Therapy sessions can help to better understand trauma or change, develop effective coping mechanisms, or improve overall well-being. The cancer diagnosis or death of our canine companion is traumatic, and you should consider reaching out to a therapist to assist in processing the loss and sudden lifestyle changes. Asking for help can be difficult but can lead to huge improvements in quality of life moving forward.
How Therapy Can Help You If Your Dog Has Cancer
Therapy is an active process whereby individuals can learn and apply strategies that help guide them through a difficult time period and increase their overall quality of life. Having a dog with cancer is very stressful, and you might benefit from learning certain skills.
These may include:
- Skills to increase one’s ability to cope with stressful life events.
- Communication tactics to improve social interactions and personal relationships.
- Tools for increasing productivity, and mechanisms to boost daily motivation for accomplishing tasks and working towards goals.1
Skills such as these may be especially important when processing the cancer diagnosis or death of a pet.2
Needing Help is Not Weakness
Asking for help is not an easy thing to do. We often underestimate the willingness of others to help and the benefits their help can give us.7
Humans are social beings and want to both give and receive help. It can promote feelings of happiness, increase the positive perceptions of ourselves, create a bridge for social connection, and even lower our blood pressure.7
Therapy Has Many Benefits
When applied in daily life and during especially during difficult time periods, the tools you learn in therapy or counseling can help:
- Increase feelings associated with happiness
- Improve sleep
- Decrease the level of chronic stress experienced by the physical body
- Reduce excessive sadness, guilt, anger, and depression1
Therapy Versus Counseling
People sometimes refer to therapy and counseling as if they are identical, but technically, they have small differences.
Therapy as a practice is broadly focused on addressing mental health.
Counseling focuses on a particular issue that an individual is dealing with.1
It’s common to use therapy to focus on one issue, if that is what is best for a while.
It’s also common to start counseling for a certain issue and realize that a broader course of therapy might help.
Types of Therapy
There are several types of therapy:1
- Cognitive behavioral therapy
- Dialectical behavioral therapy
- Psychodynamic therapy
- Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR)
- Humanistic therapy
- Mindfulness therapy
Therapy can be given by certified counselors who may have any, or a combination of, the below certifications:3
- Psychiatrists (MD or DO): Psychiatrists hold a medical degree from a medical school. They specialize in the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of emotional, mental, and behavioral disorders within the mental health field. Due to their medical training, psychiatrists are permitted to prescribe medication to their patients as well.
- Psychologists: There are subtle distinctions between these different titles, based on the focus and status of education.
- For example, psychologists with a PhD hold a doctorate in professional psychology whereas those with a PsyD hold a doctorate in clinical psychology.
- Psychologists with the postnominals of PhD, PsyD, or EdD hold a doctoral degree in a relevant field.
- Psychologists with the postnominals of MA, MS, LGPC, or LCPC have, or soon will have, a master’s degree.
- Psychologists with the postnominal LGPC are usually graduate students working under the supervision of a more advanced practitioner, like a psychologist with the postnominal LCPC.
- Social workers: Social workers with the titles MSW, LGSW, LCSW, LMSW, LCSW-C, LISW, or LSW hold a master’s degree in clinical work. Social workers have roles that are wider ranging than that of psychiatrists or psychologists. They also provide assistance to individuals seeking other human-based services, such as education and economic support.
- Therapists: Therapists who specialize in marriage or family counseling have the title of MA, MFT, LMFT, or LCMFT. They have a license indicating that they have passed a board-certified exam to practice marriage and family counseling.
- Pastoral counselors: Pastoral counselors may have the postnominals MA, CpastC, NCPC, or NCCA, and hold a master’s degree. Pastoral counselors emphasize the role of one’s belief systems during therapy sessions.
Certification requirements and licensing can vary from state to state within the United States, so you may observe subtle differences depending on where you are seeking care.
You may also see postnominals not mentioned in this list based on a therapist’s area of specialization. For example, those with CCPT have completed their Child Centered Play Therapy certification.
When to Seek Therapy
Making the decision to seek therapy can be deeply personal. There are some circumstances in which seeing a therapist would likely benefit the patient.
Continuous feelings of being overwhelmed, fatigued, enraged, socially withdrawn, anxious, or hopeless can be helped with therapeutic interventions.4
Symptoms such as inability to go to work or school, struggles in maintaining relationships, difficulties in caring for children, abusing substances, considering suicide, and increased health issues or feelings of physical unwellness, some of which may require hospitalization, are all red flags for a deeper seeded issue that needs to be addressed.4,5
Therapy Can Help Set You Up for Success in the Long Term
Sometimes we do something in the short term that helps us cope with something stressful that, used over the long-term, isn’t a good thing for us. It’s worth it to get help for unhealthy habits, whether physical, mental, or emotional.
Therapy can help you find better coping strategies that can become life-long solutions.4
Grieving Your Dog
Sometimes grieving a dog is complicated by feelings of shame about grieving itself. Some people feel like the loss of a pet does not warrant the kind of grief that is openly expressed with the loss of a human loved one. That can lead to a spiral of even worse feelings, and even prolong your feelings of loss.2
The cancer diagnosis or death of a beloved dog is traumatic. Most medical professionals will recommend therapy after a traumatic event has occurred.
The grief of such loss can penetrate all aspects of your daily life. A counselor can greatly assist in processing the event, honoring it, and moving forward.5
How to Find a Counselor or Therapist
Therapy is offered in a variety of settings through many mediums, including support groups, online therapy, in person one-on-one help, teletherapy, and mindfulness apps.2
You can find a counselor or therapist through:
- Websites like WebMD and APA.org. These list therapists in your area, their specialties, and if taking new patients.
- Word of mouth from family or friends.
- Larger clinics can give your recommendations based on your needs.6
Keep Insurance in Mind
Your options may be limited by your health insurance and financial situation.
Check with your primary care provider and insurance company to make sure there are no monetary surprises. These may only add to the stress you’re already experiencing.1
Some support groups may offer sessions for free.5
Hearing “No” from a Therapist
Asking for help in a meaningful, realistic, and specific manner with the intent of taking action within a certain period of time can greatly increase the chances of getting your needs met.7
Once you realize that you need a therapist, be sure to call or contact more than one and get to know them. Every therapist is not right for every patient: just like any other working relationship, feeling “right” about the fit is a good sign that it will be successful.
You might hear “no” when you ask a therapist for help, but that isn’t rejection, it’s simply information. Maybe the therapist is fully booked and can’t take any more patients. Maybe they’re about to go on vacation and don’t feel comfortable starting a series of sessions with a gap in between them. Maybe they feel that another therapist would be better suited for your particular situation.
If you ask them why they can’t help you, they will be able to provide you with an answer. They may also be able to give you referrals to colleagues they think would be a good fit and are taking new patients.
Trouble Asking for Help? Some Tips on How to Relax
Checking in on your own biases and assumptions surrounding asking for help can really help you contextualize your particular situation.8
You can do this by asking yourself the following questions:
- What are the thoughts related to self-criticism that arise when I think of asking for help?
- Am I concerned about how others will perceive me?
- Have I taken care of myself since my dog’s cancer diagnosis or death?
- Have I been self-sacrificing as a method of coping with the loss?
- Do I fear rejection? Why? Is that likely to happen here?
The loss of a pet is the loss of a loved one.2 Asking for help is a sign of self-awareness and strength, not weakness.9
- Olivine A. 8 Benefits of Therapy. Very Well Health. Published on March 24, 2022. https://www.verywellhealth.com/benefits-of-therapy-5219732. Accessed on January 28, 2023.
- Haragutchi H. Grieving the Loss of a Pet: 10 Ways to Cope. Choosing Therapy. Published on October 27, 2022. https://www.choosingtherapy.com/loss-of-a-pet/. Accessed on January 28, 2023.
- Haley E. Therapist Credentials: What do all those letters mean? What’s Your Grief? No publication date available. https://whatsyourgrief.com/therapist-credentials/. Accessed on January 28, 2023.
- Sack D. 5 Signs It’s Time to Seek Therapy. Psychology Today. Published on March 18, 2013. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/where-science-meets-the-steps/201303/5-signs-its-time-seek-therapy. Accessed on January 28, 2023.
- No author. Should You See a Pet Loss Counselor? Paws – Whiskers and Wags. Published on August 25, 2015. https://pawswhiskersandwags.com/do-you-need-to-see-a-pet-loss-counselor/. Accessed on January 28, 2023.
- Davis JL. How to Find a Therapist. WebMD. No publication date available. https://www.webmd.com/mental-health/features/how-to-find-therapist. Accessed on January 28, 2023.
- Shortsleeve C. Asking for Help Is So Damn Hard. Here’s How to Make It Easier. Self. Published on October 13, 2022. https://www.self.com/story/how-to-ask-for-help. Accessed on January 28, 2023.
- Sorensen D. How to ask for help. Psyche. No publication date available. https://psyche.co/guides/how-to-ask-for-help-without-discomfort-or-apology. Accessed on January 28, 2023.
- No author. Asking For Help Is A Sign of Strength And Self-Awareness. Career Intelligence. No publication date available. https://career-intelligence.com/asking-for-help-is-a-sign-of-strength-and-self-awareness/. Accessed on January 28, 2023.
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