July 2016Vol. 17, No. 5Self-Care for Social Workers
Social work is a field in which professionals work tirelessly for the benefit of others. Those who dedicate themselves to this profession can know that they are truly making a difference in the lives of the children and families they touch. Social work professionals' lives are also often touched by the work they perform—but not always in positive ways. While the work can be deeply rewarding in many ways, social workers also often face challenges such as heavy caseloads, traumatic stress, and compassion fatigue. An article in The New Social Worker magazine shares the experiences of Deborah Lisansky Beck, M.S.W., L.I.C.S.W., in dealing with these challenges throughout her 20-year career in the field and her suggestions to other social workers for implementing mindfulness during their workdays.
The article defines mindfulness as "the practice of paying close attention to what we are experiencing in the present, both inside our bodies and minds and in the external world." After a stressful career move negatively affected her health and well-being, Lisansky Beck enrolled in the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Program, Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Healthcare, and Society, University of Massachusetts Medical Center, Shrewsbury, MA. Some of the lessons and strategies she learned and applied to her own social work career include the following:
- Awareness of breathing and body awareness: Focus your attention on your breathing. Notice whether your body is tense or relaxed. Being mindful of how your body is feeling and of practicing breathing techniques can help you maintain your focus on the present.
- Awareness of thought: Take a moment to see where your thoughts are. Are they focused on what you are doing right now or are they somewhere else?
- Mindfulness at work: Be sure to take breaks as needed to stretch, go to the bathroom, and hydrate. Take time to eat lunch, either with colleagues or on your own. Suggest to your instructors, supervisors, or agency administrators that they incorporate "mindfulness at work" or "wellness," as it is sometimes called, into the larger routine of classes, department meetings, and other school or agency activities.
- Social support: The relationships you have with family, friends, and colleagues are a vital source of nurturance and comfort. Examine your willingness to be on the receiving end of social support, pay attention to your need for help when it occurs, and learn how to build interactions that foster support into your day.
To read more tips and strategies about mindfulness for social workers, read the article "Mindfulness: 10 Lessons in Self-Care for Social Workers," by Deborah Lisansky Beck, The New Social Worker, Winter 2016, at http://www.socialworker.com/feature-articles/practice/mindfulness-10-lessons-in-self-care-for-social-workers/.