You have completed your course work and passed your licensure testing, now you are ready to enter the world of compassionate yet, ethical, social work. Unfortunately, your teachers couldn’t and didn’t prepare you for the heartbreaking reality of your career.
When you face the anguish of a child victim of repeated sexual abuse, and the hollowness in the eyes of the child who watched his father murder his mother, something inside you will wonder if you have taken the wrong career path. And you’re not alone in that feeling. Many enter this field with high expectations of saving the world only to find the world weighs far too heavily on them.
The truth is, the field of social work can bring great amounts of distress, trauma, and burnout and compassion fatigue (read about that here). So how do you keep trudging along and keep making a difference in the lives of your clients? Here are some steps to stay strong and continue caring at the same time:
Boundaries- Establish firm and steadfast boundaries for yourself and your clients. Don’t take on their struggles as your own and don’t allow your personal life to intrude upon your professional life (and vice versa). This is often easier said than done, but it is a necessity to maintain your emotional well-being.
Rest- Your job is harder than you probably ever realized. It’s important that you take time to rest. Make sure you have the best memory foam mattress on the market so that your sleep will always be rejuvenating. But also go on vacation, enjoy the ocean, the mountains, and the stars. Allow yourself to just take some time to unwind and refuel. You need time to yourself so don’t be afraid to take it.
Stay Connected- The easiest way to get overburdened and weighted down is to remain in isolation. Make sure you have established an excellent core group of people who are fun to be around, understand you well, and can support you when things get challenging. Allow them to show you the empathy, compassion and care that you are working hard to dole out. You will need that refreshment too.
Exercise- There is some evidence that supports the quote, “Move a muscle, change a thought.” Whenever the job gets overwhelming, makes you anxious, sad or feeling defeated, do something active. Exercise releases endorphins, remember? Those are the feel good hormones you need. Besides, when you are working out, running, hiking, etc. you won’t have time to focus on the ouches of the daily grind; your body will be speaking much louder. Click this for more information on the value of exercise for you.
Pray- Lift your concerns to God and allow the peace that passes understanding to fill you. That quiet time will be great for your mind and soul. You will find newly invigorated strength, faith and compassion supplied that will enable you to continue through the pain.
There are so many other recommendations for limiting the distress involved in the career of social work. You might want to read more about it as these are insights from professional social workers whom have been in their careers long enough to have learned a few things about how to keep themselves mentally and emotionally fit for the trying job they have.
Remember, “should” is a bad word. Don’t judge yourself against others, you’re each on your own journey. Just do your best, care well, and follow these suggestions.