What’s in it for the Animals? Symbiotically Considering ‘Therapeutic’ Human-Animal Relations within Spaces and Practices of Care Farming

Article Summary by Richard Gorman

Care farming is an emerging form of healthcare that aims to deploy farming practices as a type of therapeutic intervention, with human-animal relations framed as providing important opportunities for human health. The growing body of academic work on care farming links participation in a care farming scheme as having the potential to decrease anxiety and depressive symptoms, whilst reportedly offering increases in self-esteem, social interaction, and psychological wellbeing. However, in this paper, rather than focussing solely on the therapeutic benefits that animals can bring to humans, I wanted to consider the animals who are involved and mobilised in various animal assisted therapies on these farms. What do they get out of these relationships? Attempting to perform and realise human imaginations of ‘therapeutic’ affects, spaces, and relationships can rely on processes that reduce animals’ own opportunities for flourishing. Though equally, there are (cautious) questions as to whether—in certain framings—there might be some form of mutual benefit available to animals from participating in these ‘therapeutic’ interactions. The article highlights the range of dynamic relationships that can take place between humans and animals within encounters designed to be therapeutic, demonstrating that these are complex, multiply affective relationships, that produce a range of opportunities and constraints to individual and collective forms of being well. These human-animal entanglements highlight opportunities to think more critically about how to practice interspecies relationships and practices in ways that might provide opportunities for mutual forms of flourishing and more-than-human benefit.

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