Telehealth Activity: Pet Adoption

As a child of the 90s and early 2000s, I was raised on Tamagotchis and Neopets. They were so much fun, but also stressful as I tried to keep them alive.

Virtual pets can help teach responsibility and build attachment with the pet. There is an element of creativity as well.

I have written before about using an activity such as a Butterfly Garden as an intervention that can be incorporated across several sessions, teaching patience and building on different themes and skills over time. Virtual pet adoption is another way to tap into these themes but gives the client more control over the intervention.

Recently, I learned about Chicken Smoothie. Chicken Smoothie is a website that allows you to “adopt” various virtual pets. Some are animals your client is probably familiar with, like cats and dogs, and others are fictional, like a butterfly wolf.

Chicken Smoothie Logo

On the home page, you can click “Adopt” to choose what type of pet you want. If you create an account, you can adopt an unlimited number of virtual pets, but you can also adopt a pet without creating an account and just bookmark the page that comes up.

This gives you options as a therapist: you can create an account and use it with various clients (just keep your own secure document indicating which pet belongs to which client), or you and your client can bookmark the page for the pet you created. Using the bookmark feature allows your client to check on their pet in between sessions.

Different species have different gestation periods, which are estimates rather than hard timelines. For instance, I adopted a butterfly wolf before writing this post. His name is Jasper. The site says he will grow up in about 20 days but could develop “much faster.” Below is my butterfly wolf baby, pictured next to information about his growth cycle.

Jasper the baby butterfly wolf

Virtual pets on Chicken Smoothie don’t need to be fed or cleaned up, so they require no maintenance between sessions. You and your client can watch their pet grow and use this as a jumping off point to discuss their own growth. You can talk about times the client has had to wait for something and explore how it feels to not know exactly when their pet will mature or what it will look like when it gets there. You can use a multi-session intervention to help engage your client and get them excited to come to their next appointment.

Once the pets are grown, you can dress them up. Some options on the site cost money, but there are free options as well. I do not use money in this activity, which sometimes creates an opportunity for my client to have to accept when something they wanted to choose is not an option.

As I am writing this post, there is a free pack of disability accessories that you can get for your pets, including canes, hearing aids, and fidget toys. They recently had a free pack of Pride accessories. These little touches make this activity extra inclusive to your clients.

What will you and your clients create with virtual pet adoption?

Published by Dr Marschall

Dr. Amy Marschall received her Psy.D. from the University of Hartford in September 2015. Her clinical interests are varied and include child and adolescent therapy, TF-CBT, rural psychology, telemental health, sexual and domestic violence, psychological assessment, and mental illness prevention. Dr. Marschall presently works in the Child and Adolescent Therapy Clinic at Sioux Falls Psychological Services in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, where she provides individual and family therapy and psychological assessment to children, adolescents, and college students. She also facilitates an art therapy group for adolescents and college students with anxiety and depression. Dr. Amy Marschall is certified in Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Telemental Health.

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