Veterinary Mental Health Initiative

An empathetic and supportive space to understand how your peers are persisting through similar challenges.

Dr. Kathy Gervais Shanti Project Pets Are Wonderful Support

Who Is This Program For?

Veterinarians suffer from high rates of burnout, compassion fatigue, anxiety, depression, and suicidal ideation due to the frequently stressful and traumatic nature of their work. Despite all they do for the community, mental health resources are difficult to access.

What to Expect

Our Initiative provides an empathetic and supportive space to understand how your professional peers are persisting through similar challenges. We emphasize processing stress and grief, learning effective coping skills, implementing a healthier work-life balance, and renewing a love for veterinary medicine. Our group will address participants’ individual concerns in the context of a shared experience that helps to foster wellbeing and resilience in this career.

We offer 2 services:

  • Professional Peer Support Groups
  • One-to-One Support Sessions

All services are completely free, confidential, virtual, 1-hour in length, and facilitated by peer support experts with experience in grief and loss, work-life balance, trauma, and suicide prevention.

Who is the Veterinary Mental Health Initiative for?

Veterinarians do so much for the community, yet they are underserved in terms of access to mental health resources. Veterinarians suffer from high rates of burnout, compassion fatigue, anxiety, depression, and suicidal ideation due to the frequently stressful and traumatic nature of their work.

Why was this program created?

There is currently a lack of mental health resources that support the challenges veterinarians encounter:

• They choose this profession because they love animals, yet they are on the frontline of animal abuse and neglect cases;
• They often must euthanize animals that could be saved if their owners had greater financial resources;
• Unlike medicine and psychology where it is against the law to treat loved ones, veterinarians frequently care for the pets of their family and friends; this situation only compounds the anxiety, guilt, and failure they feel should an animal not survive or need to be euthanized.
• Both compassion fatigue (a state characterized by emotional and physical exhaustion leading to a decreased ability to empathize) and burnout (caused by an intense work environment, demanding caseload, limited access to resources, and inadequate organizational support) impact veterinarians’ personal and professional fulfillment.
• When veterinarians try to uphold healthy boundaries to protect their well-being, there is often intense pressure to say “yes” to working longer hours, treating more patients, taking on additional roles within the practice, performing procedures pro bono, etc.
• Veterinarians are frequently involved in the financial aspects of their practice, particularly pricing and billing.
• Veterinarians often graduate from vet school with hundreds of thousands of dollars in student loan debt.
• Veterinarians have a high rate of suicide compared to other professional occupations.

How frequently are these services offered?

We offer two support services:

(1) The first is a professional peer support group. Two or more groups are conducted each week; participants can select their group based on their preferred time and day of the week.

(2) We also offer one-to-one supportive sessions. Vets often choose to use this time to discuss work-life balance, the many roles they must play within their practice, setting boundaries, burnout and compassion fatigue, panic attacks, the loss of their own animals, etc. It’s an hour-long safe and confidential space to process work-related stressors.

What is the expected commitment?

For the support group, we ask that participants to make a 6-week commitment. While we certainly understand that emergencies and family obligations arise, given the supportive and empathic atmosphere we are hoping to create, your presence and participation is vital in doing so.

Please know that vets who participate in our groups have priority in signing-up for future groups. There is no limit as to how many groups a vet may participate in.

Vets can sign-up for four (4) individual sessions in every two (2) month period.

Where does this group meet?

Groups are held via Zoom. Each participant will be emailed a link to the session with a passcode to ensure privacy.

How long is each group?

Each group meets for 1 hour (60 minutes).

How many participants will be in each group?

The group is limited to 5-10 participants, all of whom are veterinarians.

How much does this group cost to attend?

Both groups and one-to-one sessions are completely free.

What topics will be discussed in the group?

Topics covered in the group will include include imposter syndrome, overcoming burnout and compassion fatigue, stress and anxiety management, grief processing, problem solving, interpersonal effectiveness with both staff and clients, implementing personal and professional values, balancing multiple roles, recognizing signs of clinical depression, sleep hygiene, and self-care strategies.

What can I expect from the group?

Our group provides an empathetic and supportive space to understand how fellow veterinarians are persevering through similar issues, with an emphasis on learning effective coping skills, implementing a healthier work-life balance, and renewing a love for veterinary medicine.

Our group will address participants’ individual concerns in the context of shared career experiences.

What are the benefits of participating in a group like this?

Although each veterinarian’s concerns are unique, there is a collective understanding that exists in this professional field. This group will provide participants an opportunity to remember that they are not alone, and to learn how their professional peers are processing and progressing through similar struggles.

Evidence-Based Benefits of Attending this Group:

  • Normalization and Validation: Professional peer groups normalize and validate occupation-related stressors, in addition to the specific concerns veterinarians take home with them at the end of their shift.
  • Protective Factors: These groups encourage asking for help and discovering what other vets have done in similar situations.
  • Disclosure: Sharing your concerns with fellow vets can aid you in making sense of what you’re going through and remind you that you’re not alone.
  • Community Engagement: By participating in a group, veterinarians are giving back to their professional community via their commitment to both current and future members (as the program grows and improves).
  • Health: Involvement in such groups has been shown to result in enhanced physical health, reduced stress, decreased mood symptoms, reduced engagement in avoidance strategies, and a lower risk of self-harm and suicide.

What is the difference between support (which this is) vs. therapy (which this is not)?

The objective of a support group is to help participants cope around a common issue or experience – in this case the often stressful and traumatic nature of practicing veterinary medicine. This group is specifically designed to provide a compassionate, nonjudgmental space to process grief (and other strong emotions), learn skills to effectively manage stress and avoid burnout, share experiences, and incorporate best practices. Individuals who engage in support groups often describe a renewed sense of strength, respect, resilience, increased social support, and love for their job.

The objective of a therapy group however is to actively promote cognitive and behavioral change in response to a problem or general discontent in one’s life. Group members are encouraged to articulate what they think and feel with regards to their current life circumstances and personal relationships, as well as to comment on their experiences interacting with other participants. Feedback in therapy groups is often confrontational and direct in nature, and is meant to prompt honest personal reflection. The hope is that these discussions will aid participants in a deeper understanding of themselves so as to begin changing the thoughts and behaviors that cause suffering in their lives.

The same is the case for our one-to-one sessions.

Will what I say be kept confidential?

We ask all group participants to honor each other’s privacy as this creates a respectful and trusting environment. We understand that you may wish to share with colleagues and loved ones what you are learning in the group; this is permitted as long as you in no way compromise the confidentiality of fellow group members.

Given that this group will be conducted virtually, participants can choose to use solely their first names, both on their Zoom nametag and when introducing themselves.

Limits to Confidentiality

Limits to confidentiality are in place:

  • To Protect You. Our primary concern is the safety of participants. If the facilitator has reason to believe that a participant is at risk for injuring or killing themselves, they are legally and ethically required to attempt to prevent this from occurring. This may range from contacting family members or others who can help provide protection, arranging for hospitalization with the participant’s consent, or in the event of an emergency, facilitating involuntary hospitalization.
  • To Protect the Public. In certain situations, the facilitator is legally obligated to take action to protect others from harm. For example, if they were to hear about the neglect or abuse (emotional and/or physical) of a child, older adult (age 65 and older), or dependent adult, they would be required file a report with the appropriate state agency. This includes accessing, transmitting, or downloading sexually explicit material of a minor under 18-years old.
  • In Legal Proceedings. Although the facilitator will make every effort to protect a participant’s privacy, he/she may be subpoenaed by a court of law. In most legal proceedings, a participant has the right to restrict access to information about their engagement in the group. In some proceedings however, such as those in which emotional condition is a critical issue, it is possible that a judge may order the facilitator’s testimony. Confidentiality may also be limited by other situations in which the law requires or directs that confidentiality does not exist.

How do I register for the group or schedule a one-to-one session?

Interested participants should email Dr. Katie Lawlor at klawlor@shanti.org.

You will be asked to complete the following documents, all of which can be done online:

  • a brief survey of demographic information and background;
  • emergency contact information; and
  • a consent form.

What are the expectations of my role as group member?

  • We ask that what is said in the group stay in the group, so that everyone feels as comfortable and supported when speaking and sharing.
  • Recognize that group members have permission to share what they choose, and only when they are ready.
  • We ask that you share your feelings and experiences, but try not to advise others.
  • Honor and respect the different ways we process stress, grief, and loss without judgement.
  • Please have your camera on at the start of the group, and then throughout the group as much as possible.
  • Please be in a private spot.
  • Please limit background noise.
  • Kindly give facilitators as much notice as possible if you must miss a group.

Who are the Veterinary Mental Health Initiative's Facilitators?

These sessions will be facilitated by understanding and kind peer support experts with specialties in grief and loss, career development, work-life balance, trauma, and suicide prevention.

Dr. Katie Lawlor

Dr. Katie Lawlor received her doctorate from the joint program between the Stanford University Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences and the Pacific Graduate School of Psychology. She trained at both the Stanford University Medical Center and the VA Palo Alto Health Care System, focusing on human-animal interactions (HAI), Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), neuropsychology. Prior to her career in clinical psychology, Dr. Lawlor held positions with NBC News in Beijing and New York City, the U.S. Department of State in Washington DC, and the Governor’s Office of California.

Education:

  • Clinical Internship, VA Northern California Health Care System
  • Psy.D., Clinical Psychology, PGSP-Stanford Consortium
  • M.I.A., Economic Policy, Columbia University
  • B.A., University of Notre Dame
Dr. Dustin Kieschnick

Dr. Dustin Kieschnick received his doctorate from the joint program between the Stanford University Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences and the Pacific Graduate School of Psychology. He has trained at the Palo Alto VA Medical Center and the James J. Peters VA Medical Center in the Bronx, New York.  Dr. Kieschnick’s research and clinical focus is on grief and trauma.  He is currently the Associate Director of Research of Scalable Therapeutics at the University of California, San Francisco.  Prior to his career in clinical psychology, Dr. Kieschnick served in the United States Marine Corps for 9 years.

Education:

  • Clinical Internship, James J. Peters VA Medical Center
  • Psy.D., Clinical Psychology, PGSP-Stanford Consortium
  • B.A., University of Houston

These sessions will be facilitated by understanding and kind experts in peer support.

Dr. Katie Lawlor

Dr. Katie Lawlor Shanti Project Pets Are Wonderful SupportDr. Katie Lawlor received her doctorate from the joint program between the Stanford University Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences and the Pacific Graduate School of Psychology. She trained at both the Stanford University Medical Center and the VA Palo Alto Health Care System, focusing on human-animal interactions (HAI), Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), neuropsychology. Prior to her career in clinical psychology, Dr. Lawlor held positions with NBC News in Beijing and New York City, the U.S. Department of State in Washington DC, and the Governor’s Office of California.

Education:

  • Clinical Internship, VA Northern California Health Care System
  • Psy.D., Clinical Psychology, PGSP-Stanford Consortium
  • M.I.A., Economic Policy, Columbia University
  • B.A., University of Notre Dame

Dr. Dustin Kieschnick

Dr. Dustin Kieschnick Shanti Project Pets Are Wonderful SupportDr. Dustin Kieschnick received his doctorate from the joint program between the Stanford University Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences and the Pacific Graduate School of Psychology. He has trained at the Palo Alto VA Medical Center and the James J. Peters VA Medical Center in the Bronx, New York.  Dr. Kieschnick’s research and clinical focus is on grief and trauma.  He is currently the Associate Director of Research of Scalable Therapeutics at the University of California, San Francisco.  Prior to his career in clinical psychology, Dr. Kieschnick served in the United States Marine Corps for 9 years.

Education:

  • Clinical Internship, James J. Peters VA Medical Center
  • Psy.D., Clinical Psychology, PGSP-Stanford Consortium
  • B.A., University of Houston

Interested participants should email Dr. Katie Lawlor at klawlor@shanti.org.

You will be asked to complete the following documents, all of which can be done online:

  • a brief questionnaire of demographic information and background;
  • emergency contact information; and
  • a consent form.

For More Information: Please email Dr. Katie Lawlor at klawlor@shanti.org.