Pets are like members of the family, playing unique roles in our lives. They are consistent sources of joy and comfort, adding up to a special kind of unconditional love. For me, simply petting Spartacus and Tia and watching them play was enough to soothe my worries. I miss their touch in my life, the weight of carrying and cuddling with them, the sounds of their voices. If you can relate at all, then it's no wonder that losing our furry friends can be one of life’s most painful experiences.
I knew I would need some expert help to get through the emotional pain of losing them. This was especially true after the second of our cats (Spartacus) passed away, leaving me with an empty house and the deafening silence. I was fearful of being in our space without the presence of my longtime friends. My routine was temporarily upset by the change in our family situation - I didn't want to work from home alone. That was one of the indications to me that seeing a grief therapist would be a good idea - though it's not the only one...
5 Ways to Know You Should Seek Expert Therapy for Pet Loss Grief
Grief doesn’t come with a manual, so it’s sometimes hard to tell how much the pain of losing a pet is affecting you in the moment. If you’re really struggling to deal with the loss, seeing a therapist is one of the best forms of mental health self-care. It’s a good idea to seek professional help if you experience any of the following symptoms:
- Grief Interrupts Daily Pursuits: This was my trigger. If you’ve become distracted or disinterested in the things you typically enjoy doing, it’s time to get help from a counsellor. Grief can have very real impact on your overall emotional health, which can also negatively affect your work performance and family life. Pet loss support can help you focus on the positive aspects of your life, develop tools for growing through the grief, and help you maintain a healthy routine as you deal with your grief.
- Physical Illness: Emotions manifest themselves in a host of physical ways. Feelings of grief for a departed pet could lead to weight fluctuation, chronic headaches, and difficulty sleeping. For me, many of these things continue to plague me even today. If you're in a similar boat, you may find that the third-party perspective offered by a counsellor can help you identify the physical impacts of your pet grief. From there, you can seek medical assistance to address the maladies in healthy ways.
- Your Relationships Suffer: If you feel yourself pulling away from relationships with loved ones - human or non-human - this is a major warning sign that something is wrong. Meeting with a pet loss counsellor can help you break from this isolated feeling before it goes too far.
- You Feel Intense Guilt: Many of us feel a special sense of guilt because of the roles we had to play at the ends of our pets lives. You may regret your choices, wonder if you did enough, or feel guilt-ridden that you missed the signs of illness. Addressing these concerns in healthy ways can often only be done with the guidance of someone who understands the human psyche.
- You Need a Non-Judgmental Listening Ear: Often the need for a therapist can be simply that you don't have any other people in your life who can comfort you during your pet loss. This may be especially true when your friends family to offer the compassion and sensitivity you need to feel understood and validated. A therapist can help to fill this void to aid in your emotional healing and growth journey.
Remember These Two Important Truths about Pet Grief
There are two complementary truths about grief to keep in mind: it's both ok to dwell on memories of your animal friends as well as distract yourself from the emotional pain. A therapist can help you do both.
- You might explore ways to distract yourself from thoughts of your pet.
- You may discuss how to give yourself permission to engage in mental health self-care that takes you away from your grief.
- You might talk about the importance of mindless entertainment such as comedy films to lift your spirits.
- You may contemplate why it's okay to laugh and cry (often at the same time) when thinking of your departed dog, fish, or horse
Above all else, a good grief therapist will always bring you back to the reality that whatever emotions you’re feeling are okay. Bereavement over the loss of a pet will bring about different feelings in different people at the various stages of grief. Whether you feel denial, guilt, anger, or the feeling of simultaneous sadness and joy that is nostalgia, know that you’re not alone. It can be physically and emotionally draining to mourn a pet, so engaging in your own kind of grief support can improve your overall wellbeing.
Know What to Look for in a Pet Loss Counsellor
It’s fairly easy to find a counsellor, but it’s not always easy to find a good one. I recommend having an intro meeting in an informal setting with a potential counsellor before commiting to an actual session. Whether you evaluate a potential mental health professional like this or through some other means, these are the characteristics you may wish to look for in a therapist.
Similar values about animals and spirituality
You might be surprised to learn that many mental health professionals believe it’s unhealthy to love a pet as you would another human being. If you're reading this, you likely disagree. That means you'll want to find a counsellor who holds beliefs on this subject that align with yours. As you interview a counsellor, ask for his or her thoughts on pet grief and the roles animals play in our families. It’s also a good idea to ask about the person’s stance on spiritual issues - you want these to align with your views as well. Having a therapists respects your views throughout the healing process will be important, especially as you'll be dealing with issues of death and (potentially) the afterlife.
Training in grief support
Working with people who are grieving is a specialty area for mental health professionals. Therapists often don't have specific training in this area because they have chosen to focus on other issues such as marriage and family or bipolar disease. It's a good idea, then, to make sure your potential counsellor has experience and significant training in how to heal from loss and grief. Any prior personal experiences with pet loss will be an obvious plus.
Real training in counselling
This may seem like an obvious suggestion, but there are people and organizations that advertise pet loss services without professional training. Even if a person claims to have university education, be sure you know what level of education he or she has actually reached. Also, inquire about any counselling education the person received outside of the university.
If you have a history of mental health issues, the importance of working with a mental health professional is all the more important during a taxing time of grief. Trained therapists help you explore ways to honour and say goodbye to your pet in a safe and supportive atmosphere. With the assistance of someone who won’t judge or criticize your feelings, you have a better chance of healing the adverse effects of grief.
We have local and national listings of therapists and counsellors who can help you adjust to life without your beloved furry family member.
Having a therapist is only part of the support picture during pet loss. Getting help from others in your network can be extremely valuable. Try this free printable which walks you through how to build your network of support so that you can get hands-on help that will augment that received from a trained professional.
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Health Disclaimer: I’m passionate about wellbeing and health but I’m not a medical professional, nor am I a licensed therapist. Any content you read on this site is intended for inspiration and for information only – by not means am I providing medical advice. Please consult your certified professional for personalized recommendations on the mental health or physical health ideas I write about.