The Importance of Self-Care in Social Work

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Deciding to be a social worker is deciding to live your life in service to others. Social workers are on the front lines, advocating for those in need and being a safe haven for those they help. They walk alongside people and help them navigate the complications and hardships of life. As a profession, it is unmatched in providing purpose and fulfillment; however, it is often an emotionally taxing job. Social workers must take stock of their physical and emotional well-being and practice self-care in order to best be of service and feel fulfilled in their careers.

Empathy and compassion are social workers’ greatest tools and driving forces in their professions, and as such, those qualities must be protected. In order to protect and preserve this bleeding heart for others, social workers must practice investing in themselves. Have you ever heard the phrase: “You can’t pour from an empty cup?” This perfectly encapsulates the need for social workers to invest in themselves, in order to best serve their clients. While social workers are born helpers, there must be some caution practiced around adopting others’ problems and shouldering the heaviness all alone.

Self-care is now being referred to as a core competency of the social work field by Social Work Today. This is due to the burn-out and compassion fatigue experts in the field can experience. Compassion fatigue is the physical and emotional exhaustion that can occur from bearing others’ burdens. In order to prevent this, professionals have found that investing in self-care is essential. We have to be our best selves to help others be their best selves.

So how do we invest in ourselves? The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration has published some tips to prevent burn-out and compassion fatigue:

  • Get enough sleep each night
  • Remain hydrated and maintain a healthy diet to fuel your body
  • Practice good hygiene
  • Shower after you get home from work as a symbolic “washing away” of the day
  • Change your clothes in order to symbolize that you are no longer in work mode, but are now embodying a different role you play in your life
  • Reach out to family and friends to talk things over
  • Celebrate small successes as you go along
  • Take time to experience other things outside of work
  • Find things to look forward to

There are also additional resources out there, such as selfcareinsocialwork.com. This website was originally created by two social work professors at California State University in response to their student’s lack of understanding of the importance of self-care in social work.

Self-care is not indulgent, but a fundamental requirement in the service industry. Members of the social work field are beginning to recognize its importance, writing books on the topic, hosting classes on the topic, creating websites, and publishing articles. It is that important! The moral of the story is: take care of yourself, so you can take care of others.


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