In this VETgirl online veterinary continuing education blog, VETgirl’s Chief Happiness Officer, Jeannine Moga, MA, MSW, LCSW, clinical veterinary social worker, discusses how we veterinary professionals need to get better about asking for help. (Damn, she’s talking to VETgirl here).
Over 20 years ago, I was desperately trying to uphold the mantle of “I’m fine” despite a recurrent and spiraling bout of depression. I remember this time with crystal clarity: I was miserable, exhausted, and struggling to find meaning in just about every part of my life. A supervisor pulled me aside one afternoon and quietly said, “I don’t know what’s going on, but you’re not yourself and I’m worried. Here’s the number for the Employee Assistance Program.” I was both horrified and relieved to have my struggle acknowledged. I wasn’t convinced that I needed therapy, but I made that phone call anyway. In a stroke of great luck (or divine intervention), I got connected to a pragmatic and straightforward therapist who, over the course of the next year, provided me with a ladder to climb out of a really dark place.
I know full well that it is incredibly tough to ask for help – few things make us feel more vulnerable. It can also be challenging to find a helping professional who truly sees and hears you, let alone “gets” you and speaks a language that resonates with what you need. This is what we call “goodness of fit” – and it is critical for success. So if/when you find yourself in the position of needing help, here are a few things to keep in mind:
1) What do you need and from whom? Differentiating between the types of helping professionals is tough… credentials, practice scope and specialties can be difficult to wade through. If you are experiencing symptoms that your self-care practices aren’t impacting (like chronic worry, sleeplessness, and/or trouble with concentration and self-worth), seeing a mental health professional (licensed psychologist, clinical social worker, or counselor) is likely a good step. If you are feeling relatively balanced but unclear about your goals or how to achieve them, a coach might be a better fit. Still unclear? Here’s a quick guide: https://www.simplepractice.com/blog/whats-the-difference-between-therapy-counseling-coaching/
2) Why reach out for help? Veterinary medicine is well acquainted with the culture of boot-strapping. Many of us would rather struggle in silence than admit that we just can’t figure out how to climb out of a problem. The stigma of needing help is related to the question, “What does it say about me that this is happening? And that I can’t make it stop?” My answer: it means you’re complicated creature on a distinctly human journey. Being human is hard. And sometimes we just need extra support and a neutral lens to figure things out.
3) How do you find the right professional – and the right fit? First, determine what you need (see #1). If seeing a therapist, counselor or psychiatry professional is your goal, check your insurance coverage and determine what you can afford, keeping deductibles, co-pays, and networks in mind. Your personal physician may well be able to refer you to someone they know and trust; if you have access to a professional assistance program (through your workplace or your state VMA), that is also a great first step involving time-limited, no cost sessions to help you map what is happening and what might be useful. If you want to find a mental health professional who is savvy to veterinary life and the stressors it involves, reach out to your alma mater (or the closest veterinary school) to inquire about veterinary social workers in your area.
From there, keep in mind that it might take a couple of sessions to determine whether the person you’re seeing is a good fit for your needs and your way of thinking – let alone your work schedule and your location. Some professionals offer secure telehealth/teletherapy (check with your insurance about coverage); some folks offer evening and weekend appointments. Some folks specialize in brief treatment; others employ a longer-term lens. ALL should be focused on improving your life in ways that are measurable and concrete; they should be able to explain the methods they will use to help you achieve improvement; they should be responsive, respectful of your time, and capable of getting you on their schedule. If these capacities aren’t present, be persistent and keep looking! And remember: support is available, needing it is normal, and you are worth the investment.