A new review published in the journal CABI humansAnimal Interactions provides counselors with new perspectives to consider in their practice when working with clients grieving the loss of their pet.
The research highlights how during the COVID-19 pandemic, there have been more opportunities for people to spend more time with their pets – counting on them to help maintain a sense of normalcy and provide security during periods of isolation.
Dr. Michelle Crossley, assistant professor at the College of Rhode Island, and Colleen Rowland, president and pet loss grief specialist for the Pet Loss and Bereavement Association (APLB), point out that pets play an important role in the lives of their caregivers.
However, they added, grief over the loss of a pet remains disenfranchised in the community.
Perceptions of judgment can lead individuals to grieve a loss without social support.
The current review draws on research in the field of pet loss and human bereavement and factors in the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the human-animal bond.
The aim of the current review is to provide counselors with perspectives to consider in their practices when working with clients who have associations with their companion animals.
It also aims to recognize the therapeutic benefits of working through the grieving process to reach resolution as a way to continue the relationship with a deceased pet.”
Michelle Crossley, Assistant Professor, College of Rhode Island
Researchers say that stigma attached to grieving a loss can complicate the healing process and that counselors should expect to see more clients willing to discuss their grief — especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.
They add that while empathy may come more naturally when discussing human loss, there are other types of loss that society does not acknowledge or give as much attention to.
This includes death by suicide, pregnancy loss/miscarriage, death from AIDS and death of a pet.
Ms Rowland said: “When relationships are not valued by society, individuals are more likely to experience disenfranchised grief after an irreparable loss and may become complex grief.
“The main 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 to present different factors that may influence how one grieve the loss of a pet.
It also discusses counseling considerations that can be used to foster a supportive, nonjudgmental space where clients’ expressions of grief are validated.
In their review, Dr. Crosley and Ms. Rowland suggest that having a safe space to discuss the meanings associated with the companion animal relationship is helpful for coping with loss in a supportive environment, leading to resolution of the pain of loss.
Dr Crossley added: “When an individual loses a pet it can be a traumatic experience, especially given the strength of the attachment, the role the pet played in the individual’s life, as well as the circumstances and type of loss.
“Giving a voice to individuals grieving a disenfranchised loss is one way counselors can help clients through pet loss.
“It is also important to incorporate pet loss work into counseling interventions and coping strategies that are already being used in the therapeutic space.”
Researchers believe that in-person group counseling sessions or web-based chat rooms can act as healing spaces for those working through grief.
Counselors can also engage both children and adults dealing with pet loss by providing them with supplies and space to draw, draw, or use figures to express their fears and concerns about pet loss, they say.
In conclusion, Dr. Crosley and Ms. Rowland argue that understanding the grieving process of pet owners can better equip professionals to promote nonjudgmental spaces where clients can feel open to showing their grief.
Furthermore, offering empathy and validating the feelings any type of pet loss can create for clients may lead to a more open engagement among the community that enhances the healing process and a potential societal shift in recognizing pet loss grief as a norm of experience.
Crosley M & Rowland C (2022) Overcoming the social stigma of pet loss: considerations for counseling professionals. Human-animal interactions. doi.org/10.1079/hai.2022.0022.