MMI awards funding to research project using online compassionate imagery intervention to improve psychological wellbeing of veterinarians

The Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons’ (RCVS) Mind Matters Initiative (MMI) has awarded £20,000 to a research project investigating the effectiveness of online compassionate imagery intervention in improving the psychological well-being of veterinarians.

The funding comes from the Sarah Brown Mental Health Research Grant, which was founded in 2019 in memory of RCVS Council member Sarah Brown, who passed away in 2017. The grant is awarded on a yearly basis, to fund research into the mental health and well-being of those working within the veterinary profession.

Past projects have funded vital research into a number of areas, including the mental health impacts of racism, moral injury, farm veterinarian mental health, and an investigation into workplace stressors for autistic veterinarians.

This year’s grant has been awarded to a research team at the University of Surrey, led by Dr Katherine Wakelin, Clinical Psychologist. In clinical practice, the high number of moral challenges faced by veterinary professionals is thought to contribute to poor mental health. In addition to this, due to the rigorous academic requirements needed to enter the profession, perfectionistic traits and self-criticism are common amongst veterinarians and are associated with a range of self-injurious behaviours and psychopathology. Furthermore, perfectionism is seen to enhance veterinarians’ vulnerability to moral distress in relation to moral challenges.

The study will be investigating the effectiveness of an online Compassion Focussed Therapy (CFT) intervention for veterinarian self-criticism and perfectionism. CFT has been developed to target individuals with high levels of self-criticism, who tend to benefit less from traditional cognitive therapies. The intervention was previously found to be acceptable, and feasible, and show preliminary indications of effectiveness in Wakelin’s (2021) feasibility study sampling 128 veterinarians. Therefore, the funding will be used to build on previous research and run a randomised control trial (RCT) study to establish the effectiveness of this type of intervention compared to a control.

Participants for the RCT will be recruited through The University of Surrey Veterinary Department and via social media. Any student, new graduate or qualified veterinarian will be able to take part, providing they haven’t already participated in the previous feasibility study and are not currently receiving a cognitive or CFT intervention.

On learning that her team had won the award, Dr. Katherine Wakelin said “It’s fantastic news to have been awarded the grant. Having the opportunity to grow and build on my previous research is very exciting as my 2021 feasibility study showed very promising results! Now we have an opportunity to test the intervention further using more robust methodology and continue to investigate how the mental wellbeing of veterinarians can be supported.”

Lisa Quigley, Mind Matters Initiative Manager, said “We’re delighted to be awarded this year’s grant to the research team at The University of Surrey. We were impressed by their thorough application and the careful consideration that went into tailoring the research project to veterinary professionals. Perfectionism and self-critique are commonly present amongst veterinarians, and it is important to take these specificities into account when developing effective modes of support.

“We look forward to hearing the outcomes of the research and how we as a profession can use this knowledge to create more targeted mental health support for those working within the professions.”

Dr. Katherine Wakelin will be awarded the grant at the RCVS Royal College Day on 8 July.

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