundaries, which means deciding when to work and when to rest, as well as which work to take on.

Changes Based on Season/Time of Year

Faculty workload varies by time of year, which is one of the things I like best about the job. My faculty' position is a nine-month contract, so I typically

HAI in Clinical Psychology 25 work full-time from mid-August until mid-May. That time frame is broken down into two semesters—fall and spring—separated by several weeks for winter break. I am not scheduled to work in the summer but can teach classes if I choose, depending on student need. For me, summer is a time to relax and refresh, as well as catch up on non-teaching activities like research, writing, and practicing EAP. In addition to the break in the winter and the long break in the summer, I enjoy the semester schedule—classes begin, run for 15 weeks, and then end. This cycle provides closure at the end of a semester and opportunity for revision and improvement when teaching a class more than once.

In summary, my HAI work involves teaching courses in the psychology of human-animal relationships, conducting research on how animals impact us, and incorporating animals in clinical practice. My path was to complete a doctorate degree in clinical psychology, become licensed and begin a program of research, and then get certified to incorporate animals in psychotherapy and learning. A full-time faculty position allows me to do all of these things I love, creating a sense of academic adventure.

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