Exploring the Impact of Human-Animal Connection (HAC) Interventions on Cancer Patients’ Emotional Coping: A Qualitative Study in Hospital Settings


This qualitative study aims to explore the emotional coping experiences of cancer patients within a hospital setting and the potential impact of Human-Animal Connection (HAC) interventions on their psychological well-being. The research question centers on how cancer patients perceive and manage their emotional and psychological challenges during their diagnosis and treatment journey. The study adopts a phenomenological approach, employing in-depth interviews, observations, focus groups, and document analysis to gather rich and insightful data. The findings from this research contribute to a deeper understanding of the benefits of HAC interventions in supporting cancer patients’ emotional well-being in healthcare settings.


The emotional impact of cancer diagnoses and treatments can be overwhelming, leading to heightened stress, anxiety, and depression. Healthcare professionals have explored Human-Animal Connection (HAC) interventions as a promising way to address these challenges. HAC interventions involve therapy animals providing emotional support to patients, reducing stress and loneliness. While quantitative studies show positive outcomes, understanding patients’ subjective experiences requires a qualitative approach. This research aims to explore cancer patients’ lived experiences and the significance of HAC interventions in their emotional coping. Thesis Statement: This qualitative study aims to explore the emotional coping experiences of cancer patients within a hospital setting and the significance of Human-Animal Connection (HAC) interventions in supporting their emotional well-being, using a phenomenological approach to understand patients’ subjective experiences.

Literature review

The emotional and psychological impact of cancer diagnoses and treatments can be overwhelming for patients, often leading to heightened stress, anxiety, and depression (Smith et al., 2018). Furthermore, the hospital environment, with its clinical and impersonal nature, can contribute to patients’ emotional challenges (Jones & Brown, 2019). To address these issues, healthcare professionals have explored complementary and alternative therapies, with Human-Animal Connection (HAC) interventions emerging as a promising approach (Williams et al., 2020).

HAC interventions involve the presence of therapy animals, such as trained dogs or cats, in healthcare settings to provide emotional support and comfort to patients. These interactions have been found to reduce stress, anxiety, and loneliness, leading to improved emotional well-being for patients (Brown & Johnson, 2017). While quantitative studies have demonstrated positive outcomes regarding the use of therapy animals, there is a need to understand patients’ subjective experiences and perceptions through qualitative exploration (Davis et al., 2022). By adopting a phenomenological approach, this research seeks to delve into the lived experiences of cancer patients and understand the significance of HAC interventions in their emotional coping.


Research Design

The phenomenological research design is appropriate for this study as it seeks to understand the essence of the emotional coping experiences of cancer patients and how they perceive and make sense of HAC interventions. Phenomenology enables an in-depth exploration of individual perspectives, allowing the research team to capture the depth and complexity of participants’ emotional journeys (Jones et al., 2021). Through this approach, the study will uncover the unique and subjective experiences of each participant, providing a holistic understanding of the emotional challenges faced by cancer patients in a hospital setting.


A purposeful sampling strategy will be utilized to recruit cancer patients who have experienced HAC interventions during their hospital stays. Participants will be selected based on their specific experiences with the intervention, ensuring that the data collected is relevant to the research question (Johnson & Davis, 2023). To ensure diversity in the sample, efforts will be made to include participants from different age groups, genders, and cancer stages.

Data Collection

In-Depth Interviews

Semi-structured interviews will be conducted with individual participants to delve deeply into their emotional experiences and coping mechanisms. The interview questions will be designed to elicit rich and detailed responses, allowing participants to share their feelings and thoughts openly (Brown & Smith, 2022). These interviews will be audio-recorded with participants’ consent to ensure accuracy during data analysis. The research team will also maintain field notes to record observations and reflections during the interviews.


The research team will conduct observations during HAC sessions to observe firsthand the interactions between patients and therapy animals. Observations will capture non-verbal cues, emotional expressions, and the overall impact of the interventions on emotional well-being (Brown & Johnson, 2017). Detailed field notes will be taken during each observation to complement the interview data. By directly witnessing the patients’ interactions with therapy animals, the study can gain deeper insights into the emotional benefits derived from these interactions.

Focus Groups

Focus groups will be organized to facilitate group discussions among participants who have undergone HAC interventions. The group setting will encourage participants to share their experiences, interact with each other, and identify common themes related to emotional coping and the effectiveness of HAC interventions (White et al., 2021). Focus groups offer the advantage of collective insights and allow participants to build upon each other’s responses, leading to a richer understanding of shared emotional experiences.

Data Analysis

Thematic analysis will be employed to identify patterns and themes in the collected data (Smith et al., 2019). The research team will transcribe and rigorously review the interview recordings, observation notes, and focus group discussions. Thematic coding will be conducted to identify recurring patterns and develop themes related to emotional challenges, coping strategies, and the impact of HAC interventions on emotional well-being. Through a systematic analysis, the study aims to generate meaningful findings that capture the essence of the participants’ emotional experiences.

Validity and Reliability

To ensure the validity and reliability of the study, several measures will be taken. The research team will engage in member checking, where participants will be invited to review and confirm the accuracy of the findings (Johnson et al., 2020). Additionally, the research team will conduct peer debriefing sessions to discuss and validate the emerging themes, enhancing the trustworthiness of the research. The use of multiple data collection methods and the triangulation of findings will further contribute to the study’s credibility and rigor.

Ethical Considerations

The study will adhere to ethical guidelines and obtain informed consent from all participants before their involvement (Johnson & Davis, 2023). Confidentiality and anonymity will be ensured during data collection, storage, and reporting to protect participants’ privacy. The research team will also obtain approval from the Institutional Review Board (IRB) to ensure that the study complies with ethical standards and safeguards the well-being of the participants.


This qualitative study aims to gain a comprehensive understanding of cancer patients’ emotional coping experiences within a hospital setting, with a specific focus on the potential impact of HAC interventions. By adopting a phenomenological approach and employing various data collection methods, including in-depth interviews, observations, focus groups, and document analysis, the research seeks to provide valuable insights into the emotional challenges faced by cancer patients and the significance of HAC interventions in supporting their well-being. The findings from this research can inform healthcare professionals about the benefits of incorporating HAC interventions into cancer care and promoting patients’ emotional well-being during their treatment journey. Ultimately, the study aims to contribute to the growing body of knowledge regarding the role of HAC interventions in enhancing the emotional care of cancer patients within hospital settings.


Brown, A., & Johnson, L. (2017). The impact of Human-Animal Connection (HAC) interventions on emotional well-being in cancer patients. Journal of Psychosocial Oncology, 35(2), 123-136.

Brown, J., & Smith, R. (2022). Understanding emotional coping strategies in cancer patients: A qualitative exploration. Health Psychology Review, 29(3), 257-270.

Davis, K., Johnson, M., & White, S. (2022). Complementary therapies for emotional well-being in cancer care: A systematic review. Journal of Integrative Oncology, 15(4), 415-428.

Johnson, L., & Davis, K. (2023). Ethical considerations in qualitative research: Informed consent and confidentiality. Journal of Medical Ethics, 42(1), 72-85.

Jones, E., & Brown, A. (2019). Emotional challenges in the hospital environment: A qualitative study of cancer patients’ experiences. Journal of Health Psychology, 26(5), 712-724.