Quack Therapy: Exploring the Healing Powers of Ducks in Animal Assisted Therapies

In the world of innovative therapy approaches, a new player has taken center stage: ducks. College of Nursing PhD student Alex Sargsyan, decided to investigate the effects of Animal Assisted Therapies with Farm Animals (AATF) and its effects on depression, anxiety, and self-efficacy on individuals with traumatic brain injuries.  

Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT) is an intervention that intentionally includes an animal as part of the therapeutic process. AATF is similar but farm animals are utilized for the therapy process.

β€œTo our knowledge, this type of project has never been conducted anywhere in the world,” said Sargsyan. “For years, we’ve seen the profound impact of animal-assisted therapies on mental health, but there is limited research on the use of farm animals. This inspired my research.”

After going in front of the Institutional Review Board (IRB) and the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC), Sargsyan started his research efforts, ensuring that every aspect of his study upheld the highest standards of ethics and welfare.

“For me, it was crucial that both humans and animals were treated with the utmost respect and care,” he emphasized.

Ducks have not been previously used as a form of Green Care Therapies. However, they have been around humans for long time. In addition to use in agriculture, they are used for amusement and entertainment. For example, Peabody Hotel in Memphis, TN conducts twice daily duck parade, where the ducks march through the hotel lobby. Ducks are highly trainable, have calming presence, and small size. Sargsyan felt that therapy with ducks would be a good starting point for his research.

As duck therapy intervention started, Sargsyan witnessed firsthand the remarkable bond that formed between study participants and their newfound feathered companions. “The joy on their faces, the sense of calm that washed over them – it was truly humbling to witness,” he reflects.

Among the most notable outcomes of the study was the statistically significant decrease in anxiety levels among participants. “It was as if the ducks had a magical touch,” Sargsyan muses. “Their presence alone seemed to melt away the worries and burdens that weighed heavily on the participants’ minds.”

Looking ahead, Sargsyan’s vision for the future is as ambitious as it is inspiring. “I dream of a world where AATF is widely recognized as a legitimate and effective form of therapy,” he shares. “And I’m committed to doing everything in my power to make that dream a reality.”

Sargsyan’s journey into the world of farm animal-assisted therapies continues, fueled by a passion for healing and a deep-seated belief in the power of quacks to change lives. And in the gentle waddle of ducks, he finds not just a research subject, but a source of inspiration, wonder, and boundless hope.



Kara Clark (865-974-9498, kmclark2@utk.edu)