Social work can be a challenging and stressful career. In a recent Community Care and Unison survey, 80% of the 2,032 social workers who responded said they had suffered emotional distress during the course of a single day. 40% had been verbally abused.
In order to survive for any length of time in the profession and not suffer burnout, social workers must be emotionally resilient; able to bounce back from setbacks and cope with stress. In a guide for Community Care Inform, Louise Grant and Dr Gail Kinman from the University of Bedfordshire provide an in-depth look at how social workers can enhance their personal resilience. Community Care Inform subscribers can read the full guide, available on both the Inform Children and Inform Adults sites. These are some quick tips from the guide.
Resilience develops in the face of difficulties
Resilience isn’t an innate thing that some social workers have and others don’t; it can be learned.
Resilient individuals still face the same problems that other people encounter, but persevere in the face of difficulties rather than giving in. They offset negative feelings – such as anxiety and anger – with positive experiences and emotions, and put perceived failure in perspective.
Over time, these positive experiences and emotions enhance the individual’s personal resources, rather than depleting them. This leads to resilience.
You can learn how to be resilient
Developing emotional resilience takes effort, but is an investment in your future wellbeing. It includes protecting your physical and psychological health, managing stress, maintaining emotional equilibrium, fostering supportive relationships at both home and work, and having boundaries between home and work life. And there are strategies you can use to develop personal resilience, including mindfulness, thinking skills and reflective supervision.
Cognitive behavioural techniques
‘Thinking skills’, or cognitive behavioural techniques, can help people develop alternative strategies to manage emotional or behavioural problems by challenging the ways in which you think about situations. Addressing a pattern of negative thinking can help you regulate your emotions, improve self-confidence and ultimately build resilience.
Supervision can be an opportunity to develop reflective thinking, if it is recognised that the process should be about development and support – not just administration and management. Preparing is vital; consider keeping a reflective diary exploring emotional reactions to what you experience in practice. Be open to feedback and reflect on this. Supervision can greatly help in developing emotion management skills.
A marathon, not a sprint
Building and maintaining resilience is an ongoing journey and it is likely to be a challenge at times. We will all have days when we feel that we are not coping well and other days we feel we are getting nowhere fast, but there will be days when we feel resilient and ready to take on new challenges.
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