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be a dramatic example of an animal choosing to endure severe physical pain in order to relieve emotional
pain. In an experiment pitting an emotional pain (social separation) against a physical discomfort (hunger) in pair-housed tufted capuchin monkeys (Cebus apella), researchers directly compared the commodity of social companionship to the commodity of food, a known physiological necessity, in a series of preference
tests following commodity deprivations. The majority of subjects chose their social companion over food even after lengthy periods (22 hr) of food deprivation, suggesting that social deprivation was more aversive than food deprivation to most of the monkeys.
Additional insights into the comparison of emotional and physical pain may be found in studies of human torture survivors. Studies of such victims have found, first, that that experiences of psychological and physical torture both have the same detrimental effects on the survivor’s mental health. Second, findings have made it clear that the main objective of torture is not to inflict physical wounds or injuries; on the contrary, the objective is to leave psychological wounds. Indeed, even the real purpose of physical torture, which does bear physical scars, is to have a major impact on the long-term psyche of an individual.
TREATMENT OF EMOTIONAL PAIN
Once emotional pain is experienced, treatment principles also parallel approaches to managing physical pain. The objective is to eliminate the unpleasant feeling. Like treatment of physical pain, the first step in management should be recognizing and removing the source. Removing an animal from the fearful environment, lessening disturbing noises and stimuli, and providing hiding places can lessen the intensity of fear and
anxiety. Offering mental stimulation (e.g. walks, chase games, interactive toys, chew toys, food-packed toys, videos, interactive play, novel objects to explore) and social companionship (e.g. increased human attention, accompanying owner to work, dogwalkers, doggie day care) eliminate the causes for boredom and loneliness, respectively.
A pain management technique much more useful
for alleviating emotional pain than physical pain is counterconditioning. A goal of counterconditioning—a type of classical conditioning—is to change the
animal’s emotional response to a particular stimulus. Counterconditioning attempts to replace negative
or unpleasant emotional responses to a stimulus
with more pleasant responses. Specific examples of situations which have been suggested to benefit from counterconditioning include helping an animal overcome its anxiety associated with a new baby or pet in a household by associating the baby or new animal with pleasant feelings, changing an animal’s perception of
a stimulus such as a cat carrier or children from that of
fear to that of desire; and eliminating an animal’s fear aggression by getting it to associate the object of fear with pleasant rather than unpleasant feelings.
Desensitization – which involves exposing an animal to an emotion-evoking stimulus – is a prominent technique in the relief of the emotional pain of separation anxiety and fears and phobias and is often used in conjunction with counterconditioning. It is advisable to consult with a certified animal behaviorist for proper implementation of desensitization techniques.
Emotional pain, like physical pain, can be alleviated centrally by nonpharmacologic and pharmacologic techniques. Nonpharmacologic methods involve gentle and soothing human contact, such as stroking, petting, and talking to the animal, which can attenuate feelings
of anxiety and fear, loneliness, separation anxiety, and boredom. The distress of social isolation and separation when animals are housed apart from familiar and bonded companions (such as dogs hospitalized or kenneled) can be ameliorated by keeping familiar objects (e.g. toys, blankets, owner’s clothing) with the animal, having the owner visit, and housing housemate pets together. Some behaviorists have suggested that other measures may help lessen the feelings of separation anxiety at home, such as pet sitters, outdoor pens, radios, stimulating and distracting toys (e.g. rubber toys stuffed with foodstuffs such as peanut butter and cream cheese, and toys that dispense kibble-type food treats when played with),
and, for some animals, the addition of another pet. Aromatherapy—lavender essence, chamomile, and the pheromones Adaptil® in dogs and Feliway® in cats—
has also shown antianxiety effects. Other occasionally successful anti-anxiety methods in dogs include classical music and anxiety-wraps.Pharmacologic methods are frequently used to eliminate or lessen the intensity
of unpleasant feelings of emotional pain. Anxiolytic
and antidepressant medications are the mainstay of treatment for this purpose. Pharmacotherapy can be viewed as having two objectives: (1) relieve emotional discomfort (continuous long-term, or short-term to facilitate response to behavior therapy) and (2) change undesired behavior.References available from author on request
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