T he ethics in a professional field of practice are what compel us, motivate us and guide us to offer and conduct our work for the clients we serve with the highest possible levels of integrity and professionalism. The Code of Ethics and Guiding Principles, the Four Elements of Effective Facilitation of Healing and a Client-Centered, Empathy-Based Approach to Helping described in the following pages are the foundation of the Animal Loss & Grief Counseling Training and Certification Program. Those certified in the program commit to adhere to these ethics and principles, to use them as a guide for their conduct as they support those who grieve the loss of their animal loved ones.
The Code of Ethics and Guiding Principles: (26 ethics are listed below with short descriptions. For full annotated list click here)
- Conduct with Clients (Ethics 1-17)
- Self-Awareness and Development (Ethics 18-22)
- Confidentiality, Privacy and Informed Consent (Ethics 23-24)
- Conduct with Others (Ethics 25-26)
Underlying Philosophy of Program:
- The Helping Practitioner’s Pyramid: Four Elements of Effective Facilitation of Healing
- Empathy Based, Client-Centered Counseling for Pet Loss
- Holds the welfare and the healing process of the grieving client as their abiding concern, taking precedence over favored healing techniques, tools, and theories. Above all, they strive to do no harm.
- Recognizes, accepts and acknowledges that grief is indifferent to the species lost, and is exceedingly careful to never condescend, belittle or trivialize, in any way, the death of an animal, the importance of the role an animal may have in a person’s life, or the person’s grief response.
- Recognizes and acknowledges that grief, including anticipatory grief, is both an emotional and spiritual experience, and, that both of these aspects need to be considered, understood and supported when helping those in grief.
- Recognizes that effective grief support is founded in compassion and love and that this cannot come from the ego or from the intellect, but from an open heart.
- Recognizes that the role of a grief support practitioner or any healer is a sacred trust, in which it is the critical responsibility of the practitioner to create a place of safety for the client.
- Expresses empathy throughout client contact, in an active attempt to understand the client’s feelings, thoughts, stories and experiences from the client’s frame of reference.
- Regarding end-of-life decisions: practitioner recognizes and acts on the serious responsibility to honor and uphold the right of clients to clarify and embrace their own opinions and beliefs, and to make their own decisions regarding end-of-life issues, unimpeded by a practitioner’s personal values.
- Scrupulously refrains from imposing personal values and beliefs.
- Scrupulously refrains from imposing solutions, strategies, tools or healing techniques.
- Recognizes that language has the power to support or offend. Refrains from citing platitudes or inserting one’s own personal beliefs about death and grief into conversations or written materials.
- Consistently sets and maintains energetic boundaries of clearing and protection as an essential aspect of client contact.
- Communicates non-judgment about clients’ emotional responses to their grief, their values about animals, their spiritual beliefs, and all things about their clients’ experiences, however similar to or different these may be from their own.
- Creates and communicates clear logistics policies and boundaries.
- Cognizant of scope of practice, and provides services only within the limits of one’s own competence and training.
- Serves in an advocacy role to help clients maintain or reclaim their own truth about their relationship with animals, their loss and their grief. The grief practitioner’s role is to empower the client to step back to explore, clarify and seek to be at peace with what is true for them—regardless of what any other expert, authority, teacher, clergy or helping professional, etc. may have declared to them as a universal truth.
- Handles termination of relationship with clients with professionalism and sensitivity. If practitioners determine that they are no longer able to capably serve a client, or for any reason are no longer available to work with a client, they provide appropriate referrals to ensure that the client has resources for continuing care.
- Romantic or sexual relationships with clients, students or their significant others are unethical, inappropriate and a violation of professional boundaries. Such relationships risk potential exploitation and emotional harm to the client or student, and would likely undermine and impair the objectivity, perspective or effectiveness of the grief support practitioner.
- Develops the emotional strength and maturity needed to be present with intense pain of others.
- Tends to the healing and integration of one’s own loss experiences and understands that it is vitally important to refrain from making generalizations to others about animal death, loss and grief created from one’s own personal experiences.
- Strives for intimate self-awareness. Continually explores, attempts to understand and heal own reactions to and experiences with death, loss, grief and to clarify one’s values and beliefs about life after death and how this impacts their work with clients.
- Commits to continual professional education, learning and growth.
- Seeks mentoring help from teachers or more senior colleagues as needed throughout their career.
- Respects privacy and confidentiality of client information.
- Solicits client permission and informed consent regarding modalities and techniques offered, and use of client contact information.
- Maintains a respectful, professional and considerate demeanor and behavior in relationships with clients, students, mentors, associates and peers in all professional encounters, including when a conflict or difference of opinion exists.
- Respects copyright law and proprietary nature of others’ work.
More about the Four Elements of Effective Facilitation of Healing
People often begin work in the healing arts and grief support work greatly motivated by love, compassion and a genuine desire to serve. While this is a profoundly important foundation, unfortunately many skip past the need for energetic boundaries, ethics and empathy to delivering specific healing tools and philosophies without checking in to learn the real needs of the client. In my teaching and private mentoring I have found that many people who come to this work are unaware of the value and role of energetic boundaries, the ethics that are central to the helping professions, and the fundamental, powerful role of empathy in helping relationships and the skills needed to express it effectively.
Let’s take a look at what can happen when we go immediately from loving compassion to offering our expert strategies and tools to clients without energetic boundaries and empathy:
Without awareness and scrupulous attention to energetic boundaries and ethics, we are at risk of:
- Projecting our own beliefs, ideas and values onto clients, even unconsciously, we become more of an evangelist imposing our views rather than being a skilled, effective helper empowering others to heal in ways that are best for them.
- Filtering our view of our clients’ situations, thoughts and feelings through the lens of our personal beliefs and paradigms, prevents us from seeing the clients’ perspective because we are only viewing/analyzing their situation from our perspective.
- Burning out can be a huge risk if we do not have adequate understanding of or don’t practice taking precautions regarding not taking in others‘ pain and energy, and not setting boundaries regarding how we work, when we work and with whom we work.
Without empathy, the strategies, tools and ideas we offer may be:
- Premature, if we haven’t taken the time to ask for and listen to our client’s story, thoughts and feelings before suggesting or implementing modalities and tools
- Irrelevant, if not a match to the client’s needs (which happens easily if we don’t listen first)
- Inappropriate, if not a match to the client’s needs, which we can’t know for sure until we’ve heard and understood their thoughts, feelings and stories.
- Unwanted, or a waste of the client’s time, if not matched to their needs which we cannot understand fully without first asking for and thoroughly listening to their stories, thoughts and feelings.
- Irritating, to any client who is aware that they have not been listened to and their needs not taken into account before we launch into what “we” know will help them. It can anger clients with adequate self-awareness and self-esteem to be offended.
Empathy is the bridge to offering strategies and ideas to clients. Without it, we are leaping blind—guessing or assuming what our clients need.
Making premature, irrelevant, inappropriate or unwanted suggestions, comments or offering of tools can retard the healing of vulnerable clients who may become dependent on our views as we impose on them the way we believe they must heal. This is not the job of a helper/healer. It is, rather, to empower clients to find and determine their own way with our support and other sources of support we may suggest. Offering strategy before empathy robs the client of the opportunity to explore for themselves what they may find is best for them.
Our expertise, in whatever helping fields we have been trained, can be priceless. But it can become worthless if our delivery lacks empathy, energetic boundaries and ethics. But when we combine all four elements—love & compassion, energetic boundaries & ethics, empathy and the tools in which we’ve been trained—the support we offer others is powerfully whole, relevant and highly empowering to the clients we want to help.
A Client-Centered, Empathy-Based Approach to Grief Counseling
The role of professional helpers using a client-centered approach—whatever the specialty, expertise or context of their work—involves a sacred trust in which the healer holds the space for clients to become empowered to find their way to greater peace and healing. The hallmark of client-centered counseling is that it is based first, foremost and always on the needs, concerns and values of the client, not the needs, concerns, values or techniques and tools of the helper. Though healing tools and techniques are certainly offered to clients when relevant, appropriate and desired by the client, they are not central to the client-centered approach. Perhaps the most important golden rule of client-centered counseling for pet loss or any other context is: Empathy before strategy.
The key competency required to use this method effectively is empathy. The expression of empathy is our communication with another person that we are attempting to understand their feelings, their perspectives, their experiences, their world view and their energy. Empathy is the language of compassion. When we feel compassion, it may be perceived by our clients. However, when we voice compassion with the skills of empathic communication, they know we are truly listening. Empathy opens the door for clients to feel acknowledged and understood. With expressed empathy, we create a safe place in which the client can explore their own feelings and insights and trust their own wisdom, decisions and choices. Sometimes, the skillful use of empathy in itself will bring a sense of resolution or relief to a client, without need for any additional tools or resources.
Dale Larsen, author of The Helper’s Journey, Working with People Facing Grief, Loss and Life-Threatening Illness, describes the role of empathy in counseling:
Empathy is at the heart of our helping work, for without the deep understanding it generates, we can’t know what people need or how to assist them. It involves seeing the problems of the other person from his or her perspective, feeling them with him or her, and then delicately checking out the accuracy of your sensings by describing them to the other person. Empathy is the genuine desire to know the inner experience of the other.
In the 1950’s the late Dr. Carl Rogers created a revolution in the field of psychology in developing the client-centered approach to counseling and psychotherapy which contrasted sharply with predominant counseling theories of the time. The Freudian psychoanalytic view asserted that people are basically neurotic with little chance for fundamental change (unless they worked with a psychoanalyst multiple times a week for many years), and that the therapist’s role is to project their expert analysis onto the client to help them adjust to their environment and society’s expectations. The B. F. Skinner’s view asserted that emotions are irrelevant to growth, that we are products of the environment only, and that behavior modification is the only key element to inducing significant change. Empathy is the “sacred trust”
because it empowers us
to leave people
better than we found them.
~ Robert Carkhuff, Bernard Berenson, Jeannette Tamagini, The Heart of Empathy
Empathy is the “sacred trust”
What Rogers believed, researched, practiced and taught for several decades is that the potential for humans to grow, not merely adjust to cultural expectations, is limitless and that the answers for what is needed for healing are inside of every individual. He asserted that the relationship between the helper and client can in itself facilitate significant growth and healing for client when it includes certain qualities on the part of the helper—qualities that allow clients to feel safe to completely be themselves and open to their own inner wisdom.
The qualities he spoke about were later found, through repeated research studies (Carkhuff and Berensen 1967), to be core facilitative characteristics which impact growth and change for clients more than other therapeutic approaches or techniques:
- Unconditional Positive Regard: Acceptance of clients exactly where and how they are, without judgment
- Empathy: Active attempts to understand the clients’ world from their frame of reference
- Authenticity: Remaining humble and genuine as a fellow being with clients, without creating any hierarchy or barriers based on roles, titles, position, degrees, expertise, cultural and gender differences, etc.
Why I use it
As a young undergraduate and graduate student of counseling in the 1970’s I felt like I had “come home” when I was introduced to client-centered counseling. I resonated deeply with the belief that effective helping is not about projecting our beliefs onto others about where they’ve gone wrong and what they should do about it, but rather to help them discover, uncover and understand for themselves what is not in balance, what may be the deepest core issues underneath what hurts or is not working, and to support them in finding their way through the healing process. Client-centered, empathy-based counseling allows others to open to significant self-acceptance, learning and deepened self-awareness, without being pushed, pulled or imposed upon. It is tremendously empowering.
Since 1976, the energy of the client-centered approach has driven and guided my work through several careers: counseling delinquent adolescents and managing a group home; teaching counseling skills for a national training institute in the juvenile justice system, coaching managers and executives as an organization development manager for RCA, serving as a hospice grief counselor, a pet loss counselor and support group facilitator, and as an animal communication consultant. The context of my roles has changed over time, but my passion for using a client-centered approach has never wavered. Why? Because I’ve seen it work, no matter what the context and no matter who the clients have been. I have seen this approach work quiet little miracles of helping both animals and humans open to love from others and for oneself, open to trust, melt down barriers, release held-in pain, heal from trauma, feel release from a sense of isolation, deepen intimacy in relationships, ease reconciliation of differences, and aid collaboration and problem solving.
The client-centered, empathy-based approach helps us effectively communicate the deep compassion and love we as healers so very much want to convey to our clients, and want them to feel for themselves. Furthermore, when we have specific healing modalities to share, doing so in a client-centered, empathy-based manner opens the client to receiving and using what we offer far more effectively than when we simply assume we know what they need and impose our tools. A primary golden rule of client-centered counseling is: Do not impose.
Practitioners who use client-centered counseling for pet loss (or any helping context):
- Are empathic—seeking always to understand the inner experiences of clients from the clients’ frame of reference—without needing to fit or force the clients’ experiences into the practitioner’s worldview.
- Approach their work with humility, with no need to continually boast to their clients, peers or the public about their abilities, titles, successes or status in their field to feel confident, competent or worthy. Their work speaks for itself.
- Focus on the goals and needs of the client throughout the consultation, helping the client re-clarify whenever necessary, offering healing tools, suggestions, and other information only when relevant to the goals and needs of the client.
- Listen for and gently probe for the unique story, feelings, and underlying causes of issues from each individual client in each interaction or consultation. A client-centered practitioner never assumes the root cause or solution of one client’s issue will be the root cause or solution for another client’s situation. They treat each client and consultation as unique, setting aside all preconceived ideas (including those about species or breed about animals) or past experiences with the issue at hand.
- Offer healing modalities with great discernment of relevance to the clients and situation involved. Client-centered, empathy-based practitioners do not apply healing modalities indiscriminately, however comfortable and skilled they may be with a particular method, or however successful the modalities may have been with other clients. They do not assume that what worked for some will work for all. Whatever healing modalities they have to offer, they are given only with the permission of the client, and must fit the needs and goals of the client.
- Always, always make suggestions versus imposing any solutions, ideas, beliefs, ideas, philosophies, or referrals. The client-centered practitioner respects the wisdom of the client and the right of clients to make decisions of their own.
- Do not foster dependency; rather continually look for ways to empower clients to become more informed, educated, linked to resources, and empowered to help themselves.
- Know that all effective and ethical healing is grounded in compassion and empathy, and, that empathic skills to effectively communicate these qualities must be developed and strategically applied to allow that compassion and empathy to effectively assist the facilitation of healing for another being.
- Meet and accept clients where they are—emotionally, behaviorally, spiritually, and with their values and beliefs—not where we want them to be, think they should be, or where we are.
- Understand that the role of healer is a sacred trust in which the healer holds the space for another to become empowered to find their own way to greater healing and peace. The degree to which we may “hold another’s hand” as they find their way varies with the maturity level and needs of that person or animal. Sometimes, in a crisis we may even need to “carry” a client for a temporary time. But this is always done with the intent of helping them get back on their feet to find their own way. A healer’s role is to shed light on another’s path, not to push them onto the path we think they should take, or to even gently tell them which path to take. Our job is to merely shed light, with compassion, love and skill, so they can find their own way.
- Learn to be comfortable in the face of others’ pain, and do not attempt to “hurry up” a client toward solutions or resolution so they can feel comfortable, competent, or have a sense of completion for having “fixed the problem.” Client-centered, empathy-based practitioners learn to be present with pain and understand that healing takes time. They also help their clients learn to be comfortable with their pain, guiding them to discover root causes and long term healing possibilities, rather than offering only quick fixes to alleviate the pain of symptoms as answers, solutions and healing unfolds.
- Understand the critical importance of keeping their personal opinions, values and their spiritual beliefs to themselves during consultations, to prevent inappropriately or unduly influencing clients to make decisions based on the practitioner’s values and beliefs. Rather, they assist clients in clarifying their own beliefs and coming to their own conclusions about what is best for them (and/or their animals when this is relevant). This is especially important when clients are in crisis and much more vulnerable to being influenced by others such as a healer, therapist, support group facilitator, animal communicator, veterinary professional, etc. whom they trust and may see as a person of expertise or authority.
How is a client-centered, empathy-based approach different from other approaches?
Whereas the client-centered approach focuses on the beliefs, needs, interests, and unique situation of the client, the practitioner-centered and technique-centered approaches are projections from the beliefs, needs, interests, personality and ego of the practitioners. Sadly, I’ve heard many stories regarding the latter approach which stopped clients’ healing journeys in their tracks.
|Practitioner-Centered, Technique-Centered and Projection-Based
|Focus is on clients and clients’ stories, feelings, thoughts and needs
|Focus is on practitioner’s technique and what the practitioner thinks is best
|Helps client clarify their feelings, thoughts and their
understanding of the issues
|Tell clients their analysis of the clients’ issues
|Meets clients where they are
|Meets clients through the lens of their own values, theories and paradigms, not the clients’
|Help clients explore possible solutions
|Tells clients what is best; imposes solutions
|With empathy, actively attempts to understand
|Makes assumptions about clients through the lens of their
Comfortable being a “guide on the side”
|Need to be seen as an authority, an expert
Need to “be right” and “sage on the stage”
|Comfortable with ambiguity, knowing that root causes can take time to identify and address, and that healing can take time, and sometimes varied healing tools
|Need to fix things, sometimes quickly;
sometimes miss the root causes; may have unrealistic expectation that favorite tool(s) will work for everyone
When supporting clients who are grieving, client-centered, empathy-based practitioners listen first, using empathic inquiry to help the person explore their own inner world. While always communicating compassion, they hold back any impulse to immediately “fix” or minimize the person’s grief. One of the most powerful things we can do when helping those in pain or crisis is to help them trust their own feelings, intuition, judgments and wisdom. One of the most egregious things we can do is tell them how they should feel or not feel or impose our own beliefs and values onto them. Client-centered, empathy-based grief support is not about being a dispenser of wisdom or techniques. It is about supporting others to find access to and trusting their own wisdom even as we may offer healing tools or techniques. It is also about lovingly and non judgmentally helping grievers explore and clarify their feelings and possible solutions to dilemmas, not telling them the best or right thing to believe or do. It is always more empowering for a client to find their own way with non imposing, non judgmental suggestions than it is to be told “how it is” or “what to do.”
In empirical research, empathy is consistently identified as the most important element of successful helping relationships.
~Dale G. Larson, The Helper’s Journey – Working with People Facing Grief, Loss and Life-Threatening Illness
In grief support and in any healing work, the welfare and the healing of the client is the abiding concern of the client-centered, empathy-based practitioner—not their favorite healing tool or desire to influence clients to believe as they believe. They don’t overlay favorite theories with all clients as if they are one size fits all.
In the client-centered approach, above all, we honor clients where they are. We empathically inquire—we listen to learn the feelings, stories, thoughts, experiences and energy of those we are attempting to help. We empathically respond so our clients know we are attempting to know their world and the present state of their hearts, moment to moment. And as we help clients move from initial self-exploration, to deeper self-understanding, to any needed action or change, we continue to honor them every step of the way with compassion, love, empathy and integrity.
To learn much more about empathy-based, client-centered counseling for pet loss, you may be interested in taking the Essential Counseling Skills teleclass, available on-demand:
For more information: Carl Rogers, On Becoming a Person, A Therapists’ View of Psychotherapy Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company 1961 and other books by the author.