How to Avoid Burnout for Social Workers

by Jesus Vasquez, November 2014

how to avoid burnout as a social workerBeing ambitious, overachieving and being able to multi task are beneficial traits that many successful social workers exhibit.  But I feel that these same traits can cause the blurring of the line between taking work stressors home and leading to an imbalance between work and personal life. Some of these helpful tips can facilitate a healthy balance between the two.

Learning to de-stress is so important, actually is so very critical. Social workers must keep physically active and mentally active in order to keep our own mental health wellness at a stable level as we deal with very serious issues that face our clients on a daily basis.

The most important trick to de-stressing is identifying your threshold and recognizing when you need to take time to relax. Being able to have some rest and relaxation away from work is vital in order to stave off burnout.   Here are some more tips to help you manage the stress you might experience as a social worker.  

Social Workers Need to Debrief

Debrief, if you are a social worker in a clinical setting you may have access to a clinical supervisor.   A supervisor may be able to provide you with a sounding board to discuss professional and personal challenges. They might also be able to provide you with advice for how to better manage these challenges.

In addition to discussing issues with your supervisor, you might also want to reach out to co-workers for support or advice. Discussing issues at work with peers might help you be better able to keep work issues at work instead of having them spill over into your home.  Also, who better than co-workers, will understand some of the issues and stressors that you deal with at work.

Social Workers Need to Detach  

Detach-Our work can definitely affect us more than we know.  It’s imperative to detach work from home.  Providing social work services often involves investment of our own thoughts, emotions and feelings in order to help those we serve with their personal issues. It’s possible to get so wrapped up with a client that it causes some enmeshment. This is not healthy. Social workers have to establish and maintain sound boundaries with clients. These boundaries must be consistent and concrete.  To put it simply, we cannot compromise when it comes to our personal health or emotional well-being. The true skill here is to recognize when boundaries have become a little fuzzy and revisit this issue with clients as needed.

Social Workers Need to Avoid Burnout

In addition to detaching from our clients, social workers must also know when to detach from the office. Many times we may find ourselves doing more and more at work just to "catch up" or to "stay ahead".  When this happens we start to work a little earlier and stay a little longer and this can take its toll on us physically and mentally. It’s ok to turn off that work phone, and you can hold off on checking on work emails until Monday morning. It's understandable that our work can be a passion of ours but we have to be mindful that it doesn't consume our life.  The feeling of being constantly “on the clock” can lead to compassion fatigue or burnout. 

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