How social workers can build their emotional resilience

Social work is stressful - but you can learn how to become more resilient

woman looking at view from mountains
Photo: Poprotskiy Alexey/Fotolia

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.

Social work can be a challenging and stressful career. 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.

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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3 Responses to How social workers can build their emotional resilience

  1. Ruth Cartwright April 10, 2017 at 2:43 pm #

    Good advice, but when social workers are threatened and abused and are distressed by this, it is not good enough to say or imply that they are not sufficiently resilient. Action should be taken against all those who abuse or offer violence to social workers who are just doing their (very difficult) job. And employers have a duty of care towards their staff vis a vis workload, working conditions, and regular, supportive supervision.

  2. Maharg April 10, 2017 at 4:27 pm #

    Emotional resilience is something that you learn, those who do not learn it succumb. There was an assumption that you can train, which may be true, you can promote well-being, which may be true, and you can learn to overcome, which again may be true. However, it’s the deluge of events which swamp the person.

    when looking at the diagram of resilience, it looks like a seesaw with weights being added to the either end, and the point in the middle, the fulcrum this the individual worker, social worker. This point could be marked the last straw. Having worked in social care for thirty years, plus in a variety of settings, my camel point was a succession of safeguarding concerns, toxic mix of clients who were demanding and threatening caseload, a slightly less than sympathetic team manager who was focused on budget management and team target levels.
    Back in the real life personal life, which included the death of ten + relatives and acquaintances in eighteen months.
    My life was turning into ,Agatha Christie murder novel.
    Resilience by the truckload not enough to manage all them straws emotional impacts

    Supportive interventions came via short-term medication, time to recuperate, three months, returned to work and counselling. This resulted in changes in my lifestyle, e.g. change jobs to a different social client group , new location. And though there are days I think hellfire. I become resilient, or self-protective.
    I would like to think resilient, this self-protective sounds a bit aloof, not a team player out for one’s own interest. But ultimately, if you’re not able to manage it yourself, you burn.

    Resilience needs to be promoted, intervention by oneself, self-preservation and promoting preservation of others is what it’s about. We are all individuals in a team and we are interlinked like a Venn diagram, and where we touch or overlap. We have an impact both positive and negative. Hopefully we try to promote a positive contact point.

  3. Peter Endersby May 5, 2017 at 10:46 am #

    Resilience isn’t just learned where is evidence for that statement. Again this is managing a problem rather tan tackling the cause at source. If social workers working conditions were better then resilience would be better.