Date of Award

Spring 5-15-2018

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Social Work (DSW)

First Advisor

Ram A. Cnaan

Second Advisor

Linda A. Hawkins

Abstract

The Clinical Significance of Companion Animals for LGBT+ Youth:

Unconditional Love in a Straight Society

Abstract

Background: Research continues on LGBT+ youth, social isolation, and mental health. Prior studies have shown the linkage between lack of social support and unhealthy outcomes including depression, substance use, and suicidal ideation. In place of or in addition to human support, companion animal relationships for this marginalized population have not been studied through previous work. This qualitative study explored the experiences of LGBT+ youth who have used companion animals for social and emotional support as a twinship selfobject or attachment object using Self Psychology and Attachment Theory as a clinical lens.

Methods: Ten self-identified LGBT+ youth aged eighteen to twenty-five were interviewed privately at two sites in the spring of 2017.

Results: Participants were sought through convenience and snowball sampling. Key interview findings included 1) social marginalization based on sexual orientation and gender identity with heterosexism are a pervasive part of society 2) the unconditional love and acceptance from companion animals exists through both verbal and physical communication 3) personal, academic, and professional growth for participants is attributed to pet ownership during their time of sexual development.

Discussion: Findings showed that companion animals fulfilled multiple purposes for the participants in this study during their adolescence. This connection merits further quantitative and qualitative research into the clinical significance of companion animals for this population.

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