Counselor’s Corner: Mental Health and Veterinary Medicine

Hi everyone! Welcome to my blog, a monthly post to talk about mental health and its role in Veterinary Medicine. I guess before doing that I should tell you a bit about myself and how I came to be doing this work. My name is Becky Murray, and I am licensed as both a veterinary technician and a counselor.

Becky Murray is Veterinary Specialty Center’s full-time Licensed Professional Counselor.

I started at Veterinary Specialty Center in 2005 working as a CVT (Certified Veterinary Technician).  During my time in Oncology, I grew close to some of our clients, because I saw them often over the months and years when they were bringing pets for treatment. When these pets died, I was heartbroken right along with the families. I tried to be there when families needed to talk about their loss.

Over the years I read about loss and grief and I was shocked at how little support some of our clients have when coping with the loss of a pet. They were expected to go back to work immediately and function well and had few places where they felt safe talking about the loss. I thought about the way a human hospital has social workers, counselors, and chaplains and I wondered about this lack in veterinary medicine. After all, one of the most common statements clients made after a loss was, “this loss was harder for me than losing so-and-so,” which was a human family member, usually a parent or grandparent.

Fortunately, two of the owners at VSC did their residency at a hospital that has employed a social worker for decades. They were both interested in having this type of service at VSC and the other owners agreed. I went back to school and got my master’s degree in Clinical Psychology and am now a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) as well as a CVT. I have been working full time as a counselor at VSC for almost 3 years.

During this time I have worked with many clients who were coping with grief which was as I expected. I talk with clients who are in the process of letting go of a pet or who have recently had a loss. I run a support group for people who have experienced a loss and need a safe venue to talk about that loss. What I hadn’t predicted, however, was the many other facets of veterinary mental health. I also talk with clients about the quality of life. I provide training within our staff about talking to people about grief and loss and I talk to the staff at other clinics about the same issues.

Another surprise was the need for education among the veterinary community about Compassion Fatigue (CF), an occupational hazard for people in helping professions. I work with our staff, other hospitals’ staffs, and shelter and rescue workers to try and help minimize the damage of this syndrome.

Unfortunately, we have very few Mental Health Professionals (MHPs) in veterinary medicine. Some veterinary schools have a counselor or social worker to help clients and veterinary students. A very few have large staffs of counselors, and one, The University of Tennessee, has a Veterinary Social Work program, which is very encouraging. However, most individual hospitals do not have this resource. It’s an exciting and new field which is sure to grow in the next few decades and I’m happy to be a part of it.

I hope you can join me in my monthly blog. I will talk about loss and grief and coping skills, and resources. Please feel free to let me know if there is a topic you would like to see me cover. See you soon!

Becky Murray is a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) and Certified Veterinary Technician (CVT) that counsels clients of VSC and our referral community on pet loss, quality of life decisions for pets and grief. She also lectures extensively in the veterinary community on Compassion Fatigue. You may reach Becky at bmurray@vetspecialty.com. More information about our services may be found here.

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