Bereavement Center focuses on pet loss

Dr. Alison Buchalter

Taking a new approach to grief counseling, the Institute for Behavior Therapy has opened a Pet Bereavement Center in Manhattan, N.Y. The institute is the oldest cognitive behavioral therapy center in the city.

Through cognitive behavioral therapy patients take an active role in the problem solving, said Alison Buchalter, PhD, co-founder and co-director of the Pet Bereavement Center.

Patients are taught to address the thoughts and emotions that are “eating them up,” Buchalter said.

The center is long overdue, considering the strong bond that is formed between pet and owner, Buchalter said. “When that bond is broken, there is a normal need to grieve.”

But the grieving process can be stymied by other people’s perceptions of losing a pet, Buchalter said. Sometimes people are embarrassed by their grief or think others expect them to “just get over it,” she added.

Another stressful element is often guilt over the decision to euthanize a beloved animal companion, Buchalter said. “People get very angry with the vet, with themselves. It’s another catalyst.”

The center works with veterinarian advisors and has received referrals from Manhattan-area veterinarians. “Some veterinarians may not want to refer a pet owner for psychiatric care,” Buchalter said. “But it’s important to know what is available.”

Although grief counseling is taught in veterinary schools today, said AAHA member Dr. Sam Lynch in a Las Vegas Review-Journal article, it wasn’t included as an individual course in the curriculum 21 years ago when he was a student. Seminars and programs on grief counseling are available to practice teams, Lynch said, but it is a skill “veterinarians learn largely through practical experience.”

AAHA Press offers a number of products addressing pet loss (enter the keyword “grief” into the search engine). For more information on pet bereavement therapy, contact Buchalter at [email protected].