"It really was like a black hole"An interpretive phenomenological analysis ofVeterinary Surgeons' Experiences of Depression

UoM administered thesis: Doctor of Counselling Psychology

  • Authors:
  • Susan Dawson


"It really was like a black hole"An Interpretive Phenomenological Analysis ofVeterinary Surgeons' Experiences of Depression Susan Elizabeth DawsonFebruary 2015The University of ManchesterProfessional Doctorate in Counselling PsychologyAbstractBackground: Juxtaposed with prevailing romantic myths surrounding images of UK veterinary practice are the reported alarming levels of psychological distress within the profession. Whilst an abundance of published quantitative studies report on the high proportional mortality rate of death by suicide in vets and identify possible causes of stress in the workplace, there is noticeable paucity of qualitative studies that precedent vets' lived experiences and privilege their voices. Aims: Within this study I aimed to gain an "insider's perspective" as to what it is like to be a vet (in UK practice) experiencing psychological distress. I also investigated the possible impact on vets of the "culture of death" (i.e. responsibility for administering euthanasia; exposure to death). This was with the aim of generating, deeper, more nuanced insights into how veterinary surgeons made sense of and meaning from their experiences of distress, with a view to enhancement of future counselling psychology initiatives and interventions. Participants: I recruited five veterinary surgeons on a voluntary basis (two males; three females); four participants had received a diagnosis of depression; one self-identified experiencing post-partum depression. Method: I collected data in one single semi-structured interview that lasted up to 90 minutes. I transcribed interviews verbatim and applied interpretive phenomenological analysis to individual accounts, prior to cross-case analysis. Focusing on metaphors participants used, I imported an existential lens for interpreting findings. I further used personal and epistemological reflexivity to generate greater transparency of my own processes and context. Findings: I identified three master-themes: "I suffered from depression, real depression;" "All - consuming: it eats away at you;" and "The Human Element." Participants made sense of their experiences of psychological distress as depression through metaphors of darkness, descent, void, consumption, motion/inertia and balance. My analysis revealed diversity in experiences; responsibility for multiple, convenience and precipitous euthanasia was located as difficult and sometimes distressing. Two participants had experienced the loss of a veterinary surgeon friend by suicide, which was described as "horrific" and as generating deeper existential questioning. Participants idiosyncratically described depression as a multiple loss experience which was also potentially generative of increased self-awareness, acceptance and source of connection with personal values, interests and significant others. By importing an existential lens for interpreting findings, the multidimensional nature of participants' experiences of depression was made more visible and highlighted salience of spiritual dimensions, in particular personal values and sense of purpose in life. Conclusions and Implications: Insights generated illustrate diversity and paradox within participant vets' experiences of depression; revealing both associated losses and gains. Implications for counselling psychologists include considering the importance of sensitivity towards the context of veterinary medicine and understanding the personal meanings of being a vet.


Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
Award date1 Aug 2015