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It's Not Just A Dog: The Role of Companion Animals in the Family's Emotional System

By Cassandra Leow

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Abstract

Past studies have looked into the role of companion animals in families. This study intended to explore the role of companion animals in the family’s emotional system through the lens of Bowen Family Systems Theory. Data from a study on companion animal loss and grief were used. A qualitative phenomenological approach was adopted to analyze the data from interviews. Three primary themes emerged from the data: balanced family emotional system, response to relational anxiety and role of the absence companion animal. The first theme suggested that human family members and companion animals developed a balanced family emotional system through companion animals integrating into the family’s daily routines and into the family’s emotional system as an individual member of the family. The second theme suggested that human family members and companion animals responded to relational anxiety which was seen through Bowen Family Systems Theory concepts such as individuality, togetherness, emotional distancing, emotional fusion, underfunctioning-overfunctioning and pursuer-distancer. This supported the dynamic process that occurs between human and companion animal and as such, supporting companion animals as being a part of the family’s emotional system. The third theme is the impact brought upon by the role of the absence companion animal in the family’s system, where there was evidence of an imbalance in the system and the surviving members’ attempts to rebalance the system. Findings indicated that companion have a stabilizing and dynamic role in the family system and the absence of the companion animal resulted in the family system destabilizing. Implications for clinicians is to consider the role that companion animals play in the family’s emotional system and the impact it can bring towards clients. The stabilizing role that companion animals play can also be a good resource when individuals are faced with emotional distress and require emotional support.

Submitter

Marcy Wilhelm-South

Purdue University

Date 2018
Pages 59
Department Education and Human Sciences
Degree Master of Science
URL https://digitalcommons.unl.edu/cehsdiss/317/
Language English
University University of Nebraska - Lincoln
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Tags
  1. Animal roles
  2. Emotions
  3. Family
  4. open access
  5. Pets and companion animals
Badges
  1. open access