Elevating Your Skills in Delivering an Emotionally Intelligent Euthanasia; Part One

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Emotional Intelligence (EI) is a learned skill. Sure, some folks are born with a higher sense of self-awareness and the ability to perceive their surroundings, and social skills can be learned and enhanced. EI is made up of 5 components: empathy, self-awareness, motivation/passion, social skills, and self-regulation. Now, for us in the veterinary community, linking EI skills while performing a peaceful euthanasia gives us a winning combination. You have what the Companion Animal Euthanasia Training Academy (CAETA) refers to as Emotionally Intelligent Euthanasia, and it leads to a beautiful, connected end-of-life experience. 

For veterinary team members, whether they be on the phone, with clients in the consultation room, or even while supporting grieving caregivers, the circumstances surrounding euthanasia can be uncomfortable. Because of this, everyone on the veterinary team is encouraged to check in on their personal emotions (or feelings/mood) when scheduling an appointment, coordinating aftercare details, performing the service, or reaching out afterward to inquire how the client is doing. 

Appointments present multiple encounters where team members and clients can be triggered (a heightened feeling attached to a previous experience) or be present (in the moment) to perceive all that is happening. If this sounds like a moment to be sympathetic, compassionate, or empathetic, that’s because it is. Let’s reveal those feelings a little bit. 

Brené Brown has a wonderful video on the topic of empathy, one of the 5 components of EI. If you have never viewed it before, please do. She states, “I define empathy as the skill or ability to tap into our own experiences in order to connect with an experience someone is relating to us. Empathy fuels connection. Sympathy drives disconnection. Empathy is a choice, and it’s a vulnerable one. Rarely can a response make something better. What makes something better is connection. The difference between empathy and sympathy is feeling with vs. feeling for. The empathic response is, “I get it, I feel with you, and I’ve been there.” The sympathetic response is, “I feel sorry for you.” 

I find all of these concepts profound and applicable surrounding a euthanasia service. Compassion and empathy touch many events and circumstances in our lives and the lives of our clients. 

Sympathy – “I feel sorry for you,” drives disconnection. For some veterinary professionals this is the only tool in their tool box and it is overused without much thought in saying it. “Sorry for your loss” can even be considered a knee-jerk reaction, being on autopilot. 

Empathy – “I get it, I feel with you, and I’ve been there.” Taking empathy beyond the idea it is “walking in another person’s shoes,” consider how you have experienced a similar circumstance (the loss of a beloved pet), walk in your own shoes, in self-awareness (part of emotional intelligence). “I have felt a similar pain,” and that is enough. Nothing more needs to be said. Sit in it, settle into it. Pause for a gentle moment of silence. 

Compassion is empathy in action. When first introduced to compassion being empathy in action, for me, a lightbulb went on! I understood the emotion beyond the “suffering with” to include a loving response or action. Being present, fully in the moment, with a client, is an action of compassion. 

I vividly recall an elderly woman bringing her sweet Linus into the veterinary hospital for a peaceful euthanasia appointment. Her neighbor accompanied her to drive her home after the appointment. While I helped to peacefully end Linus’ life, I recognized the immense grief the two of them were feeling. In a moment of compassion, I suggested I would drive them home and our assistant would follow me to bring us back to work, which they gratefully accepted. That is an example of compassion in action by a veterinary team.  

How do you and your team exemplify Emotionally Intelligent Euthanasias in self-awareness, empathy and compassion? It may be said, self-awareness is coupled with self-regulation. In Part 2 of this blog (February 1), we will dive deeper into being in control of oneself, a fascinating discovery in self-control to include sending yourself a Valentine! Cliffhanger…. 

My friend and colleague, Dr. Kathy Cooney, previously wrote a blog on the topic of Emotionally Intelligent Euthanasia. I found her tips in asking these questions before, during, and after euthanasia quite helpful, thus elevating the practice of EI. You may find them helpful, too. 

Development of self-awareness and regulation
~ What is my body doing right now?
~ Have I identified stressful triggers around me?
~ Am I following the necessary steps to maintain myself in a relaxed state?

Awareness of your own experiences
~ Does this situation remind me of a negative incident from my past?
~ In what ways are there similarities and differences?
~ How am I going to decipher between this current experience and my own previous ones?

Ownership of what is mine to control
~ Have I approached this appointment following the right procedural steps?
~ Am I aware of other’s control over their own destiny?
~ How will I shift the focus of ownership to them, not me?

Protection with the right people
~ Who is on my support team?
~ How often will I be connecting with them?
~ Am I prepared to share my true feelings and concerns for my personal growth?

Recognition of individuality
~ How is our euthanasia approach similar and different from others?
~ Am I comfortable with our team style/approach?
~ What do I like best about our team’s euthanasia protocols and behaviors?

Another remarkable tool I recently placed in my professional tool box, the Plutchik’s Wheel of Emotion, presented below. Who knew there were so many emotions?! 

Choose an emotion you are feeling right now, for this moment. Once you have it, give it a label. I am joyful.  I am annoyed. I am surprised. In my experience, naming it can be liberating. You may wish to print off a copy of the Plutchik’s Wheel and place it in your team’s lounge. If nothing else, it is a reminder to feel what you are feeling (without judgment) and get better at naming it, in emotional awareness. 

When you find this interesting, you may also enjoy other programs in our CAETA Courses. Titles related to EI and communication may include, but are not limited to:

See you next week for Part 2.

Feel free to reach out to us, [email protected] to learn more about team euthanasia training. 

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Rebecca Rose, RVT

Rebecca Rose, RVT, is a credentialed leader in the veterinary community with experience managing clinics, collaborating with industry partners, authoring articles and books, and facilitating engaging team workshops. The former NAVTA president's enthusiasm for professional development in veterinary medicine is contagious. She encourages and supports veterinary teams in reaching their highest potential to maintain a healthy, sustainable life and career.

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