This profile was prepared when Minal Lonkar-Kavishwar was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2008.
The New Idea
Trained in clinical psychology at India’s premier institutions, Minal is adapting the internationally-recognized professional discipline of animal assisted therapy for use in India. She introduces the therapy as a supplementary treatment tool in specialized settings, such as schools for children with learning and behavioral problems. She is developing a clientele among people for whom the ideas of psychotherapy and dogs as companions are generally alien or even stigmatized. Her implementation strategies are not typical—in which institutions come to the specialist to design a program. Adaptation for India requires Minal to design legal norms for initiating “therapy dogs” into therapeutic settings and to address skepticism of the unfamiliar therapy. She scrupulously documents the processes she designs for professional audiences whose validation is necessary to reach her goals. To establish professional credibility, Minal is measuring the effectiveness of her work with animal therapy in detail and her data and analysis are gaining ground among her peers. Minal aims for acceptance of animal assisted therapy into the professional repertoire—but also beyond it. Her insight is that this therapy is a tool to build empathy and communication—necessary skills for citizens to care for themselves and their communities. Minal’s growing numbers of colleagues are creating new roles and interactions that contribute to mental health and general well-being for people across India. Minal believes that anyone who learns how to treat an animal well can do the same with people. She believes the process of integrating the animal-human bond opens new channels of communication—even during reading sessions with regular children—and across the spectrum of people with whom she works. Minal maintains that the happiness, joy, and instinctive understanding present in animal therapy are the greatest contributors to learning, healing, and change. Minal is exploring the possibilities of engaging with a range of citizen, professional, and municipal institutions, to integrate aspects of animal assisted therapy into their programs. She has successfully implemented this therapy for mentally challenged children, autistic children, hyperactive children, physically disabled people, children with hearing and speech impairment, children with developmental disability, cancer patients, AIDS orphans, children with learning disabilities, and people with post-traumatic stress disorder. As her work gains credence in the psychology academy, she will increase training, so that high quality animal assisted therapy may become widely available.