‘I have mixed emotions about re-entering the profession… I’m braced for a few sleepless nights’

After taking a 15-month break from social work, a practitioner explains her reasons for leaving the frontline and why she is now ready to return to the sector

Post-it note with the welcome 'welcome back' next to a cup of coffee
Photo: MarekPhotoDesign.com/Fotolia

By Elizabeth Rylan*

Next week, I am due to start a new social work job after a 15-month break. To say I have mixed emotions about re-entering the profession would be an understatement. I’m realistic that the range and intensity of emotions will increase as my start date approaches. I’m braced for a few sleepless nights.

After a long rest, I feel it would be unwise to jump straight back in at the deep end, so I have found a part-time role in a small and hopefully supportive team. My aim is to rebuild my knowledge, skills and, above all, my confidence, before I consider moving back into frontline practice – a chaotic environment which I had previously thrived in.

I’m aware that a lot will have changed since I last practised. So, in preparation I have been spending time looking up amendments to legislation and guidance, as well as researching services in the area where I will be working. I’m expecting to have a tired brain for the first few weeks at least.

But I must admit that I’m looking forward to getting some mental stimulation once again and rediscovering a side of myself which has lain dormant for so long.

‘A hard but necessary decision’

When I walked out of my previous office for the last time, I left behind not just a job I cared deeply about, but also supportive and effective managers and colleagues that I both liked and respected.

This can seem like an elusive combination of positive factors, and I also had the seemingly rare privilege of an allocated desk – access to a (mostly) functioning kitchen too.

The decision to leave social work was one of the hardest I’ve ever made, but it was a necessary one. It was driven by personal factors as there were events unfolding – or more accurately unravelling – in my own life which had to take precedence.

I have always been a reserved person, and I have often taken the easy option of keeping myself apart from people in order to avoid too many questions about my private life. However, evading speaking about personal matters does not mean that they don’t exist.

The black cloud of depression has long hovered around me, and as it became enveloping and all-consuming, it felt as though I was drowning in hopelessness. Driven by concern about maintaining high professional standards, I eventually overcame my fear of confiding in others.

Upon doing this, I was met by warmth, compassion and more support from my employer than I had thought possible. It was a little beam of light in what was otherwise a very dark, bleak and oppressive time, and I will be always be incredibly thankful to all those who carried me through that trying experience.

Hidden courage

Practitioners know how important ‘endings’ are when working with clients, and I feel that the support I was given at the end of my last job has enabled me to move forward and start again.

I realise that I was incredibly fortunate to have been able to make the decision to leave in my own time and on my own terms, before I lost love for the profession. With hindsight, I can see that walking away took more courage than I gave myself credit for. But, re-entering the workplace will take an equal amount of bravery.

My own experience has served as a stark reminder of this cruel reality, but also as a reminder of my good fortune in having a support network around me.

At times I am still fragile, but I’m fighting and I would not be embarking on this new venture unless I, and those around me, truly believed that I was ready to practice again.

Getting back in the ring

I’m hoping that I will be able to use my experiences to strengthen my professional resolve as I have a renewed and clearer sense of motivation, purpose and focus. I like to think that perhaps even black clouds can have a silver lining.

I’ve been knocked down, but I have found my feet and I am actively choosing to get back in the ring. Only time will tell how this next chapter unfolds…

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9 Responses to ‘I have mixed emotions about re-entering the profession… I’m braced for a few sleepless nights’

  1. Vicky Pfeiffer June 25, 2019 at 1:17 pm #

    Awe inspiring. There are many many Social Workers who feel the same as you but don’t have the courage to take a break and reflect on their personal and professional lives. Well done and I wish you all the very best for the future.

  2. mark June 25, 2019 at 3:50 pm #

    Much braver than me….. I am.leaving practice at the end of the week, I can only hope to never have to return.

    Well done, I hope it really works out for you.

    Best regards


  3. Anon June 25, 2019 at 4:29 pm #

    It’s positive to hear that there is support.

    Social worker has been incredibly fortunate to have effective and supportive managers and colleagues around her when she decided to leave her previous job.

    I think these workplaces should be cherished that helped making right decision.

    Some work places are such that they require the worker to provide the name of the treating clinician at A&E who treated the worker for sprained foot, and when the sick leave is one day.

    Well done for planning, and having the resolve to continue to develop. Best wishes for the future.

  4. Mags June 26, 2019 at 9:04 am #

    All the best in the new job. It sounds as if you’ve made some brave but wise choices during a difficult time in your life. Your courage will hopefully inspire others to believe there is light at the end of most tunnels!

  5. Anon June 26, 2019 at 10:19 am #

    I hope you are well supported, unlike myself where I had to give details of the doctor who saw me at the A&E because I was considered to be a liar. Obviously the agenda was harassment.

    Everyone’s experience is different.

  6. Jacie June 27, 2019 at 7:20 am #

    To take a break that lasted 15 months is a testament to your physical, emotional and psychological wellbeing. So well done for making such a courageous move to return. I left 17 months ago, was treated badly. Will never return. Best move I ever made. Got my life back and im not sorry.

    • Darcie June 27, 2019 at 7:53 pm #

      Same here Jacie. I left a year ago as the caseloads were beyond belief and the risk was unmanageable. Managers would not acknowledge how overwhelmed staff were and pecked away until a good number of us walked. Good luck to the author, I hope it works out. I would never return, never regretted my decision; blood pressure back to normal and not living in perpetual fear of making a mistake.

  7. Anon June 28, 2019 at 10:35 am #

    In majority of the cases, the role of the managers is questionable.
    Why doesn’t Hcpc do anything to stop such a practice.
    The author of this article had supportive manager and this is rare.

  8. julia June 29, 2019 at 8:27 pm #

    I am lucky enough to work in a front line team with two fab managers who each work a part of the week.