Animal Assisted Therapy


It is with deep sadness that Jennifer Celli, LPC and The DBT Center of NJ announce the passing of therapy dog, Matilda.  Matilda crossed over to The Rainbow Bridge on June 30, 2019.  

Please be advised that at this present time Animal Assisted Therapy services will be put on pause until Jennifer can appropriately train and certify another dog to provide a peaceful and calming presence to bring comfort to those in need.


“Animal Assisted Play Therapy is the integrated involvement of animals in the context of play therapy, in which appropriately-trained therapists and animals engage with child, family, and adult clients primarily in play interventions aimed at improving the client’s psychosocial health, while simultaneously ensuring the animal’s well-being and voluntary engagement in the process. Play and playfulness are essential ingredients of the interactions and the relationship”. (VanFleet, 2013, 2015)

Through Animal Assisted Play Therapy the animal serves the purpose to provide affection, attention, diversion, and relaxation.  There is also a lightness and humor in the play therapy session that serves as an important therapeutic tool.   Canine-Assisted Play Therapy is a combination of well-established field of Animal Assisted Therapy and Play Therapy.


Every attempt is made to ensure the safety of everyone whom attends Animal Assisted Play Therapy sessions.  Only properly trained dogs are used and ALL interactions with children and clients are completely supervised.  Pet allergies and prior negative experiences should be discussed prior to the start of treatment.

Preparation of Client/Family

I will prepare each client and their family before the start of treatment so everyone is aware of what to expect.  It is my policy that each client has awareness on the most appropriate way to greet the therapy dog, Matilda, safely.  We will also learn how to read canine body language and ways to safely give treats for reinforcement.  During the session, if necessary suggestions will be given to redirect any behaviors to the client using light humor.  If there are behaviors that could cause immediate harm to either the client or the dog, they are quickly stopped and a different therapeutic activity is then used.


  • Develop rapport and reduce the stigma of coming to therapy
  • Reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety
  • Improve self esteem
  • Build mastery
  • Improve social competence
  • Improve sensory sensitivity
  • Improve awareness with personal space
  • Enhance mindfulness : awareness, attention, acceptance
  • Decrease physiological stress : blood pressure and heart rate
  • Help with tactile difficulties and sensory processing deficits
  • Provide alternate form of therapy for nonverbal children
  • Build hope and meaning

Jennifer and Matilda are fortunate to have current and ongoing supervision through the International Institute for Animal Assisted Play Therapy Studies. This supervision requires ongoing demonstration and competence of skills necessary to practice Animal Assisted Play Therapy.

dbt-animal-assisted-therapyA Message From Matilda: 

Hi there,

My name is Matilda and I am an English Mastiff.  I am a play therapy dog and I love to be with kids.  Truth be told, I love to be with people of all ages.  This is why I have decided to introduce myself.

I would like to let you know that sometimes I may be here in the office working with Jennifer Celli.  I am a Certified Therapy Dog registered with Bright and Beautiful Therapy Dogs.  I am also a Canine Good Citizen through the American Kennel Club.  Jennifer and I have been fortunate to attend several of trainings in the field and to even receive supervision through the International Institute for Animal Assisted Play Therapy.

My family thinks I was born to do this.  Actually, it’s in my blood.  My father was a therapy dog too.  I am a sweet girl and very large.  Here is a picture of me in Jennifer’s office patiently waiting for the session to begin.  Maybe we could meet someday.

I have one personal request : please leave all furry friends at home because this is work time for me.  Thank you for your understanding and cooperation.

My best,