Happy new year, fellow social workers! There is a Taoist proverb that says “You cannot see your reflection in running water.” I love this proverb because it reminds me of the importance of slowing down—pausing—to meet the demands of life. There is power in pausing. Pausing is not coming to a complete stop. Pausing is not going, and it is not stopping. It is slowing down enough to take a look at what is happening to and around you. It allows you to still be in motion, but to be more intentional as to what comes next. It gives you that moment you need in a day, in a week, in a month, to collect yourself and be intentional in your life decisions. I know this may seem very existential to some. Perhaps too existential for a rigorous journal like Social Work. However, after sitting with fellow social workers and hearing them discuss how they meet the challenges of managing their professional and personal juggle, I thought it was important to focus my editorial on the importance of taking care of yourself to meet these life challenges. As we begin the start of a new year, I challenge my fellow social workers to slow down, to pause, to intentionally center yourselves to meet the needs of the day and beyond. The Demand for Social Work during Turbulent Times The demand for social work is growing. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2017) predicted that social work employment will grow by 12 percent between 2014 and 2024, which is 74,800 jobs over 10 years. This occupational growth is higher compared with other professions that have an average growth rate of 7 percent. These changes are largely driven by needs in health care, behavioral health, and broader social services. As the profession grows to meet these demands, those of us in the trenches are working to meet increasing demands on families and communities, and exposures to multiple forms of trauma. As we ended 2017, there were many events that confronted the nation and created an even greater need for professional social workers. For example, the opioid crisis continues to take children and parents from families. It has created an increased need for mental health, substance abuse, and child welfare practitioners. The year 2017 will be known for the historical hurricanes. These storms were catastrophic—devastating communities and changing lives. We were also faced with white nationalists marching through Charlottesville, Virginia, spewing hate, violence, and racist ideology. We saw the rescinding of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program threatening to separate individuals from their families and communities. In addition, we saw the largest mass shooting in our nation’s history in Las Vegas, Nevada. These events have contributed to feelings of fear and uncertainty. Social workers know that these and other events are impactful because of the volume of people in need and the complexity of issues that they confront daily. Much could be said about the need for practice interventions, the role of social workers in advancing social justice, and especially the importance of persistently hearing the voice of social work in responding to a range of important issues. All of this is true and necessary. Yet I am compelled to remind you to take care of yourselves before you give to others. The Need for Self-Care We often do not fully listen to the words of flight attendants when they remind us that in the event of an emergency we should put on our oxygen masks before helping others put on their mask. I notice this every time I fly. People are too busy to listen to this reminder. It is a reflection of our general practices in hurried times. We are so busy reading an e-mail, helping an individual, changing a system, or engaging a community that we neglect to pause, put on our mask, and take care of ourselves so that we are fully ready to engage the day. It is not just social workers. The American workforce is noted for experiencing an overabundance of stress, sleep deprivation, and burnout (Huffington, 2014). There is a context for the importance of focusing on self in our profession. Martin and Martin (2003) shared the role of “diviners” in ancient Egypt. They were traditional African caregivers and helpers described as the forerunners of social work practice. These individuals spent years preparing themselves to engage in practice and took time to consistently invest in their development. During this time, they reflected on strengthening and readying themselves to prepare for practice. They knew that investment in self was critical to being ready to address the complexities of life and opportunities for change that lay ahead. We are still challenged in this way to continually invest in ourselves, something that is not completed when we earn our social work degree. It is something that is fluid. This idea means that as we change, and as our circumstances change, we are challenged to really know ourselves—our developing selves—because we too are affected by the world around us. Our position as social workers does not mean that we are immune from the very challenges the people around us face. Although we are well equipped to meet these challenges as we help others, it is critical that we create systems of care for ourselves. As I sat at a training and listened to my fellow social workers, I was reminded that we are not alone in caregiving for others within our families, communities, places of business, and beyond. Thus, caring for ourselves cannot be something haphazard or done on an as-needed basis. Caring for ourselves must be routine and viewed as a necessary part of doing the important work we get to do so that we can be optimal for those who rely on us. In fact, because of the demanding work we do, it is even more imperative that we take care of ourselves. Conclusion I believe that this matter is so important that Social Work will dedicate an upcoming special issue to the topic of self-care. Until then, I ask you to pause—pause so that you can be intentional with your time and effort. I ask that you be kind to yourselves and your fellow social workers. If possible, as an administrator, encourage staff to disengage from the office—even e-mails—when off from work. I ask you to spend some time this month developing a routine that you can stick to that prioritizes you in your own life. I ask that you take a break from e-mails and text messages during your day. Perhaps take a social media vacation—just for a little while. Read a good book. Spend time with family and friends. Watch that movie or television show you have been meaning to catch up on. Take a winding walk, a calming yoga class, a mind-clearing run, or engage in a vigorous workout. Reach out to get help from family and friends, and yes, if needed, another social worker too. As our profession grows, let us be mindful of the need to grow our focus on self-care. Challenge yourself to come up with one word that will guide your efforts for this year. My word is “intentional.” What will your word be for 2018? References Huffington, A. ( 2014). Thrive: The third metric to redefining success and creating a life of well-being, wisdom, and wonder . New York: Harmony Books. Martin, E. P., & Martin, J. M. ( 2003). Spirituality and the black helping tradition in social work . Washington, DC: NASW Press. U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics. ( 2017). Occupational outlook handbook (2016–2017 ed.), Social workers. Retrieved from https://www.bls.gov/ooh/community-and-social-service/social-workers.htm © 2017 National Association of Social Workers
Social Work – Oxford University Press
Published: Jan 1, 2018
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