Self Psychology and the Human–Animal Bond: An Overview

  • Sue-Ellen BrownEmail author


The purpose of this chapter is to explore the psychological nature of the human–animal bond, using a theory called self psychology. In self psychology, animals who serve an essential function in maintaining a person’s cohesion and psychological well-being are said to be serving a selfobject function. Companion animals can provide any of the three selfobject functions—mirroring, idealizing, and twinship. This chapter gives examples of these three types of selfobject functions and explores special qualities of animals that may enable them to fulfill these crucial functions for people. The chapter’s selfobject questionnaire is designed to help reveal what type(s) of selfobject relationship(s) each animal provides. The difference between a mature and an archaic selfobject relationship is also explored with the example of the animal hoarder.


Companion Animal Psychology Concept Animal Abuse Pathological Narcissism Selfobject Experience 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


  1. Alper, L. S. (1993). The child-pet bond. In A. Goldberg (Ed.), The widening scope of self psychology: Progress in self psychology (Vol. 9, pp. 257–270). Hillsdale, NJ: The Analytic Press.Google Scholar
  2. Arluke, A., & Killeen, C. (2009). Inside animal hoarding: The case of Barbara Erickson and her 552 dogs. West Lafayette, IN: Purdue University Press.Google Scholar
  3. Banai, E., Mikulincer, M., & Shaver, P. (2005). Self-object needs in Kohut’s self psychology: Links with attachment, self-cohesion, affect regulation and adjustment. Psychoanalytic Psychology, 22(2), 224–260.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Brown, S. E. (2007). Companion animals as self-objects. Anthrozoos, 20(4), 329–343.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Brown, S. E. (2011). Theoretical concepts from self psychology applied to animal hoarding. Society & Animals, 19(2), 175–193.Google Scholar
  6. Hagman, G. (1997). Mature self-object experience. In A. Goldberg (Ed.), Progress in self psychology (Vol. 13, pp. 85–107). Hillsdale, NJ: The Analytic Press.Google Scholar
  7. Hart, L. A. (2000). Psychosocial benefits of animal companionship. In A. H. Aubrey Fine (Ed.), Handbook on animal assisted therapy: Theoretical foundations and guidelines for practice (pp. 39–78). New York: Academic Press.Google Scholar
  8. Hartmann, M., & Walter, H. (2009). Konnen (Heim) Tiere die Funktion eines Selbstobjekts ubernehmen? Self psychology: European journal for psychoanalytical therapy and research, 38, 365–388.Google Scholar
  9. Hoarding of Animals Research Consortium (2002). Health implications of animal hoarding. Health & Social Work, 27(2), 125–136.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Kohut, H. (1971). The analysis of the self: A systematic approach to the psychoanalytic treatment of narcissistic personality disorders. New York: International Universities Press.Google Scholar
  11. Kohut, H. (1984). How does analysis cure? Chicago: University of Chicago Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Patronek, G. I. (1999). Hoarding of animals: An under-recognized public health problem in a difficult-to-study population. Public Health Reports, 114, 81–87.PubMedCentralPubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Patronek, G. J., Loar, L., & Nathanson, J. N. (2006). Animal hoarding: Strategies for interdisciplinary interventions to help people, animals, and communities at risk. Boston: Hoarding of Animals Research Consortium. Available at: Accessed Sept 16, 2009.
  14. Patronek, G. I., & Nathanson, J. N. (2009). A theoretical perspective to inform assessment and treatment strategies for animal hoarders. Clinical Psychology Review, 29, 274–281.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Schore, A. N. (2003). Advances in neuropsychoanalysis, attachment theory, and trauma research: Implications for self psychology. In A. N. Schore (Ed.), Affect regulation and the repair of the self (pp. 108–148). New York: W. W. Norton & Company.Google Scholar
  16. Silverstein, M. L. (1999). Self psychology and diagnostic assessment: Identifying self-object functions through psychological testing. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Publishers.Google Scholar
  17. Tonnesvang, J. (2002). Self-object and self-subject relationships. In A. Goldberg (Ed.), Postmodern self psychology: Progress in self psychology (Vol. 18, pp. 149–166). Hillsdale, NJ: The Analytic Press.Google Scholar
  18. Wolf, E. S. (1988). Treating the self: Elements of clinical self psychology. New York: The Guilford Press.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Paoletta Counseling Services Inc.MercerUSA

Personalised recommendations