Most grief support is conveyed through the use of a specific set of emotional support protocols and techniques. These basic clinical communication skills include verbal and nonverbal behaviors like direct eye contact, touch, facial expressions, and body language. If you want to connect with and provide support for your grieving clients, it helps to be a skilled communicator. But skilled communication does not just happen. Basic verbal and non-verbal skills and techniques can be learned, often through trial and error, but more effectively through education and practice.
Practice, Practice, Practice
In coming blog posts, we will review the verbal and non-verbal skills that are most important to practice with your team. Practicing these skills, and learning to apply them through common situations will allow you to reduce the “trial and error” part of the equation. With practice, every member of your veterinary team will become skilled in providing grief support.
When encountering situations involving grief, it also helps to have a plan. A grief support plan or protocol provides direction for your entire practice team. Written and well-rehearsed protocols help you and your staff understand who is responsible for each step of the client support process, as well as when each step should be implemented.
The following outline has been used in well-established clinical teaching programs and can be used to design client-support protocols for your practice. Before adapting your own protocols to this outline, it is useful to identify the purpose (e.g., client-present euthanasia) of the plan you are creating.
Outline of Emotional Support Protocol
Define the specific purpose of this protocol for your team.
1st Step – Lay the Foundation
- Prepare the physical environment.
- Stock client-education/support supplies.
- Assign/assume team member roles and responsibilities
2nd Step – Implement Support Techniques
- Establish trust and rapport.
- Use a variety of appropriate verbal and nonverbal clinical communication skills and emotional support techniques.
- Provide clients with educational/support products, information, and referrals to take home. (These might include conversations/printed information about decisions to make prior to euthanasia, such as what to expect from the euthanasia procedure and body care options.)
Step 3 – Stay Connected through Follow-up Care
- Call clients within 24 hours to check on their well-being and clear up any questions or misunderstandings they might have.
- Send a handwritten condolence card or note as soon as possible.
- Schedule and appointment time if clients are picking up cremains and/or memorial pawprints. Ask if clients have questions or concerns they want to discuss.
- If the case was unusual or especially emotional, debrief with team members. Role-play and review the case at weekly staff meeting to improve everyone’s client-support knowledge and skills and personal ability to draw closure to patient loss.
Check back soon to learn about the basic verbal and non-verbal communication skills that you can practice with your team to make your emotional support protocols effective.
Keep up the good work,
World by the Tail, Inc.