Animal pain is communication, not just feeling + Therapists breaking confidentiality

Animal pain is about communication, not just feeling

EXCERPT: . . . Why does pain exist? It’s ubiquitous in human life, yet its biological function is more curious. Pain is different from pure nociception, the process of being able to detect and move away from a toxic stimulus. But pain doesn’t simply register in our awareness as a marker or sign of things we should avoid out in the world. It is an experience in itself, something that we subjectively feel.

Our internal feelings of pain exist as part of an external social world through expression. We readily accept our human ability to communicate our feelings non-verbally and we know there are useful outcomes, like comfort, in doing so. But when it comes to the way non-human animals suffer, scientists have been surprisingly reluctant to consider that it’s anything more than a mere byproduct of being hurt. To look at the purpose of pain as a kind of signalling between animals raises the spectre of anthropomorphisation.

Yet there’s plenty of evidence that the non-human urge to display pain has profound and intrinsic communicative value. [...] Not that broadcasting pain always elicits a caring response. [...] That’s the drawback to showing you’re hurting: the signs that attract friends can also draw foes. More subtle expressions of pain, like facial expressions, could be a way around this conundrum. Grimacing gets the message across to those close by, without being immediately obvious to a predator lurking in the bushes. Indeed, many of the animals that show pain on their face, like rabbits, mice or sheep, are vulnerable prey animals.

But why do animals pay attention to others in pain? The simplest reason is that the behaviour is so abnormal that it commands a reaction [...] The other, more plausible explanation is that there’s some utility in paying attention to another’s pain [...] paying attention to the social environment lets them gather information about immediate, past and future scenarios....


When should a therapist decide to break confidentiality?

EXCERPT: . . . These are the disclosures that need professional empathy and clinical decision-making, requiring that the therapist act as inside participant and outside observer at once. When this kind of rage unfurls, a therapist must decide whether or not to escalate care by getting others, such as family in good standing or law enforcement, involved. [...] At best, a therapist giving an overly cautious notification ruins the therapeutic relationship and creates a situation where someone who might be a high risk is now averse to therapy or giving their own healing a true chance. At worst, a therapist gives information to potential targets, and the act still takes place without interception.

Despite empathy for the patient, a therapist has a moral obligation to break confidentiality if they assess real risk and, in some jurisdictions, a legal obligation to contact law enforcement. [...] No matter the jurisdiction, the therapist is in a double-bind. On the one hand, she is creating an environment for the patient to vent. On the other hand, she is not completely sure that the patient won’t act on those feelings and thoughts. Studies validate this point of view. [...] In short, it is impossible for any person, even a skilled therapist, to predict violent behaviour with complete accuracy. No matter how trained the psychology professional or how advanced the testing instrument, research shows an inability to predict the future acts of another...


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