“Professional self-care is paramount for competent and ethical social work practice. Professional demands, challenging workplace climates and exposure to trauma warrant that social workers maintain personal and professional health, safety and integrity,” according to the NASW Code of Ethics.
Increased difficulties connecting with clients during lockdowns, heightened distress among clients and fears about catching or spreading the coronavirus took an emotional toll on social workers, according to a report by the International Federation of Social Workers (IFSW). Among the concerns highlighted by IFSW: fatigue and the need for self-care.
Professional organizations and their leaders recognized that action was needed. The NASW code of ethics update emphasizes that self-care is not an add-on to social work practice but is integral to practice, enabling social workers to serve clients in a competent manner, and insulating themselves from the effects of burnout.
Why Is Self-Care Important for Social Workers?
Self-care is a subject that social workers discuss within their jobs, professional development courses and conferences, according to the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE). Social work students feel the stress as well, which means many people who want to help others in need are the most at risk of compassion fatigue, secondary trauma and burnout, CSWE stated.
Social workers aren’t alone. Psychologists, nurses and others in helping professions benefit from practicing self-care. The American Psychological Association encourages its practitioners to take care of themselves so that they do not become stressed or let stress reach a level of distress or impairment.
The wellbeing of social workers and social work students is critical to meet demands. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that between 2020 and 2030, about 78,300 openings for social workers are projected each year. In order to effectively support communities that have been hit the hardest by racial injustice, economic precarity and the ongoing pandemic, it is paramount for social workers to practice self-care.
Social Work License Map has compiled resources for social workers and social work students to maintain mental health and practice self-care as they navigate their profession.
45 Self-Care Resources for Social Workers and Social Work Students
Use the links below to navigate resources to help maintain mental health and learn about self-care strategies for social workers and other helpers:
Burnout and Self-Care in Social Work, SaraKay Smullens: updated edition of guide for students and those in mental health professions to help find direction and balance to better serve clients.
Disaster Mental Health Counseling, Fourth Edition, Jane M. Webber and J. Barry Mascari (editors): an examination of the emotional and somatic impact of disaster and trauma work on counselors, the type of traumatic stress that mental health responders experience and interventions to reduce compassion fatigue and the potential for PTSD.
Self-Care in Social Work, Kathleen Cox and Sue Steiner: approaches to self-care through the development of self-awareness, self-regulation and self-efficacy as well as understanding how they align with one’s agency structure and culture.