Photographing the therapeutic relationship between women experiencing chronic pain and their canine companions
Past research has found that exposure to structured animal-assisted interventions can be beneficial for people experiencing acute or chronic pain; however, limited research has been conducted on long-term exposure to canine companions that are not trained as assistance animals. The aim of this thesis was to explore the therapeutic relationship between people experiencing chronic pain and their canine companions. Four women experiencing chronic pain completed a photographing period where they took photographs that captured how their canine companions were therapeutic for their pain. The women discussed these therapeutic relationships in a follow-up interview where their photographs aided in sharing their experiences. Five themes were formulated using inductive thematic analysis of the interview data and photographs. The first theme – dogs are family – provides an insight into the love participants have for their canine companions and how they are viewed as members of the family rather than as pets. The second theme – dogs as companions – describes how the relationship with canine companions reduced feelings of loneliness experienced by the participants. The third theme – canine companion awareness of changes in chronic pain – outlines the awareness the canine companions have of the chronic pain the participants experience and how the canine companions provide support and comfort when participants are experiencing increased levels of pain. The ability for the participants to cope with their chronic pain in both the presence and absence of their canine companions is discussed in theme four, facilitation of coping strategies in the physical presence of the canine companions. The fifth theme – canine companions as inspiration to live in the moment – describes how the therapeutic relationship with their canine companions helps the participants make the most of their good days. The themes in this thesis provide in-depth explanations into how the therapeutic relationship with canine companions helps the overall physical and psychological health of the women. For the women who participated in this research, their canine companions provide distractions from chronic pain; decrease loneliness by increasing social interactions; and, create comforting spaces by providing non-judgemental emotional support and unconditional love. This thesis also provides an insight into how chronic pain can potentially positively impact the canine companions themselves, with the women ensuring that the basic needs of their canine companions (such as being fed and getting exercise) are met regardless of if they are experiencing pain; these behaviours also helped with pain relief and management for the women. While further research looking at the therapeutic relationship between people experiencing chronic pain and their canine companions is needed, the findings of this thesis provide a positive starting point into how this long-term family relationship can holistically help people experiencing chronic pain.
Advisor: Treharne, Gareth; Smith, Catherine
Degree Name: Master of Science
Degree Discipline: Department of Psychology
Publisher: University of Otago
Keywords: New Zealand; dogs; canine companions; therapeutic relationship; human-animal interactions; human-animal relationship; photo-elicitation; photo elicitation; pain; chronic pain; animal-assisted interventions
Research Type: Thesis