Studying the history of psychoanalysis, I came across an interesting fact regarding Sigmund Freud. Freud was very fond of a Chow dog he eloquently named “Jofi.” Jofi had a calming effect both on Freud and his patients. During therapy sessions, Jofi would often lie on the floor and consult with Freud regarding the anxiety level of his patients (Beck, 2012). If patients were calm, the dog would sit close to the patient, but she would move to the other side of the room if the patient were anxious. Jofi could also perfectly time the end of therapy sessions and would go to the door at approximately 50 after the hour (Beck, 2012). Freud loved his beloved dog, Jofi, and was distraught at her passing. Pets can become endearing members of our families. They hold an extraordinary place in our lives and our memories. Psychologists have explored the remarkable relationship between dogs and humans. These findings are especially significant in psychoanalytic studies.
According to Bennett Roth (2005), dogs, through projection, can represent warded-off aspects of unconsciousness, such as hostility, aggression, and sexuality. Other psychologists like Bettelheim (1977) note that children identify with animals to work out psychological conflicts related to maturation. Dogs may also serve as objects of identification, projection, and displacement in a client’s psychoanalytic treatment (Ponder, 2019, p. 29).
Ponder’s article provided a case vignette of a 43-year-old female client, with a history of anorexia and a controlling mother, who grew to identify with a dog she rescued at a local shelter. Her dog would eventually become emaciated and incontinent several years later (Ponder, 2019). After many sessions discussing the futility of the dog’s recovery the clinician informed the client that she should put the dog down whereby the client states, “I sure hope people don’t feel like that about me because I’m incontinent too” (Ponder, 2019, p. 33). As a result of countertransference, the client came to a therapy session a month later in urine soaked shorts as an act of hostility towards the clinician. The client was eventually able to regain control of her own life with the addition of two more animals and additional therapy, but the powerful psychoanalytic themes of projection, transference, and countertransference should be noted.
I can personally attest to the importance and bond I feel with our family dog named Cameron or “Cam” as we call him. He is a ball of pure energy and joy. He is the only one in the family, beside me, that appreciates foreign detective shows in subtitles on Netflix. Cam’s bark is my family’s wake-up call in the morning and warning call of possible intruders at night. He will bark excessively when my children are being loud or doing something they are not supposed to. Cam never abandons me when I work late at night or get up early in the morning. His presence is both gentle and soothing, much like Freud’s Jofi. All of this is remarkable considering Cam weighs 6 lbs. and has four legs. You can imagine my sadness when I came home for the weekend to find Cam laying in his bed with reduced respiration and lethargy. It appeared he was dying, and the onset was both sudden and scary. Bowlby teaches us that love and attachment cannot exist without loss. Fortunately for us, Cam required two veterinarian visits and some medication before he was able to recover. The result for my family was relief and gratitude for the restoration of his health.
Psychology teaches us a vital link that exists between pets and humans. The psychoanalytic literature suggests that the human psyche can manifest relationship qualities onto their pets including pathology and displacement. Whether it’s fair for humans to anthropomorphize their dogs is up for debate. However, much like Freud’s beloved Jofi, animals should hold a special place in the heart of peoplekind.
Beck, M. (2012). Beside Freud’s Couch, a Chow Named Jofi. Retrieved from https://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424052748703886904576031630124087362
Ponder, J. (2019). Patients’ use of dogs as objects of identification, projection, and displacement. Psychoanalytic Psychology, 36, 29-35. https://doi.org/doi.org/10.1037/pap0000164
Roth, B. (2005). Pets and psychoanalysis: A clinical contribution. . Psychoanalytic Review, 92, 453-468. https://doi.org/dx.doi.org/10.1521/prev.92.3.453 .66541
Chris Morrison, M.A.
WKPIC Doctoral Intern
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