March is National Social Work Month. As Social Workers, we are in the business of helping others. It can be very rewarding work, and also it can be incredibly draining and overwhelming. We work with some of the most disenfranchised populations and we hear some incredibly traumatic stories. Over time, the work can affect us in really intense ways.
This is often referred to as the “cost of caring” for others in emotional pain. Simply put, we have clear emotional reactions to the people we are helping. And since most of us have our own issues that inspire us to enter the field — we are wounded healers — our reactions can be even more powerful.
When we ignore this phenomenon, that’s when the trouble may begin. This is known as the Professional Blind-Spot – meaning we get in the way of our own work. We need to acknowledge the stress and face the challenges. We need to take care of ourselves to better care for others.
Self-care is so essential in our field. Self-care is essential period. For Social Workers, this could mean the difference between being happy in your work and burning out quickly. So many of us leave the field or switch roles quickly due to all of this intense work. Self-care can make a huge difference. Taking breaks, taking vacations, setting boundaries, enjoying hobbies, having outside interests, working out, meditation, humor, friends, family, chocolate … all of these can help keep us fresh and excited about the work.
I’m a huge proponent of self-care and I try to practice my strategies each day. I maintain boundaries, exercise, eat right, enjoy time with my family, try to have a few good belly laughs, and truly enjoy a nice glass of Pinot Grigio. Or a few pieces of dark chocolate. Yet, I’m also human and certainly not perfect. There are days when my self-care is outright ignored. Part of self-care, for me, is to do my best each day and know that there is always tomorrow. I have learned to go with the flow – after many years of practice.
We empower our clients to take care of themselves and to ask for help; we need to get better at these skills ourselves. We need to let others know when we are struggling. We need to become more aware of when we need a break. We need to learn to be honest and real with ourselves in the process. We deal with such raw emotional stories every day. We can learn to be open to our own emotions. We need to develop the strategies needed to get us through it all. And be able to wake up the next day to do it all over again.
This Social Work Month, take some time to care for yourself. Your clients will benefit, your family and friends will benefit, and you will benefit. Happy Social Work Month to my fellow Social Workers!
We hold in our hands the power…to shape not only our own but the nation’s future ~ Dr. Dorothy I. Height