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  • Stephan van Heerden

Understand what impact a pet's death can have on a child's mental health

After an experience of loss, some children sometimes remains an unhappy soul. Unfortunately, a parent or other adult cannot make a child's choice to live again and be happy, because such a choice must sometimes be made in a place deep in the child's soul. This place is not always accessible to the words of others and to their empathy. The death of a child's pet is sometimes underestimated and mistakenly viewed as only a light exercise in loss management. However, the death of a pet can have a long-lasting impact on children's development and mental health. To

, it is necessary to discover how the child's awareness, integration and contact ability is affected by the loss. The injury caused by the loss does not necessarily lie in the "heart" and cannot be sorted out simply by empathizing with the child's broken heart. Even if the wound is discovered exactly where it lies in the child's soul, the child is sometimes not open to a parent, counsellor or other person to take care of the wound. An "intermediary" in the child's own personality, which must be found in the child's subconscious, is sometimes the only way to access the wound that needs healing. The therapist utilizes the intermediary to convey empathy to the wound, provide advice, or whatever remedy is needed.

In the case of twelve-year-old Estian, the intermediary was an Easter bunny, a brown chocolate Easter bunny with an ivory white stomach. The Bunny became part of Estian's personality when he was eight years old. That day, Estian's dad surprised him with a real Easter egg treasure hunt. For Estian, the bunny symbolized fun, being happy, and feeling very special. During Estian's therapy, the bunny was used to reach out to the facets of his personality that were mourning his deceased pets: The Bunny had to tell Diesel, the dog with the black patch around his left eye and a pink nose : "You will always be my first friend." He had to convey to Toffy, the Husky, the message: "Do not stare at the starry sky with such longing, go and play with the other dogs and be happy." To Lion the ginger cat, the Bunny had to say, "You will remain my lion forever." And for the young boy trapped in the cave of sadness, the Bunny also had a message: "Life is too short to be stuck in sadness." Estian also had something on his mind for Bunny: "Thank you for showing me there is strength in memories. Thank you for leaving me chocolates in my garden. You rescued me from the cave of sadness. I will not stay in my cave and will always return to you."

Gestalt Dino therapy examines the mask, which the client uses for protection, what the mask looks like, how it originated and how it is maintained. The child becomes aware of the mask, and ready to get rid of it. In his Dinosaur projection, it can be seen how mourning over the death of his pets impacts Estian's awareness and integration. Estian's identity and self-worth (represented by the dinosaur's heart and lungs) has shifted from chest to neck. The chest has lost the ability to house the heart and lungs as it has become a hard muscle so it can serve as a pedestal to support the heavy neck. The neck of the Dinosaur represents Estian's dreams and interest in the future, namely his desire to one day become a veterinarian and to meet his deceased pets again in heaven. Unfortunately, it became an obsession for Estian and he built his identity completely on it and all his energy, including the energy that had to be used for self assertiveness, was invested in his longing for his pets. The latter is represented by the dinosaur's hind leg and thigh, which has moved to its chest. The dinosaur's rectum was clogged, which was linked to Estian's emotional constipation. The Dinosaur's tail has lost its ability to support its graceful movement and balance and is caught up in a dangerous evolution - it's turning into a gut. An intestine that attempts to digest unprocessed experiences, but unfortunately robs the Dinosaur, and for Estian, of happiness and well-being, because he is dragging it behind him, causing even more damage and frustration.

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