Individual Psychology

Barker, S. B., Barker, R. T., Dawson, K. S., & Knisely, J. S. (1997). The use of the family life space diagram in establishing interconnectedness: A preliminary study of sexual abuse survivors, their significant others, and pets. Individual Psychology, 53(4), 435-450.

OBJECTIVE: This retrospective study investigated the pet’s place among the significant human relationships in the sexually abused child’s home environment using the Family Life Space Diagram (FLSD), a projective technique using symbols to represent living entities within a defined life space. Specifically, the study examined if survivors include their abusers when completing the diagram, if the physical distance on the diagram represented underlying supportiveness-abusiveness of relationships, and if spatial patterns emerged on the completed diagrams. METHODS: Study subjects were 40 self identified survivors of childhood sexual abuse currently in psychotherapy with four therapists in outpatient settings. Therapists were trained in administering the FLSD and administered the diagram to their clients following written instructions. A mixed-models repeated-measures analysis of variance was used to determine if the mean distance between symbols drawn varied by species (human and pet) and to determine if the mean abusiveness-supportiveness rating differed for humans versus pets. Visual analysis of diagrams was used to identify patterns in symbol placement. RESULTS: Ninety-five percent of survivors included abusers on their diagrams and 85% reported they included all abusers on their diagrams. A statistically significant difference (p=.0001) in abusiveness-supportiveness ratings was found between pets and humans, with pets being rated more supportive/less abusive than humans. A significant difference (p=.001)was also found in mean physical distance between self and humans compared with self and pets, with pets placed closer to the self than humans. Several patterns were identified related to placement of pets, supportive persons, and abusive persons in relation to the survivor’s placement of self. CONCLUSIONS: Results suggest a strong supportive relationship between sexual abuse survivors and their childhood pets.