Impact of Mindfulness & Self-Compassion in Veterinary Professionals

Quincy Hawley, DVM, Get MotiVETed! Veterinary Wellbeing Solutions, Fayetteville, North Carolina, VIP Pet Care, North Carolina

ArticleLast Updated March 20233 min read
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In the Literature

Wakelin KE, Perman G, Simonds LM. Feasibility and efficacy of an online compassion-focused imagery intervention for veterinarian self-reassurance, self-criticism and perfectionism. Vet Rec. 2023;192(2):e2177. doi:10.1002/vetr.2177

The Research … 

Clinicians report high levels of psychological distress that may be related to the increased frequency in which they encounter moral challenges.1 Research supports teaching self-compassion and mindfulness, as veterinary students with these skills have higher resilience.2 

This study investigated the feasibility and efficacy of mindfulness and compassion-focused imagery (a type of compassion-focused therapy) for decreasing self-criticism and perfectionism. Veterinary professionals (n = 128) in a variety of roles (eg, student, government, industry) initially completed a demographics questionnaire, as well as 5 questionnaires measuring perfectionism, self-criticism and self-reassurance, fears of compassion, resilience, and work-related rumination. The 5 questionnaires were repeated after 2 weeks, immediately prior to a 14-day intervention consisting of fourteen 10-minute videos of guided exercises.  

Two videos taught psychoeducation and the compassion-focused therapy approach; 4 videos taught soothing rhythm breathing and mindfulness (foundational skills for engaging with compassionate imagery); and 8 videos taught compassionate imagery. The 5 questionnaires and a participant experience questionnaire assessing the acceptability of the intervention were administered immediately following the intervention. The 5 questionnaires were repeated a final time after another 2 weeks. 

Sixty-three participants completed the study. The 50.8% attrition rate was considered reasonable for a low-cost, self-directed online intervention conducted during the 2020 pandemic. A common barrier to engagement was difficulty making time to participate, particularly due to disruptions in routines as a result of the pandemic.  

Benefits reported by participants were understanding emotions, developing compassion, and slowing down. When asked directly, 86.1% of respondents reported feeling they benefited from the intervention; 75% intended to continue using the exercises.

… The Takeaways

Key pearls to put into practice:

  • Learning mindfulness through a mindfulness-based stress reduction course or low-cost and free resources (eg, YouTube, blogs, podcasts, audiobooks) is recommended and can help everyday tasks feel more meaningful.

  • It is important to take action to improve mental well-being. Participants who completed the study spent ≥140 minutes watching videos and learning interventions that helped with improved compassion and better understanding of emotions. Improvements in soft skills, including empathy, can enhance interactions with difficult clinic staff and demanding pet owners.

  • Veterinary professionals should prioritize and commit to learning tools and strategies that may improve mental well-being. If this process is hindered (eg, disrupted by clinical work or other obstacles), adjustments should be made and self-compassion shown so the process can resume.