All I wanted to be was a social worker. I was so keen that at
the age of 18 I went along to a local secure unit and asked if I
could become a volunteer to gain an insight into my “dream
A puzzled social worker there asked me: “Why do you want to be a
social worker now? You’ll burn out by the time you’re my age.” I
didn’t ask him his age but he looked like he was in his early
I was not put off by his comments and ended up working as a
volunteer for the probation service. This went very well and led to
a job with social services.
After 10 years of social work, in many different settings –
child protection, residential social worker, working with young
offenders and so on, I began to realise what the social worker
meant by “burn-out”.
Just the daily routine – looking over yet another case study,
filing yet another court report – would completely stress me out.
But when I looked for support, there was little to be found. As far
as my employers were concerned, as long as I was doing the paper
work and came to work I was supported.
When I found myself in a tight corner with a client, I remember
my line manager asking me not how I was, but simply have you filed
the report, do I have the details right and so on? No one seemed to
care for the carer. I was not supported, I felt really let down. I
carried on doing the job that I was good at. But like an open fire
that needs more coal I was flagging. Who noticed? My family, and
friends with my constant mood swings.
Admittedly, I started to feel sorry for myself. If we, as social
workers, wane then how can we offer help and support to those who
need it more than ourselves? I wasn’t saying poor me I’m suffering.
I just wanted support to do my job well.
Because of the lack of support, I started to dislike my job. I
felt like I was running up a hill will no relief at the top. No one
to offer me that much needed glass of water to stop my temperature
soaring. I felt tired. I was not only letting myself down but also
service users. How could they turn to me with their problems when
mine felt greater than theirs?
All I wanted was to sit down and talk with someone. For someone
to listen to how I felt. I was burning, very rapidly, out.
Help finally came in the form of a psychiatrist who was paid for
by social services. Many of my colleagues also came along to the
sessions. They helped immensely, and we all agreed that these
sessions should happen more often.
I enjoyed being a social worker, but sometimes there really
needs to be someone there to care for the carer.
Sheila Lewis is an ex-residential social worker and is
now a journalist.