SELF-CARE AND ITS ROLE IN HOLISTIC ENGAGEMENT
Self-care is a vital aspect of social work practice, as well as teaching and learning holistically. Researchers Moore, Bledsoe, Perry, and Robinson (2011) noted,
The intensity and severity of client problems encountered by social work students can at times seem overwhelming. This professional stress coupled with the responsibilities of student life and the activities of daily living that they encounter make the need for the inclusion of self-care in social work curriculum all the more crucial. (p. 8)
As such, it is crucial for the professor to role model self-care in his or her own life and to demonstrate this with emotional connectedness, empathic attention, whole self-inquiry, healthy boundary setting, assertiveness skills, and healthy lifestyle choices. Often, students have asked me what I do for self-care, and I am able to produce a long list of how I go about looking after myself. Living in Southern Africa for 25 years inspired my own commitment to self-care. I observed “other ways of being” and “other ways of knowing” and noted a clear link between healing abilities and a grounded presence. This heightened my awareness around the importance of self-connection. I explain to students that part of my own self-care commitment has been not working full-time in the field of social work. This has demanded a simpler lifestyle, and it is only possible if one does not have dependents. Time for reflection is critical if one chooses a holistic therapeutic approach. Students need to understand fully that unless one is committed to self-care, it is very challenging to counsel holistically.
Another way to demonstrate the importance of self-care is for the professor to be alert to the emotional undercurrent in the class and to use this material to develop a tool with the class. This is putting into practice how critical it is to pay attention to emotional content and for the students to be the participants. For instance, one week I devised a tool based on my perception that the students appeared overwhelmed and buried by their present demands. The title of the tool was “How do I hold onto myselfwith all these personal, practicum, and academic demands?” We also devised a self-awareness tool for their personal learning, which focused on the following:
- • How do we know we have self-awareness?
- • What takes it away?
- • How do we benefit from it?
- • How do we know when it is high or low?
In working holistically, it is imperative that professors pay attention to the students' emotional experiences and not attempt to educate on top of their despair, apathy, and boredom, for example, because these emotional states will also be relevant to their work as clinicians in the future. Including this learning experientially in the course content by devising tools, or opening a discussion, can provide a critical piece of learning. It is demonstrating how vital it is to acknowledge our own and our clients' emotional undercurrent for effective and holistically oriented counseling.