How much do your personal feelings about animals affect the way in which you are authentically able to help a client who has just lost their pet? How does your past inform your present? Whether it be a sibling’s allergies, cultural beliefs, or perhaps a traumatic experience you had with a dog as a child, they all help 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 many years, I continue to bear witness to clients’ pain, whether it be buried, projected, internalized or stuck! One thing remains the same: when it comes to the loss of ones’ pet, there is nothing stuck about their deep and expressed/experienced pain!
I have had a good deal of experience throughout my career to work with people around the dying or death of their best friend, their pet. Quite often, it is this pain that brings them in. Many clients have shared their stories and disappointment or lack of empathy or understanding they felt with previous counselor around the issue of greatest concern to them, a palpable pain around the loss of their animal. If we, as their therapists, dismiss (as experienced by the client) the degree of their pain, they will leave feeling empty, misunderstood, and even a sense of shame!
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! Ask them to bring in pictures, photo albums, memorabilia. Ask a lot of questions and remain engaged! To some people, their relationship with Fido is and was as important and heartfelt as anyone else’s loss of a family member, friend, or partner/spouse!