Teaching Social Worker Vitality and Effectiveness Through Self-Care

High rates of burnout, turnover, secondary traumatic stress, and other work- related problems can be addressed, in part, and prevented through the development of enhanced and integrated skills in social work and education (McGarrigle & Walsh, 2011; Vick-Johnson, 2010).

Christopher, Christopher, and Dunnagan (2006) developed a course teaching self-care through mindfulness practices—the application of yoga, meditation, and qigong—to counselors in training so that they could provide students with personal growth opportunities to prevent burnout. Students reported significant changes in their personal lives, stress levels, and clinical training. Another study that incorporated a self-care assignment into a social work class emphasized the importance of physical, social, and spiritual self-care as integral to the process (Moore et al., 2011). Furthermore, McGarrigle and Walsh (2011) conducted a study of a mindfulness and self-care program with human service workers and found that enhanced awareness through mindfulness practice was linked to increased self-care, which was linked to better services. The authors of the study note that “time, permission, and place of learning and practicing mindfulness- based activities” (McGarrigle & Walsh, 2011, p. 212) are necessary factors to make such mindfulness and self-care practices successful.

Stress may also harm professional effectiveness because it appears to negatively impact attention and concentration and to reduce a social worker's ability to establish strong relationships with clients, community members, and colleagues (Kinman & Grant, 2011). Findings indicate that several facets of self-care learning are important for social workers in training, including self-awareness, self-regulation or coping, and a balancing of self and other interests (Shapiro, Brown, & Biegel (2007). Ying's (2009) study demonstrated the importance of self-compassion in promoting perceived competence and mental health in social work students. Shapiro et al. (2007) suggest mindfulness-based training for mental health professionals results in significant increases in positive affect and self-compassion. Furthermore, mindfulness methods used in teaching result in student self-report of greater sense of control and adaptability of skills, as well as increased scores on empathy (Christopher et al., 2006). In summary, social worker self-care impacts the person and the practice of the social worker. These findings highlight the critical role for social work educators in preparing students to engage enough with themselves and their experiences to recognize and manage threats to well-being and attention and to learn to practice skills such as mindful presence and self-awareness during their educational programs.

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