When I tell people that I provide veterinary social work services, I almost always get a confused look, sometimes a disbelieving smirk, and the question “what is veterinary social work?” It’s a fair question, and I’ll do my best to answer it.

The term “veterinary social work” was coined by Dr. Elizabeth Strand (my amazing mentor!) as a way to name the work social workers and mental health professionals have been doing in different ways for years – supporting the human in the human-animal bond. As veterinary social workers, we take the following oath:

“Specializing in veterinary social work, I pledge my service to society by tending to the human needs that arise in the relationship between humans and animals. From a strengths perspective and using evidence-based practice, I will uphold the ethical code of my profession, respect and promote the dignity and worth of all species, and diligently strive to maintain mindful balance in all of my professional endeavors.”

 Basically, we honor the significance of the human-animal bond and provide support to the people who love and care for animals.

I came to veterinary social work because of my interest in supporting people who have pets with behavior problems. My veterinarian behaviorist (and now colleague and friend) Dr. Kelly Ballantyne was the first person to tell me about the field of veterinary social work. (More about my story here). I soon signed up for University of Tennessee’s Certificate in Veterinary Social work course, which I completed in May of 2016.

In veterinary social work training, we study the four pillars of veterinary social work:

  • Compassion Fatigue & Conflict Management
  • Animal Assisted Interventions
  • The Link Between Human & Animal Violence
  • Animal-Related Grief and Bereavement

You can find mental health professionals attending to the human-animal bond in all types of ways. Some veterinary hospitals have vet social workers or counselors on-site to support both staff and pet owners. Some therapists utilize animal assisted interventions in their work with clients. Others work on research about violence against animals & intimate partner violence. Many communities have pet loss support groups facilitated by mental health professionals. Others focus on promoting the mental health wellness of veterinary professionals. And the list goes on.

In my work as a private practice therapist, my passion is in providing the following veterinary social work services:

  • Support groups for pet owners who have pets with “special needs” (specifically behavior problems)
  • Pet loss counseling
  • Presentations about compassion fatigue & self-care for professionals in the veterinary, behavior and training, and animal welfare fields.

What I love most about the field of veterinary social work is how broad reaching it is – anyone who wants to find a way to incorporate their passion about the human-animal bond & their social work skills can find a way to do that within the veterinary social work certificate course and become part of this incredibly supportive vet social work community.

What questions do you have about veterinary social work?

Kristin Buller is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker with a Certificate in Veterinary Social Work who lives in Chicago with her husband and their dog, Ruby.  For more information on Kristin, visit www.kristinbuller.com. To find a veterinary social worker in your area, call 865-755-8839 or email [email protected].