How much do your personal feelings about animals affect the way in which you are authentically able to be with someone grieving the loss of their pet? How does your past inform your present? Whether it be a sibling's allergies, cultural beliefs, or perhaps fond memories of your own childhood pet, they all help to inform our view today.
As therapists, we have a rare opportunity to learn from our clients, as our clients learn from us. Over the course of nearly three decades, I continue to bear witness to clients' pain, whether it be buried, projected, internalized, or stuck! However, one thing remains the same: when it comes to the loss of one's pet, there is nothing stuck about the deep and expressed/experienced pain! Quite often, it is this pain that brings someone into therapy. If we, as therapists, dismiss the pain experienced by our client, they will leave feeling empty, misunderstood, and could possibly experience a sense of shame!
Pet loss has become an important topic, even more so during natural disasters and a down economy. Most people will tell you how sorry they are, some may even send a card, but there does remain a discomfort or stigma around grieving too long or too deeply (i.e., "it was only a cat", or "she should be over it by now").
Therapy can truly be a place to grive and heal in a helpful and healthy environment.
As a client, whether you are seeking help from a new therapist or are already working with someone, you need to feel comfortable expressing your pain over the loss of your pet. Working collaboratively with a therapist, you are entitled to feel understood, respected, and supported through this tremendously painful time.
The following are some suggestions for clients to work collaboratively with a therapist and feel empowered in the process:
- Be clear and direct around what you need, how you are feeling, and how your therapist might help you in regard to your loss.
- Pay close attention to how you feel. Does it feel like a safe space? Are you given the time to share, grieve, and process without there being a different agenda or the topic being changed?
- Does your therapist respond in a kind, caring, and empathic way? Do you feel heard and understood by him/her?
- One way to include your therapist in your grieving process is to bring in photos and memorabilia, as well as share stories about your pet.
There is no time limit to grief and grieving. Take the time you need! Hopefully your therapist will ask a lot of questions, remain engaged, and empathize with your pain.
The darkest hours of a client's pain around the death of their pet can also help to create a new and healthy beginning of a relationship! For some people, the loss of their pet is as important and painful as anyone's loss of a family member, friend, or partner/spouse.
Grieving the loss of your animal is both extremely personal and profound. It is an experience that far too many people dismiss or can't understand. It is my hope that we all can find that safe place and person to help us grieve, heal, and bond/love again.
Sharyn Rose is a Psychotherapist and Clinical Hypnotherapist in Davis Square, Somerville, MA. To learn more, visit her websites at: www.sharynrosetherapy.com and www.srosehypnotherapy.com