Emotionally Intelligent Euthanasia (EIE)

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Emotionally Intelligent Euthanasia

A veterinary student recently shadowed me for a week to learn how I cope with the emotional strain of euthanasia-centric work.  Her backstory was filled with highly sensitive post-euthanasia episodes, wherein she needed to cry; intense crying for upwards of 15 minutes.  It was deeply affecting the rest of her day and building a sense of dread in her psyche towards the next one. After witnessing her first euthanasia with me, watching my protocols and approach, she cried again, but this time in relief.  She had never seen a slow and smooth euthanasia like that before and expressed how a huge weight has been lifted off her shoulders. This student, just starting out in her journey in a long career, was granted an important view of how our approach to an Emotionally Intelligent Euthanasia (EIE) can forever shift our perception.

Emotional Intelligence is the capacity to be aware of, control, and express one’s emotions, and to handle interpersonal relationships judiciously and empathetically.  When we apply this to euthanasia procedures, filled with delicate terrain to begin with, it’s vital the entire veterinary team, shelter staff, etc is fully attentive to their personal behavior.  This is understandably hard to do when you are focused on ensuring the medical procedure is properly carried out. Shifting attention to our own physical and mental state during euthanasia becomes paramount.  Are we in control of our own emotions? Are we unintentionally internalizing our client’s grief? How are we protecting ourselves from the start?

In preparing to write an EIE training module for the Companion Animal Euthanasia Training Acadmey (CAETA), the following outline was developed to support students before, during, and after euthanasia.  It is a start in the long discussion around self-awareness and preservation.

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?

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?

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 my euthanasia approach similar and different from others?
~ Am I comfortable with my own style?
~ What do I like best about my euthanasia protocols and behaviors?

In closing, I’d like to share a direct sentiment from a veterinary student who has been reflecting on EIE.  “Establishing emotional intelligence & acceptance means recognizing how we feel, admitting it ourselves, and giving ourselves permission to feel negative emotions (that which you resist, persists!).   Perhaps more importantly, you don’t have to block out negative emotions or be emotionally “porous” and let everything through; there is a middle ground where a healthy type of connection exists.” This is true to many of life’s complexities.  The Companion Animal Euthanasia Training Academy appreciates her words and the attention we all must pay to our emotional health around euthanasia work. It is in our own emotional protection that we are granted the ability to care for those who need us.  We are here to support your complete euthanasia educational journey and professional transformation.

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Kathleen Cooney

DVM, CHPV, CCFP Founder, Director of Education for the Companion Animal Euthanasia Training Academy
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