Traumatic pet loss and the integration of attachment-based animal assisted therapy

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The sudden death of my Labrador Retriever was traumatic and extremely difficult to process. Despite previous experience in grief counseling, I was intellectually but not emotionally prepared for my own pet loss. In order to process my grief, I began to explore my own childhood and the nature of the attachment between my dog and me. Reflecting on different schools of psychology, including self-psychology and attachment theory, I discovered that selfobject needs contribute significantly to the development of an attachment bond and attachment anxiety. Animals are extremely helpful in repairing disrupted or damaged attachments. The traumatic loss of my dog made me aware of my own reliance on my pets as therapeutic objects, a realization that greatly transformed my interests and goals. I moved from working as a generalist practitioner to a clinician specializing in using animal-assisted therapy (AAT) as an adjunctive modality when working with trauma survivors. The brief history and current applications of AAT as an effective adjunct treatment option will be discussed. AAT has been found to work well with a variety of modalities such as dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) and Psychodynamic Psychotherapy, and should be considered by clinicians working with any clients with a disrupted or disorganized attachment.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)119-131
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Psychotherapy Integration
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 2019


  • AAT
  • Animal
  • Animal-Assisted Therapy
  • Attachment
  • Loss

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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