Dr. Melissa Holcombe LCSW, completed her Doctor of Social Work and Veterinary Social Work Certification at the University of Tennessee in 2014. Dr. Holcombe is a School Social Worker and Homeless Liaison in Northwest Georgia. Additionally, she is a licensed clinical social worker in both Georgia and Tennessee. Dr. Holcombe has a private practice providing individual counseling for pet loss and compassion fatigue in the animal services community.
Dr. Holcombe has presented at several national conferences on aspects of the human-animal bond, and provides local training on pet loss and compassion fatigue issues.
What was the most beneficial part of completing the VSW-CP?
The intensive weekends, being with other people who were like-minded in a lot of ways but had different views of the field and how to best approach it.
How much has your career changed since getting the VSW-CP?
It has changed how I approach people. I learned a lot of information about grief, which can be used in my day-to-day work in school social work, with students that lose their parents or have parents who are incarcerated. We've had some suicides and those types of things, so having the background knowledge of the grief part of it, even though it's in vet social work (people and pets), it still crosses all boundaries. For a time, I actually had a part-time VSW practice, where I was doing grief therapy and compassion fatigue therapy. Having a full-time job and a half-time job where you have to be so present was difficult, so I had to stop doing that. My hope is that when I retire from school social work, I can go back to doing grief and compassion fatigue counseling, because I loved it.
Do you have any long-term goals, or dreams?
One of my long-term goals is to be able to do one-on-one therapy for grief and compassion fatigue but also to present at various veterinarian conferences and animal services places and do training on compassion fatigue and grief work with clients. The vet-client relationship is so much deeper than it used to be, and so much is expected now. So, for them to have those types of tools in their toolbox to be able to relate to people, I think, is very important.
What lessons has your work taught you?
My work has taught me that grief is not one size fits all, and that people (disenfranchised groups, basically), often come to me and feel like they cannot talk about their loss with their friends and family, because they just don't get it. But also, I've had several people tell me the loss of their pet has been harder for them than the loss of a close relative. They have those intense feelings of guilt, and I am able to help normalize those feelings... Let them know it is normal to have those strong reactions to the loss of a pets, and there is nothing to be ashamed of or feel guilty about.
Do you have any advice for aspiring vet social workers?
It is very much a baby field, in that it is so very new. If you want to do your work in this field, you have to create your own space. You have to know what part of it attracts you. It is so vast, and you can't possibly do all of it. Find out what you are good at, and be willing to put yourself out there and create your own space.
Holcombe, M. (2014, November) Homeless Youth and Pets: Supporting the Human-Animal
Bond Through Inclusive Programs. National Association for the Education of Homeless
Children and Youth (NAEHCY), Kansas City, MO.
Holcombe, M., Strand, E., Nugent, W., & Ng, Z. (2015, November). Veterinary Social Work Services. Poster session presented at the Veterinary Wellness and Social Work Summit, Knoxville, TN.
Holcombe, M. (2012, September) Therapeutic Use of Animals in the School Setting. School
Social Work Association of Georgia, District 7. A 90-minute workshop.
Holcombe, M. (2015, January) Compassion Fatigue in Animal Control Services. Catoosa
County Animal Control. A 90-minute workshop on recognition and prevention of
2015 VWSWS Presentation
Holcombe, M., Strand, E., Nugent, W., & Ng, Z. Veterinary social work: Practice within veterinary settings. The Journal of Human Behavior in the Social Environment.