Date of Award

2011

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

School

School of Education

Program

Counseling Psychology, Ph.D.

First Advisor

Dennis Waite

Second Advisor

Nancy J. Carbonell

Third Advisor

Shirley Freed

Abstract

Problem. For many in contemporary culture, the pursuit of possession has become an attempt to achieve happiness. However, this path may not always be congruent with psychological well-being. In addition, this path may lead us further away from relationships within the natural world. Humanistic and existential psychologists have suggested that a mindful connection to ourselves, to other-than-human beings, and to the natural world would enable more meaningful lives. If dogs are considered an extension of nature and those interactions between dog and owner that promote mindfulness are examined, there is the potential to obtain a better understanding of how individuals are affected by these interactions in terms of self-growth. Specifically, how do these interactions influence relationships with themselves and others?

Purpose. The purpose of the study was to describe the experiences of three individuals who have worked with their dogs in a mindful manner and to understand how these experiences influenced their relationships with themselves, others, and the natural world and to determine the benefits of these experiences on self-growth and increased happiness from an existential perspective.

Methodology. A qualitative single-case study was chosen for this research. I chose to examine three individuals' experiences of mindful interactions with their dogs. Participants were selected based on recommendation from Patricia McConnell, Ph.D., who has worked with these individuals and their dogs, promoting a mindful interaction and who observed general benefits to psychological well-being in these three individuals. The data for the study consisted of open-ended interviews and field texts of observations and researcher notes.

Results and Conclusions. Six major themes emerged from the data: Context; Intervening Conditions; Interventions; Differences in Relationships With Others; Changes in Self-Awareness; and Spiritual Growth. Working with an interim text of fictional journals as alternative data representation verified the emerged themes. A cross-case analysis was performed within athree-dimensional space inquiry to deepen the understanding of experience and qualify self-growth for the individuals who participated.

These interactions and processes of working with dogs in a natural way appeared to promote mindfulness, heightened awareness, and reportedly improved relationships to other-than-human beings. A process emerged that started with a shift of focus from dog interventions to theindividuals' actions and awareness of self. Once there was increased self-awareness, theindividual had the opportunity to practice with their dog and make improvements within that relationship. The heightened self-awareness from the relationship with the dog appeared to transfer to other human relationships. As the individual experienced greater satisfaction within themselves and connecting to others, a deeper sense of connection and meaning reportedly developed for that individual. This study supports the opinion that therapeutic benefit can be obtained through reestablishing a sense of self as part-of-nature utilizing the dog as an extension of nature. The results of this study have the potential to significantly assist humanistic and existential psychotherapists as well as counselors and other clinicians by providing their clients a direct and practical means of developing new life meanings, to address the problems of life and confront existential issues, all with the accessible modality of the family dog.

Subject Area

Dog adoption, Dogs--Therapeutic use, Pets--Therapeutic use, Human-animal relationships

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