Social Work self care is a crucial element of social work practice, yet is often neglected at the individual level, compounded by a lack of support at the organizational and political levels.Social Work Self Care: The Burden of Self-Care

Social Work self care is a crucial element of social work practice, yet is often neglected at the individual level, compounded by a lack of support at the organizational and political levels.

Emphasis on the importance of self-care is deficient in social work training/education and organizational culture, as illuminated in one particularly salient study in which respondents’ definitions of self-care centered on the idea that it is “an important area of professional development, but that it had rarely been addressed in their clinical training or in continuing education1”.

Many professionals view self-care as a potentially beneficial but ultimately optional aspect of therapeutic work. To many, self-care is considered a luxury or additional burden that many workers feel they cannot afford since it is not incorporated into their existing work schedules.

Risks of Social Work Self Care Neglect

As helping professionals seeking to work collaboratively with diverse clients toward healing, social workers must take proper measures to ensure that social work self care needs are met to protect themselves, their clients, and the therapeutic process.

A lack of recognition of the necessary balance between therapist self-care and care for clients can result in detrimental effects on the client and the therapeutic relationship: “therapists who deny personal problems risk exploitation of clients for their own needs, leaving clients dependent and powerless2”.

Social work self care practices need to be appropriately addressed multi-systemically. Individual practitioners can make the choice to practice self-care as an extension of accountability to one’s clients, to protect themselves and their clients from the risk of harm.

However, practitioners need to be guided, encouraged, and supported in this practice in order for self-care to be truly transformed within the social work profession; change is needed at the organizational and political levels for a shift in the paradigm of social work self care.

Shifting the Paradigm: Feminist Models for Social Work Self Care Practice

This paradigmatic shift would allow for self-care practices to be seen as an integral, ongoing, and fundamental component of therapeutic work, which would be implemented across all levels of the profession. Killian emphasizes the need for “a change in our ways of thinking about self-care, a recalibration of our theoretical lenses…where we look at professionals’ stress and coping in structural, political, and organizational contexts1”. To revolutionize self-care, we must take action at the micro and macro levels. Social workers must come to view self-care as an ethical imperative compelled by the clinician’s accountability to her clients, while the social work profession must recognize and affirm clinicians’ ethical responsibility to engage in self-care practices by supporting them at the organizational and political levels, following feminist therapy models.

To revolutionize self-care, we must take action at the micro and macro levels. Social workers must come to view self-care as an ethical imperative compelled by the clinician’s accountability to her clients, while the social work profession must recognize and affirm clinicians’ ethical responsibility to engage in self-care practices by supporting them at the organizational and political levels, following feminist therapy models.

A feminist approach to self-care does not place the onus of attending to one’s needs on the individual practitioner alone but recognizes the need for a relational and supported culture of self-care practice that requires significant change beyond the individual level. Only by implementing change multi-systemically will the overarching perspective of self-care be revolutionized, moving from the view of self-care as a self-serving, stigmatized, and burdensome “option” to the certainty that self-care practices are vital to preventing, managing, and healing from occupational hazards and thereby, better serving our diverse, and often traumatized, client groups. Following the example of the Feminist Therapy Institute

Only by implementing change multi-systemically will the overarching perspective of self-care be revolutionized, moving from the view of self-care as a self-serving, stigmatized, and burdensome “option” to the certainty that self-care practices are vital to preventing, managing, and healing from occupational hazards and thereby, better serving our diverse, and often traumatized, client groups.

Following the example of the Feminist Therapy Institute3, social workers, organizations, administrators and policies must recognize therapist self-care as the commendable fulfillment of an ethical responsibility for the benefit of all parties involved in the therapeutic process of healing.

At the micro-level, social workers, as individuals, must reframe the ways they think about self-care from an optional luxury or additional burden to an ethical responsibility required to maintain accountability to our clients. Looking organizationally at the mezzo-level, social work agencies should incorporate protective factors within agency policy that encourage self-care, provide a space and time for it, and offer additional education surrounding it within agencies, following the feminist approach. Finally, at the macro-level, the social work profession should advocate for and enact policy changes such as adding self-care to the Social Work Code of

Looking organizationally at the mezzo-level, social work agencies should incorporate protective factors within agency policy that encourage self-care, provide a space and time for it, and offer additional education surrounding it within agencies, following the feminist approach.

Finally, at the macro-level, the social work profession should advocate for and enact policy changes such as adding self-care to the Social Work Code of Ethics and increasing attention to Self-Care in the training curriculum and continuing education of social work professionals.

 

Reference List:

1Killian, K. Helping till it hurts? A multimethod study of compassion fatigue, burnout, and self-care in clinicians working with trauma survivors. Traumatology. 2008;14(2):32-44.

2Carroll, L, Gilroy, PJ, Murra, J. The moral imperative. Women & Therapy. 1999;22(2):133-143.

3Feminist Therapy Institute. Code of ethics [Internet]. Georgetown (ME): Feminist Therapy Institute; 2000 [cited 2016 May 6]. Available from

 

 

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Social Work Self Care: Revolutionizing Self-Care What You Need to Know
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Social Work Self Care: Revolutionizing Self-Care What You Need to Know
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Social Work self care is a crucial element of social work practice, yet is often neglected at the individual level, compounded by a lack of support at the organizational and political levels.
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MSW Careers
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