AAPT Certification Board: Information on the Process

Posted by on Jul 11, 2020

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It seems that the world is awash in certificates and authentications and certifications and a host of other credentials nowadays. It’s as if there’s a race to get as many letters after one’s name as possible. Many trainers and programs try to distinguish themselves by offering these credentials, sometimes for very short programs. Unfortunately, the quality of such credentials varies widely, and the proliferation of them has diluted the meaning that the high quality ones represent.

This does not mean that all credentials are bogus or irrelevant, however. Some show that a person has completed a reputable course of study and/or has achieved knowledge, skills, and competencies in a specialized field. The key lies in understanding the course of study the person has completed, the quality and depth of that learning, and the nature of the credential the person has earned. For my purposes here, I want to share more information to highlight some key differences between a couple designations and to make an announcement about new developments in our Animal Assisted Play Therapy® (AAPT) certification program. (Future blogs will highlight some of the different credentialing programs that are available.)

In the U.S. and throughout the world, various Animal Assisted Intervention (AAI) programs offer many such credentials. The variation in them is considerable. The International Institute for Animal Assisted Play Therapy® has a certification program for therapists, supervisors, and instructors. This specific certification process was developed from 2010 to 2015 and has been fully operational since 2015. The next phase of our certification planning is aimed at meeting the remaining criteria to be considered a full-fledged certification program.

        The IIAAPT offers a certification based on           demonstrated competencies. Most people  take about two years to be ready to apply.

Many universities and a number of private organizations offer “certificate programs.” These are different from “certification programs,” as will be discussed below. Not all programs are named accurately, and the use of these two terms is confusing, to say the least. Certificate programs and certification programs are not better or worse than the other–they are developed for different purposes and operate under different parameters.

Certificate and Certification Programs

Certificate programs usually involve the process of building an individual’s learning and mastery on a focused topic. The learning is assessed, and the individual must pass the program in order to earn the certificate. Certification programs are geared toward validating an individual’s ability to meet predetermined standards, including specific knowledge, skills, and competencies. They often have eligibility requirements, such as specific degrees, and they require ongoing professional development. Organizations that offer certifications must be independent of the training program or educational provider, and there must be multiple training providers who can prepare candidates for eventual certification. In general, a program that trains individuals and then awards them a certificate (such as a certificate of achievement or of passing their assessment) would be a certificate program. A program that trains individuals to then demonstrate their skills to an independent certifying body (and meets several other requirements) is more likely to be a component of a certification program (with the independent certifying body approving and issuing the certifications).

In some ways, certification programs operate more like licensing boards than do certificate programs, except certification programs are private rather than legal/governmental entities. Certification programs often have more liability exposure because they are vouching for the quality and competence of the certified individual, whereas certificate programs tend to limit their focus to whether or not the person has successfully completed just their own course of study. Not all programs represent themselves according to these guidelines set forth by the NCCA, perhaps reflecting the confusion surrounding these terms.

To tell the difference between certificate and certification programs, the easiest way is to see if the same program teaches and assesses its own candidates (certificate program) or if two separate organizations are responsible for the training and the subsequent validation of the person’s required background and demonstrated competencies (certification program). 

The AAPT Certification Program

Our AAPT certification program represents a rigorous process of learning, including online courses, in-person skill-building workshops at different competence levels, work with animal professionals in their home areas, supervision of actual work, a thorough animal assessment process, a human-animal relationship feedback process, a Therapy Involvement Plan for each animal involved, and a thorough Case Study. In all cases, candidates must demonstrate the competencies required. All the details for certification at the therapist, supervisor, and instructor levels can be found at www.iiaapt.org. The process is a collaborative one, in which trainers and supervisors assist individuals in developing all the knowledge and skills that comprise the competencies.

Once the candidate has applied to the Board, a coordinator is assigned to help them complete the certification process. Here, too, a collaborative approach is used to provide candidates with information, ask them for clarification, and give straightforward information about anything that must be strengthened or provided. The Animal Assisted Play Therapy®, Equine Assisted Play Therapy®, and Canine Assisted Play Therapy® workshops and supervision have been offered throughout the world since 2004, and certifications in these fields have been offered globally since 2015. There are currently fully certified individuals from Australia, Canada, Europe, Singapore, United Kingdom, and the United States, and people from these countries and more are currently in the process.

Key competencies developed by those certified in Animal Assisted Play Therapy®From the outset, our goal has been to provide a certification program that meets the criteria set forth by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA). This is a credentialing organization that ensures the quality of certifying programs in a variety of fields. Being fully aware of their criteria, we have gradually been moving in a direction where we comply with more and more of their standards and requirements. We are not there yet, but we have just taken a big step forward.

We are pleased to announce the formation of the Animal Assisted Play Therapy® Certification Board. This Board will operate separately from AAPT training programs and eventually will become a completely independent organization. Several things have been needed to reach this point, and several more are needed before we take the next big step.

To date, cofounders of AAPT, Risë VanFleet and Tracie Faa-Thompson, have completed the observations and administered the in vivo tests in which candidates demonstrate the many competencies required for AAPT certification. Wrinkles in the program have been ironed out and revised. To evaluate a person in AAPT knowledge, skills, and competencies, one must be extremely familiar with what AAPT is about, the many fields that are integrated in it, and the specific skills and requirements to practice it effectively and ethically. We finally have reached a point where we have sufficient numbers of people who have reached this level of proficiency after first earning certification themselves. Applications for certification in AAPT have increased considerably in the past few years, too, so the need for the next step is clear.

Next Step: The Formation of the Certification Board for Animal Assisted Play Therapy®

The AAPT Certification Board (AAPTCB) has now been created. Starting in the Fall 2020, all applications for certification as therapists or professional practitioners in AAPT will be reviewed by the AAPTCB. The reviewers of any candidate will be independent — they will not be the trainers nor the supervisors who have worked with the candidate previously, although they will consider the reports from the person’s trainers and supervisors. They will ensure that all application materials are submitted, and they will review videos and documents that demonstrate the candidate’s actual skills, in accordance with pre-determined standards. The Board will be trained in coming months to ensure inter-rater reliability and consistency with the expectations for certification.

The Certification Board hopes eventually to comply with all the requirements as a certification body as designated by the NCCA. This will occur after a few years of operating independently from AAPT training programs while policies and procedures are refined.

Certification Board Members

The initial slate of AAPT Certification Board members is below. This includes those already certified as instructors, supervisors, therapists or animal behavior specialists in AAPT, and individuals representing different regions of the U.S. as well as other countries. They have considerable experience, and they include people with clinical specialties as well as those with animal specialties to ensure thorough reviews of all aspects of the applications. They represent the several disciplines that are integrated into AAPT. Eventually, there will be a rotation system created for the AAPTCB, so others who are certified in AAPT who are interested in being involved can contact me any time at info@iiaapt.org. All members volunteer their time to this Board.

Diane Dioguardi (Connecticut, USA)
Jacque George (Pennsylvania, USA)
Teri Holamon (Texas, USA)
Yvonne Leong (Singapore)
Lucy Llewellyn (Wales, UK)
Kirsty MacQueen (Scotland, UK)
Val Miraglia (Alaska, USA)
Tara Moser (Florida, USA)
Jodi Smith (California, USA)
Petra Štrus (Slovenia and Norway)

We are excited to be taking this next step toward meeting the accepted guidelines for a true certification program. This represents the critical action of separating the AAPT Certification Board from the AAPT training and supervision programs. We expect to have this Board fully functioning by late autumn of 2020.


*Animal Assisted Play Therapy is a trademark of the Family Enhancement & Play Therapy Center, Inc. and its International Institute for Animal Assisted Play Therapy®.

The International Institute for Animal Assisted Play Therapy® offers online and live training courses for those interested in the many aspects of involving animals in a voluntary and reciprocal way in their mental health, allied health, and education services. www.iiaapt.org.

Author Risë VanFleet, PhD, RPT-S, CDBC, co-creator of the field of Animal Assisted Play Therapy® with Tracie Faa-Thompson, is shown here with Josie Patches, Murrie, and Kirrie.

Article and photos © 2020, International Institute for Animal Assisted Play Therapy®, www.iiaapt.org. All rights reserved.