MORE ABOUT VMHI SERVICES

Learn more about how VMHI provides an empathetic and supportive space to understand how your peers are persisting through similar challenges.

Who is the Veterinary Mental Health Initiative for?

Veterinary medical professionals do so much for the community, yet they are often underserved in terms of access to mental health resources.

Why was this program created?

There is currently a lack of mental health resources that support the challenges veterinary medical professionals encounter. For example:

  • They choose this profession because they love animals, yet they may find themselves 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, they 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 their personal and professional fulfillment.
  • When they 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.
  • They are frequently involved in the financial aspects of their practice, particularly pricing and billing.
  • They often graduate from school with hundreds of thousands of dollars in student loan debt.
  • They 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. Participants can select their group based on their preferred time and day of the week.

(2) We also offer one-to-one supportive sessions (currently available for veterinarians). 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 you 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.

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 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 and suicidality, 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 veterinary medical professionals 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 participant’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 veterinary medical professionals take home with them at the end of their shift.
  • Protective Factors: These groups encourage asking for help and discovering what others have done in similar situations.
  • Disclosure: Sharing your concerns with peers 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, individuals 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.
  • 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.

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

Dr. Katie Lawlor

Dr. Katie Lawlor Shanti Project Veterinary Mental Health InitiativeDr. 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 Veterinary Mental Health InitiativeDr. 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

Dr. Dorsey Howard

Dr. Dorsey Howard Shanti Project Veterinary Mental Health InitiativeDr. Dorsey Howard is currently serving as a clinical psychologist at the VA Tennessee Valley Healthcare System. He 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 completed his training at the Vanderbilt University Medical Center, the VA Palo Alto and San Jose Health Care Systems, and John George Psychiatric Hospital. His clinical interests include treating mood disorders and trauma. Prior to his career in clinical psychology, Dr. Howard held positions with the Neiman Group and Idea Group Inc.

Education:

  • Postdoctoral Fellowship, Tennessee Valley Healthcare System
  • Clinical Internship, Vanderbilt University Medical Center
  • Psy.D., Clinical Psychology, PGSP-Stanford Consortium
  • B.S., Lerner College of Business and Economics, University of Delaware

Dr. Jane Jenkins

Dr. Jane JenkinsDr. Jane Jenkins received her doctorate from Washington State University, focusing on human-animal interactions (HAI), Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Trauma-Informed interventions, and psychological assessment. She trained at the Washington State University Counseling and Psychological Services and in Community Mental Health Care systems in Massachusetts and Florida. She is currently a Counselor and Well-Being Specialist embedded in a veterinary teaching hospital. Prior to her career in counseling psychology, Dr. Jenkins held positions in the accounting and business sectors.

Education:

  • Clinical Internship, Faulk Center for Counseling
  • Ph.D., Counseling Psychology, Washington State University
  • M.A., Assumption College
  • B.A., Harvard University

Dr. Anna Kreiter

Dr. Anna Kreiter Shanti Project Veterinary Mental Health InitiativeDr. Anna Kreiter 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 is a licensed psychologist with clinical practices at Kaiser Permanente Redwood City Medical Center, and in private practice in San Francisco. Her clinical and research interests are in behavioral and emotional disorders. In addition to her clinical work, she holds a research position at Stanford University School of Medicine, where she supports research on the treatment of eating disorders. She is a lifelong supporter of animal rights.

Education:

  • Postdoctoral Residency, Kaiser Permanente Redwood City Medical Center
  • Clinical Internship, University of San Diego
  • Psy.D., Clinical Psychology, PGSP-Stanford Consortium
  • B.A., Binghamton University, State University of New York

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.