Psych Central

Pets Articles

The Gift of Pets: Forever Young and Needing Us

Thursday, August 29th, 2013

jasperpuppies!I recently stopped at a country store and as is typical for me, asked a woman who was standing outside with a dog, the name and breed of her dog. She explained that Sophie was a rescue dog of mixed breed. When I asked how old, she picked up the dog, held it to her and said, “ She is seven, but forever a puppy.”

It occurred to me that what she had just said was actually the way most of us feel about the pets we love. Regardless of age, they allow us to enjoy the physical, emotional and even neurophysiological benefits of loving and being loved by them in a special and dependent way.


Understanding Anger in the Aftermath of Trauma and Disaster

Tuesday, January 22nd, 2013

“Is Anyone Else Angry?”

anger and traumaTrauma theorists tell us that while traumatic events are in themselves physically and emotionally assaultive, it is often the emotions suffered after the smoke clears and the media goes home that become painful and disruptive to our recovery. One of these is anger.

Anger in the aftermath of a traumatic event, be it the loss of a child, the destruction of one’s home, a life-threatening diagnosis or the sequel to combat stress is a common and complex response. It can be experienced as a physiological state, an emotion, a way of thinking, a behavioral response or a combination of these.

  • You are not alone if you feel angry about what has happened.
  • Essentially you are suffering. The problem is that when anger persists–it obscures everything else.
  • The ability to make meaning of it and redirect it, keeps it from holding you back and taking more from you.

Understanding some of the feelings and dynamics that underscore anger after trauma may be an important step in your journey forward.

Anger as Residual of Fight/Flight Response

It is to our advantage that our biological arousal system goes into survivor mode in face of danger causing an increase in heart rate, rapid shallow breathing, cold sweats, tingling muscular tension and often-antagonistic behavior.

The problem is that when the danger has passed, our body often remains in a state of hyperarousal, leaving us reacting with anger to what would ordinarily be mildly distressing stimuli.

  • We blow up at the relatives who keep asking if everything is starting to get easier.
  • We storm off the line that feels too long at Starbucks.
  • We find ourselves fighting over everything with our partner.
  • We are driving faster and yelling more than usual.

Because this is a physically driven anger, we need to work from the body out to bring it down. We need to re-set our body rhythms by moving, sleeping and eating well. Moving in any way (exercise, walking, re-building, cleaning, physically helping friends) is crucial.

One widow, who told me she was mad at God after 9/11, started walking and didn’t stop until the tears and …


Reducing Disaster’s Impact: A Simple Guide to Psychological First Aid

Thursday, November 8th, 2012

Nationally and internationally, the most endorsed response in the early aftermath of a disaster is Psychological First Aide.  Used by those responding to disasters, it is a set of guidelines that you can learn to use for yourself and others.

Just as knowing certain aspects of Medical First Aid can help you minimize injury and reduce future medical complications, knowing and using certain aspects of Psychological First Aid can help you reduce the emotional impact of a disaster and its consequences.

Here are Five Steps for Using Psychological First Aid

 I. Establish Physical Safety

  • Given the body-mind connection, it is necessary to secure physical and medical safety as a first step to psychological safety.
  • In securing what is needed to maintain physical safety (food, shelter, water, heat) it is often helpful to access options and then make a temporary or working plan that can be updated. This often mobilizes people to safety, as they know they are not making permanent decisions.  

 Families have moved in together in arrangements they never would have dreamed possible-as a way of keeping each other safe.

II. Establish Psychological Safety

  • Accept and normalize your feelings.Recognize that feelings of disbelief, fear, terror, helplessness, and anger are very common to the situation you have faced. For most people they may persist as difficulty sleeping, intrusive thoughts and memories, or a sense of numbing for a week or two and then dissipate.
  • In those cases where someone displays a sense of disorientation, unremitting panic or inability to cope, emergency medical care is warranted.
  • You have often heard the expression “ What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” – Well, Not So Fast.
  • Consider that while people differ, for most of us, it takes a while to adapt to a crisis situation. Even as people are busy surviving and helping others survive, survivors are often feeling a mix of relief, pain and uncertainty. It makes sense.
  • Recognize that in disasters – SMALL THINGS ARE BIG in making us feel less helpless.
  • Look for those things you can control. Set up achievable goals- be it playing a game with the children; finding …

Grandpets: An Unexpected Love Affair

Wednesday, June 13th, 2012

Few would argue that this is a country involved with pets.  With 93.6 million cats, 77.5 million dogs, and a wide variety of other pets, there is an increasing appreciation of the growing trend in pet ownership, recognition of pet expenditures that outspan the rate of inflation and mounting evidence of the physical and emotional benefits in having pets.

One trend that is less noted but emerging in this “state of the pet nation” is an increasing number of grandpets – The pets of your adult children with whom you have a special bond and connection.

A closer look at situations involving grandpets suggests that the care and connection to grandpets is more than an easily dismissed event or another version of “ you do what you have to do for your kids.”  Rather it seems there is a confluence of needs faced by parents, adult children and pets for which grandpetting seems a workable solution.

For example, in this era…

  • There are some 79.6 million baby boomers on the brink of retiring, re-inventing or changing lifestyles that have the time and need to help their children.
  • There are financial insecurities that make jobs scarce, commutes longer, travel necessary and pets at risk of being left alone.
  • Close to 46% of young adults return home after college because the cost of living makes moving out impossible – they often come with more than baggage.
  •  Men and women in the military face multiple deployments – someone who loves them needs to love their pet.
  • Married couples often juggle jobs, children and long distance relationships – who do we trust with the kids and the dog?
  • One in two marriages end in divorce – who can help maintain the bond with the pet?

These are situations where having and keeping a pet in a safe and loving way can be a challenge. These are situations where the needs of a pet can be a dilemma for one family member and a way to feel needed by another. These are the situations where families who might not talk enough or might not agree on anything will agree to care for a pet.


Can People Really Be Happy? Maybe

Thursday, May 24th, 2012

On May 8th, 2012, award-winning author and illustrator of the children’s book, Where The Wild Things Are, Maurice Sendak, died. He was 83. In a postscript written about him in The New Yorker this week, Mariana Cook revisited some of what he had offered in a 2009 interview. In that interview, Sendak shared his feeling that it is hard to be happy and that some people find it easier than others. He ended with the question,

“Do you believe it when people say they are happy?”

In one of the final interviews Maurice Sendak allowed with Terri Gross on NPR in late 2011, he said something different, “I have nothing now but praise for my life. I’m not unhappy. I cry a lot because I miss people.”

In his words, this very creative man underscores the challenge, complexity and possibility of happiness.

Resonating with this, I recently wrote a blog for the final newsletter of “This Emotional Life” entitled “The Pursuit of Happiness: Your Inalienable Right.”  In it I draw upon research that suggests happiness is a “many factored thing.” Often considered a sense of well-being, I add that, as such, happiness is neither a static place, nor one that is incompatible with tears or challenge.


Why Couples Clash Over Chores: Some Alternatives

Tuesday, August 16th, 2011

scrubbing the kitchen floorIf you and your partner find yourselves battling over throwing out the garbage or doing the laundry, you are not alone and neither may actually be to blame. A closer look may offer some understanding and some alternatives.

  • According to a 2007 Pew Research Center Survey of American adults, 62% ranked  “sharing household chores” as third in importance in a successful marriage  with 92% ranking “faithfulness” as number one and 70% ranking “happy sexual relationship” as number two. There were no differences of opinion between men and women; or between older adults and younger adults; or between married people and singles.
  • Back in 1990 fewer than half (47%) of adults said sharing household chores was very important to a successful marriage. The fact that 60% of women work outside the home and  men are participating in the household and childcare at three times the rate they did in the 60’s, the ranking suggests that concrete help with the day to day chores is both needed and appreciated.

The Division of Labor

What may seem, however, like an easy division of labor, “you shop” and “I’ll cook” is actually not so easy. In fact the notion that a perfectly balanced list could or should exist is a myth. People just don’t function that way.


Exercise for Depression: Suggestions for Making It Possible

Wednesday, August 3rd, 2011

exercise and healingNumerous studies have identified exercise as a key factor in reducing depression symptoms. A recent study heightens the argument by finding that as compared to age, race, gender, body mass index cholesterol, blood pressure and diabetes, it was the sedentary lifestyle of a depressed person that alone accounted for about 25% of the risk of heart-related deaths. The message is that we need to move because our lives depend on it!

The problem is that when you are depressed often the last thing you want to do is exercise.

Given the despair, lethargy, self-doubt, exhaustion, disinterest in activities and shame experienced with depression, the suggestion to exercise feels like adding insult to injury. “I’m not exercising because I’m depressed.”

Knowing exercise could help, but feeling unable to do so often adds to the self-recriminations and low self-esteem of depression.  In one case, the more the young woman watched other family members exercise – the less possible it felt.

Depression’s Landscape.

Given the recent discussion of the pros and cons of medications and treatments for depression, it seems clear that people need to have information and treatment options. It also seems important to stack the deck toward feeling better with anything that might work for you. If you have wanted to exercise but find it impossible – here are some suggestions.


Is Your Pet The Emotional “Third” in Your Relationship?

Tuesday, July 5th, 2011

Is Your Pet The Emotional Third in Your Relationship?Katie and Rob, a couple in a second marriage for both, never planned to have a pet. They cautiously agreed to take Penny, a little terrier, when a relative became sick. Of course, they fell in love with her. When I asked them how Penny had impacted their relationship, their answer surprised me.

“Penny is our peacemaker. Before Penny we would stonewall each other and not speak for days after an argument.  It is funny what happens now – after an argument one of us will start talking about Penny to the other to break the ice. We never planned it – we just do it and it works.

The concept of the “Third” comes from relational psychology, specifically the work of psychologist, Lewis Aron who drew upon Jessica Benjamin’s work and applied the concept to couples. Aron offered the conceptualization of the see-saw. He considered that often two partners are stuck at opposite ends, moving up and down in terms of their own perspective, needs or opinions, but actually going nowhere and locked into a pattern that can’t bring them together.

In terms of couple’s therapy, Aron identified the therapist as the “third” to open the space. A closer look at partners and their pets invites us to consider that in an unexpected and uncanny way – pets also serve in that role.


Pets in the Office: Unexpected Resources

Thursday, April 14th, 2011

Who let the dogs in? Many people from members of Congress to advertising executives have welcomed dogs into the workplace and for good reason.

Historically we know of the value of dogs in firehouses, on police canine teams, on farms, ranches, and certainly as companion dogs to those with physical disabilities.

Recently the diversity of workplaces that benefit from pets have expanded and while cats, and some birds have an important place next to the many professionals and business owners working from home, dogs seem to have found their way into the office.


Why Do People Have More Than One Pet?

Friday, January 7th, 2011

Most pets are home to stay.  Rarely do you hear of pets being replaced. Rather, once a person has a dog, cat or bird that they love, they tend to get another… and another. Why?

Is this about pets or people? Is there an emotional reason that an individual or a couple starts with one pet and ends up with many more?

When I have raised these questions with pet owners and pet professionals, the reasons given are as complex as the people and pets involved.  Overall, however, they reflect the reciprocal mix of needs, emotions and love inherent in the unique exchange that people and pets share.

It Starts With the Pets

Many people start adding an additional pet as a companion to the first. As one owner said “It broke our hearts to leave Callie alone all day so we got a second dog to keep her company.”

While many will own that they may be projecting their human fear of loneliness  – the reality is that most pets do enjoy the company of other pets and owners are delighted to see dogs play together, cats scheme together, everyone fight over food and then curl up and sleep together!

One owner who lived with dogs his whole life described that he always had two dogs. He always had a puppy with an older dog both to enliven the older dog (which it inevitably did) as well as to reduce his own dread of loss.


Healing Together
for Couples


Archives



Subscribe to this Blog:
Feed


Or Get a Single, Daily Email (enter email address):

via FeedBurner



More on
Relationships


Healing Together

Suzanne Phillips, Psy.D., ABPP & Dianne Kane, DSW are the authors of Healing Together: A Couple's Guide to Coping with Trauma and Post-Traumatic Stress. Pick up the book today!

Subscribe to this Blog:
Feed


Or Get a Single, Daily Email (enter email address):

via FeedBurner



Recent Comments
  • Suzanne Phillips, Psy.D., ABPP: Robert: Yes – they needed to speak about what was working and not working...
  • Robert Blok: “they did not have to find the affair” Reading that this outmoded and outdated manner of...
  • Steve Wolf: People who Want to fix bad relationships they must read this article post. Really very appreciate for...
  • PeaceofMind: I think it’s a choice of integrity and honesty. We aren’t bound by society’s rules....
  • Suzanne Phillips, Psy.D., ABPP: Heather: Thanks so much for your comment. You underscore how challenging friendships...
Subscribe to Our Weekly Newsletter

Find a Therapist
Enter ZIP or postal code



Users Online: 12240
Join Us Now!