Category: Vetsupport

Dealing with Clients with Mental Health Issues

How to Manage our Clients’ Mental Health

A thread came up recently on the Vets:Stay, Go, Diversify FB group regarding questioning how to manage our clients’ mental health.  With mental ill health on the rise in the general population, we increasingly find ourselves facing clients with overt mental health issues and reduced coping mechanisms when their animal is unwell.  It can adversely affect communication, and result in concerns for the welfare of both the clients and their pets.  Plus, it can leave us with a sense of responsibility and increased stress in our working life.

Rosie Allister, vet, researcher, Vetlife Helpline Manager and author of commented:

“A lot of people still believe the myth that if someone is talking about suicide they aren’t going to do it, which isn’t true. Talking about it indicates risk and is something to take seriously as you did.

My approach to try to listen as much as I can, empathise with how bad things are, then say that I’m worried about them, and I want them to be ok, and want to get them help. I actually say all that as when someone feels that bad it can be surprising to people that someone wants to help. I ask if they’re going to be safe leaving, and if they aren’t I ask their permission to call someone like a friend or family member. I stay with them while I do that and if they are in an unsafe environment I wait with them somewhere safer. If they can’t think of anyone to call I ask if they have anyone professional supporting them, or if they are registered with a GP and if I can call those. If all those fail it can be emergency services, but again I get consent for that. I’ve never found that someone won’t consent.

There is some really good training out there for lay people on supporting people who are suicidal. A key feature of all of it is getting support for yourself afterwards too. It’s a lot to process, and not something to carry alone. If there’s noone about to talk with you can always call Vetlife Helpline. The person answering will very likely have been there too, and will get how tough it is in a hectic clinic to find headspace to process supporting someone in that situation.”

Rosie will be taking part in a session on supporting clients at the StreetVet Conference in September, which will cover the following:

  1. How animals help mental health, and expectations of us in supporting that.
  2. What is our role as professionals when responding to clients who seem to be experiencing mental health problems – considerations like informed consent, mental capacity, safeguarding.
  3. How to access help services if you are really worried about someone.
  4. Some case studies looking at issues that might arise – depression and complex bereavement, safeguarding where you think a client is at immediate risk, perceptual disturbances where a client’s reality might be different to ours, and legal issues where we have concerns a client may not have capacity to make decisions.

Rosie comments:

“A lot of this is just about being human, non judgemental, and kind. It can take time, and trust, and lots of listening, and we need to have considered our own professional boundaries and legal responsibilities too. Listening, understanding and kindness are key. And support from our practices to make time and resource for that.

A number of organisations run general mental health based training like MHFA, or Samaritans training for businesses on supporting people who are distressed, or Mind do a lot of commercial training too.”

For bespoke training for practices please contact Rosie to discuss directly

Other tips included Blue Cross Helpline when discussing bereavement following loss of a pet.

CPC also offer counselling.

I attended the MHFA course run by RCVS MindMatters / BSAVA, which was a great starting point.  See here for 2018 dates

‪VDS training have a webinar entitled – ‘Helping Clients Deal with Their Emotions’

Vets: Stay, Go, Diversify LIVE Virtual Dreamcatcher

So if you were lucky enough to attend VSGD LIVE and have been inspired, the important thing is to take your dream and now catch it.

Download your virtual dreamcatcher below, type in your dream, then save it as your phone wallpaper, print it out and stick it to your bathroom mirror, or have it made into a fridge magnet.  Reminders area powerful!

Dream Catcher Yellow

Dream Catcher Pink

Dream Catcher Blue

Remember, the end goal can seem difficult, even impossible.  But start with step one, then step two… and so on until you get there.  Yes, there will be challenges, but they won’t be daunting if you keep them bitesize.

And ensure you have support.  In this age of networking you have unparalleled access to resources.  Make use of these, and connect with people who can help you.

If you’re not a member, join the VSGD community for ideas and support.

How do I write a good CV?

Dr. Dave Nichols, team leader, practice owner and recruitment specialist, posted the following as a blog and it reproduced here with his kind permission.

“Here’s the fundamental problem with recruitment. Advertisers are not being accurate with the picture they paint of the job, practice or culture… what does a word like “progressive mean anyway?” And job seekers are not being entirely accurate in their description skills and values.

Then at an interview, everyone is on their best behaviour. But since none of this is representative of reality the wheels fall off quite quickly when reality bites. For both parties.

Having worked as a team leader, practice owner and recruitment specialist for a few years here is my advice on CV writing.

1. I disagree with the more than two pages rule – I want my vets to be detail oriented and if that’s you, then writing a 2 page CV is hard if not impossible. There’s just so much to get it right?! I actively look for longer CVs. If as an employer you are throwing away the longer CVs then you are introducing a bias towards big picture thinkers. Which is great if you want a senior leaders. But not so good if you want a detail person. (I do wish people would stop telling people to write short CVs…. this is only of use to the employer when you have to review hundreds of CVs for a role. Which was never in clinical roles. And certainly not a problem at present. This employer at least will be looking for the longer CV.

2. Show me your personality. Rule one of marketing is to STAND OUT. You are different to everyone else, so show that to me. Your cover letter and your personal statement are great places to do this. If you write what everyone else writes then I find it hard to tell you apart. What are your unique talents, capabilities and most importantly…. what are your values?

3. About those values…. so this is the most important point not just about CVs…. but about our working relationships generally. If an employer values hard work and humility and you value self and family time then guess what…. you are going to have a tough working relationship, regardless of how well your CV was written. So please signal in your CV what these values are. Aligned values and purpose get you through the tough moments. A good start would be to sit down and work out your values first. Most people have not got a clue, until they find themselves in conflict. once you know, weave them into your CV.

4. Your attitude counts so much more than your skills… if you have an attitude that you are prepared to do the hard work to learn your craft… There is no shortcut to awesome, it requires work, some sacrifice, discomfort, stress and resilience. If you are prepared for this and are determined to learn and grow then as an employer, I can work with that (in fact I’m very excited to work with that). This BTW does not mean “flog you until you break”. But it does mean you are willing and able to take responsibility for your learning and wellbeing, I’m there to support both, but drive neither.

5. I agree with both Colin and Adrian on the competency thing… though you are unlikely to have many ready to rock-solid vet competencies, show your employer things that demonstrate success in similar roles. So, sales jobs where you dealt with the public, teamwork or leadership roles. Also, roles were you demonstrated that you can work within a structure or to someone else’s rules. I love when I see grads who have worked on reception at a vet, or worked in mcdonalds, or been a nurse before going to Uni. Seriously, vets who started out as nurses are the best! Such good empathy for the rest of the team…

6. No one size fits all as this thread ably demonstrates. So research your practice and adjust your CV for the employer. The CV’s job is to get you to the next stage of the interview.

Your challenge as a vet is not going to be getting an interview right now. And honestly, I seriously doubt anyone is throwing away 4 page CVs…. it’s likely to be the only one many will get! And this employer at least will be lapping that up.

OK, I hope that’s somewhat helpful as insight. Dr D.

For any employers looking to sharpen their recruitment tool kit I have a free webinar on the top 5 mistakes vets make when hiring team members here.”

Feel Blog


I am in the room but absent. I have a small troll standing on my chest, squeezing my lungs. I think I’m sleeping ok- I’m not really sure- but I feel fatigued. I do exercise but there’s not the usual buzz. I tell myself hourly to enjoy my surroundings, my children, my life, but it’s forced. I laugh because I should. I smile when I’m supposed to. I’m professional because I’m on auto-pilot. Joy has gone. Existence remains. Continue reading

Mentoring and Leadership

One aim of the Vet Futures initiative (pg38) is to create an intra-professional mentoring scheme.  A few schemes already exist, but provision is still lacking for the majority.  Several individuals and companies have taken up the mantle and are now providing expert, robust mentoring schemes.  These are largely aimed at new graduates.  However, there is an increasing need for mentoring of those progressing higher up the chain to provide effective, dynamic leadership.

Mentoring cannot be undertaken half-heartedly if it is to be truly effective.  As a starting point, take a look at this presentation written by coaching and business development experts, People and Performance, and the subsequent advice blogs for mentors and mentees.  If this is to be undertaken in house by practices, there needs to be a commitment and contracted agreement what to expect during the process.  Done properly, it will be time costly, and it may prove more effective and less costly overall to out-source to external expert providers – see below for details.

Mentoring presentation

Thinking about Mentoring

Skills of mentoring

How to be a great mentee

Vetpol also have some great blogs on mentoring, a webinar and links to external resources.

Mentoring/Leadership schemes:

Graduate mentoring

BSAVA are launching a pilot Mentoring Scheme Spring 2018, but HURRY you need to apply soon!

Dr. Dave Nichols, vet and veterinary business consultant has set up VetX; short for vet graduate accelerator programme designed specifically to help develop new graduates in their first year.

University College Dublin, have trialled a pilot scheme click here for info.

Leadership training

  • The RCVS is launching a pilot leadership initiative in Spring 2018.  It promises to be a fantastic resource for vets across the profession in a variety of roles to develop leaders of the present and future.  You have nothing to loose and everything to gain by learning how to bring out the best in yourself and your team. Read more here
  • Adrian Nelson-Pratt of Veterinary Business Consultancy has just launched Emerge which is dedicated to providing effective new ways to deal with the daily challenges faced by veterinary professionals.  He says:  “We exist to make a positive impact on the mental health, wellbeing and personal development of the veterinary community.  Using proven coaching techniques and by building veterinary networks and a wider community, EMERGE unleashes new growth and introduces balance in the lives and careers of its participants. Whether it’s a career change, or helping you to develop yourself, we will help you fulfill your potential.”
  • The Veterinary Defence Society have developed training, coaching and mentoring programmes working with a great team of people including Carolyne Crowe, Penny Barker, Catherine Oxtoby and Ebony Escalona.  They have also just launched The Veterinary Leadership Programme in response to the VetFutures need to drive positive culture and create the leaders of tomorrow.  It’s a fully immersive, comprehensive and supportive multi-modal programme over 5 months using evidence based tools and strategies that will make the difference to those working through the programme.

General mentoring

The Vets Christian Fellowship offer an informal mentoring scheme to provide support to members.

Informal mentoring is better than nothing! If you have connected well with a vet during EMS,  or a fellow student a year or two ahead of you, you could request they provide you with peer support when you graduate.

New Graduate Schemes:

  • Dr. Dave Nichols, vet and veterinary business consultant has set up VetX; vet graduate accelerator programme, online paid for course designed specifically to help develop new graduates in their first year.
  • Grads to Vets is a brand new graduate scheme due to launch August 2018 for new graduates going into small animal and mixed independent practices offering a mix of online and attendance CPD and support.
  • Several corporates run graduate schemes.  Some of these are relatively new, so it’s worth asking if you can speak in confidence with people who have experienced the scheme in practice.  Corporates with schemes at time of writing include CVS, IVC, MedivetPets at Home (includes Vets4Pets/Companion Care), Vet Partners, XL Vets

My skill set

I’m not a people-person, so I work in shelter medicine and ECC because there are fewer clients.  I am, however, a good communicator so I like the freedom both of these settings give me to discuss cases fully and thoroughly with staff and owners.  I am pragmatic and good under pressure at multi-tasking and prioritising, hence ECC.  I do not have a plant-brain (more addled mummy-brain) so the 10 minute consult where you have to access minute detail in the pigeon holes of your mind don’t work well for me any more.  I am quite a visual person and have good 3D memory, so I’m good at imaging – I can usually work out what I’m looking at intuitively.  I can also differentiate the pink/purple blobs under the microscope quite effectively, so my current job description is:

Imaging and cytology working for an animal shelter and a local first opinion veterinary hospital out of hours clinic.  I LOVE my job, but that’s because I discovered my strengths early on, developed them and now use them for the majority of my work.  Having a practice that supports and recognises individual skill and talent works well for both parties.  I still do all the other GP vet stuff, but the balance is firmly in favour of what I’m good at!