Erin Wasson (MSW, RSW)-Clinical Associate Social Work, Western College of Veterinary Medicine, University of Saskatchewan.
When a beloved family pet dies it can be really hard. For many of us, our pets are a place of unconditional love, acceptance, and immense joy (1–3) . After the loss of a beloved pet, we are often left with memories of the life we have shared with them, and immense pain where our love for them remains. The following article is the second of this two-part article discussing pet loss and explores when you might need some additional support.
“Do I need Professional Support?”
When we are bereaved we are changed by our grief. As such there is no “correct” way to grieve the loss of a loved one. However, if you notice: you do not have other supports; that you are unable to return to your daily living activities; your body sensations feel worrisome or scary; there is conflict in your household around the death; or you feel like your grief is unmanageable, and you cannot actively participate in your life, it is worthwhile to seek out professional support.
Some additional indicators that you would benefit from professional support if you: Feel like life isn’t worth living Wish you had died with your loved one Blame yourself for the loss or for failing to prevent it Feel numb and disconnected from others for more than a few weeks Are having difficulty trusting others since your loss Want support in managing your grief (8)
Reaching out for support is a vulnerable process, but also a common response to grief and loss. If you are not sure whether you need support around grief, check-in with a counselor. They can help you decide if you need support now or are coping and managing ok with your other support systems. It can be challenging to find a professional support person who is right for you. Some things to consider when choosing a counselor are:
“Is the person trained in pet loss?”
Being trained in pet loss specifically is not a requirement, but finding someone well versed in managing grief is essential. Make sure that you research the clinicians in your area. You can check profiles online to see if they talk about their areas of specialty (grief and loss, pet loss etc.). Additionally, asking questions like “Is this person registered with a professional association?” can help you find someone expected to meet practice standards. These standards are in place to keep you safe and often include yearly continuing education, codes of ethics, and staying within their scope of practice to ensure that they are competent and meeting your needs. Don’t be afraid to ask these questions, a good counselor should feel comfortable explaining this to you before you pay for an appointment.
“I went to counselling before and I hated it!”
Counselling is a lot like trying on shoes. The first pair might seem nice, but after walking around in them the fit may not be quite right. It doesn’t mean you don’t need shoes, you just need a different pair. I always encourage people to think about what they didn’t like about the counselling process their first time around. This way if you make the choice to see someone else, you can help them understand what works and doesn’t work for you. I also encourage people to think about “fit”. What do you need from the outset to feel more comfortable? Are you more comfortable seeing a man or a woman? Do you want someone older or younger? Does it matter to you what kind of education they have (psychologist, social worker etc.). Keeping all of these pieces in your mind is a good thing when you think about what will be a “fit” for you. You don’t have to stick with the first person you see. If it doesn’t feel right? Move on and select someone new.
“Do I have insurance or workplace health coverage?”
Most workplace employee assistance plans (EAP) will have a phone number you can call to ask for support. When you do so, you will likely go through an intake process so that they can find someone who is the best fit for you. Making sure you are clear that you want someone who specializes in grief and loss and pet loss support is important. Take the time to state what you need (see above). Clarity on what makes you comfortable from the outset can save you time (and sessions!).
“What are the ‘free’ services in my area?”
Remember, grief related to the loss of a beloved pet is just as real as any other loss we might experience. For this reason, you should feel as though you can access the same supports that others might when managing a difficult loss. Across Canada, communities offer free counselling services for adults, children, and families. To find something in your area look online for “free mental health services”. “Pet Loss Support Groups?” Many communities offer pet loss support groups. Consider whether you would like to be around other individuals with similar feelings and experiences and whether that might be helpful for you. Many of these groups are cost-effective or run free of charge and can feel like a safe place to grieve and get support.
Resources Navigating pet loss can be hard, but it doesn’t have to be made harder by doing it alone. Your grief around the loss of your animal is no less valid then anyone else’s grief experience. Be gentle with yourself and make sure to ask for what you need from those who can provide it.
Contact the resources below if you need support. Alberta Health Services Access Mental Health – Helping you find the information or service that is right for you. https://www.albertahealthservices.ca/services/page11443.aspx Alberta Health Services Mental Health Help Line (24/7 telephone service offering help for mental health concerns for Albertans 1-877-303-2642
References 1. Clements PT, Benasutti KM, Carmone A. Support for bereaved owners of pets. Perspect Psychiatr Care. 2003. doi:10.1111/j.1744-6163.2003.tb00676.x. 2. Carmack BJ. The Effects on Family Members and Functioning After the Death of a Pet. Marriage Fam Rev. 1985;8(3):149-161. doi:10.1300/J002v08n03_11. 3. Packman W, Field NP, Carmack BJ, Ronen R. Continuing bonds and psychosocial adjustment in pet loss. J Loss Trauma. 2011;16(4):341-357. doi:10.1080/15325024.2011.572046
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