Anyone who has ever lost a pet will known the tidal wave of grief it can bring, and yet for some reason losing a pet is often disregarded as a source of trauma. A new review is working to change that by providing counselors with new perspectives to keep in mind when working with clients whose pets have passed away.
“When relationships are not valued by society, individuals are more likely to experience disenfranchised grief after a loss that cannot be resolved and may become complicated grief,” said Colleen Rolland, President and pet loss grief specialist for Association for Pet Loss and Bereavement, in a statement.
“The major goals of this review are to provide counselors with an aspect to consider in their therapeutic work with clients dealing with grief and loss and present different factors that may impact how one grieves the loss of a pet. It also discusses considerations for counseling that can be utilized to foster a supportive and non-judgmental space where clients’ expressions of grief are validated.”
During the start of the COVID-19 pandemic when lockdowns saw a third of humanity confined to their homes, there was a spike in both pet ownership and the amount of time people were spending with them. It was found that pets played a lifesaving role for people during periods of isolation, demonstrating the significant influence our furry friends can have on our quality of life. Pet cemeteries across the globe show how important pets have been to humans for centuries.
Despite all this evidence as to their value, Rolland and review co-author Dr Michelle Crossley, Assistant Professor at Rhode Island College, believe that grieving the loss of a pet still isn’t considered that big a deal by a lot of people. It’s their view that this could be damaging to a person’s health in complicating the healing process, because if people feel that their grief over the death of a pet will be met with derision, they could be less likely to seek help when they really need it.
Recommended strategies for supporting clients through their grief over a dead pet include group counseling sessions, either in-person or as a virtual service, and therapeutic arts and crafts for younger children trying to process a loss.
Through their review, the researchers hope to encourage counselors to be aware of the significance of the death of a pet for some people, and of the need to validate feelings of grief over animals as a path to better healing and more accessible treatment.
“When an individual loses a pet, it can be a traumatic experience, especially given the strength of attachment, the role the pet played in the life of the individual, as well as the circumstances and type of loss,” said Crossley.
“Giving a voice to individuals grieving a disenfranchised loss is one way in which counselors can help clients through pet loss. It is also important to integrate pet loss work into counseling interventions and coping strategies that are already being used in the therapeutic space.”
The review was published in Human-Animal Interactions.