The Animal-Human Bond in the Psychotherapy Relationship: As a Bridge Towards Enhanced Relational Capability
This study reviews the use of the animal-human bond in the psychotherapy of clients who, as a result of early environmental failure have developmental deficits in their ability to form satisfying relationships, yet have been able to ‘bridge’ this gap by their attachment to an animal (or animal symbol). The concept of animal-human relationships is explored in relation to Winnicott’s (1971) theories on object use and transitional phenomena. The role of pets as attachment figures is also examined. Existing theoretical conceptualisations of animal-human bonds within psychoanalytic writing are explored. This has been a neglected area, to date. I discuss the resistance to and associated ‘cringe factor’ associated with this material, which I noted throughout the research for this dissertation. Within the psychotherapy relationship, I explore the clinical implications of working directly with understanding the client-pet relationship, and the question of whether this can be used to enhance the relational capacity and general well being of the patient. I propose that pet relationships can evoke early and regressive parts of us that are outside our full awareness. That as psychotherapy is interested in the continuing integration of different parts, as well as ways of bringing them into the psychotherapy, that working with a patient’s pet relationship can contribute significantly to the relational development and well being of the patient.