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Real Life Veterinarians - Are you taking a stand?

Posted in Guest Blogger @ Sep 9th 2014 - By Nadine Hamilton, Director, Positive Psych Solutions
Veterinarians, Are You Taking A Stand?

Whether your values are being met in your job can have a big impact on your personal well-being....

Recently, my colleague Judy from Vetanswers sent me a copy of a blog by Veterinarian Krista Magnifico "Diary of a Real-Life Veterinarian - Taking a Stand and Facing Consequences".

As I have recently been conducting my own Doctoral research into Veterinarian ("Vet/s") well-being, and also working with Vets as a well-being coach to try and help combat the high levels of stress, burnout and suicide, I already had an "inside" view of the demands placed on Vets and what makes their job (and lives) so stressful.  Reading this blog just reinforced what I, and no doubt the majority of Vets, already know.

As a psychologist, I also have the (sometimes unenviable) experience of seeing the inner turmoil and debilitating effects of depression on many individuals. 

Make no mistake - mental illness does not discriminate and can affect any of us at any time given the right triggers and circumstances. 

Learning how to recognise the signs and symptoms, however, and seeking appropriate help when needed, can help you to deal with this more proactively, rather than reactively.  Building resilience and having good, healthy coping strategies can also be a potential life-saver when things get tough.

I personally commend Krista for taking a stand by not euthanising pets unnecessarily.  What she said about her "beliefs" (and acting in line with these) was an instrumental factor for me. 

No-one can force us to do anything we don't want to do.  No-one can make us act or behave in a certain way unless we allow it to happen.  For example, if I said to you right now "Hop on one leg while poking your tongue out"  I couldn't make you do this unless you chose to do so. 

This all ties in to values. 

In the context of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT - my psychological intervention of choice along with Positive Psychology), values are things you want to stand for - things that give you your sense of meaning and purpose.  Values are actions.  The theory holds that if we act in line with our values, it balances and we have a feeling of well-being and vitality.  If we aren't acting in line with our values, it doesn't balance and we have suffering. 

In other words:

  • if what we want, and what we get, are closely aligned and balanced, we have well-being
  • if what we want, and what we get are not closely aligned or balanced, we are further away from our values and experience suffering.

Think about this - when things are going well or when something good happens, ask yourself "Why is this so good?".  When things aren't going so well or when it feels bad or negative, ask yourself "Why is this so bad?".  You can virtually bet your answers will be aligned to your values - either they are being met (= good) or are not being met (= not so good).

Here's an example.  If I value having harmonious relationships and this is happening, I feel good because what I value is happening (or balanced).  But, if I have conflict with someone, or see other people in conflict, I will likely feel uncomfortable or distressed in some way, because what I value (ie. harmonious relationships) and what I'm getting (ie. unharmonious relationships) do not align.

Our actions (or behaviours) are the only things in our control. 

Ideally, we want to act in line with our values to allow ourselves to live the good life with a sense of well-being and vitality.  If you are really struggling with the turmoil of what action to take (ie. euthanise versus not euthanising under these kinds of circumstances), remember that ultimately you are the person that has to live with the long-term consequences of your actions.  If these do not align with your values, you have a very unfortunate decision to make - ie. act in line with your values (and potentially face negative consequences if you work in an environment where 'the client gets what the client wants so long as they are paying for it'), but have a clear conscience in the long run, or choose to act against your values, and then suffer in the long run. 

Either way, the choice is yours.

About Nadine

Dr Nadine Hamilton is a psychologist who spent over six years researching veterinarian wellbeing at a doctoral level. Her research investigated why the rate of suicide in this profession is so high as well as developing an evidence-based psycho-educational intervention program. Nadine has since commenced new doctoral research (PhD) to extend her research into veterinary wellbeing and works exclusively with the veterinary profession.

Positive Psych Solutions is her boutique psychology practice that is also home to the revolutionary intervention program "The Coping & Wellbeing Program for Veterinary Professionals". 

Early in 2018, Nadine also launched her charity 'Love Your Pet Love Your Vet' that aims to raise awareness of veterinary wellbeing, reduce stigma in veterinary professionals seeking help, as well as providing support for all who work in the veterinary industry.

In 2019 Nadine published her best selling book Coping with Stress and Burnout as a Veterinarian. It's not just for vets though, and this highly accessible book offers psychological knowlwdge and skills to combat stress, burnout, anxiety, depression and suicide.  It's a must-have in every veterinary clinic's library and in every team member's bookcase.



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