While I have found most of my classes dis-interesting and unhelpful this year, there was a conversation this morning in my Practice class that I found very relevant. One of the other students in the class mentioned that she was having trouble with not bringing her social work practicum back home with her. That is, she was having a hard time separating work from home, which is an essential (and extremely difficult) skill to learn as a social worker. We were having a sort of open forum discussion in class, and my classmates and I developed a few things that I think help with this issue. Often social work manuals or guide suggest “take a shower” or “light a candle” but I don’t care if I light 100,000 candles, it’s not going to get my mind off of what happened at work. So, instead, I think I will post some of the suggestions my classmates had to see if these seem more reasonable. If you think of more, please feel free to add to them (I’m mostly talking to Katie, since she’s the only social worker I know who reads this), but also anyone else!
- Find someone other than a loved one to vent with (ie not a husband/boyfriend/girlfriend/wife). This is because, while you may love and cherish your loved one, if all you do after work is bring back terrible things to your significant other, it is sure to destroy the relationship. Now, I don’t think this matters for ALL relationships, but I definitely use it for mine, and I think it helps. Firstly, my boyfriend isn’t a social work student; he won’t have the skills to deal with these issues like I will, so bringing him, essentially secondary trauma, will be negative. Also, I have plenty of wonderful things to talk with Alex. The negativity at work do not have to be a part of that (though I definitely share the positives). Sometimes Alex will ask me how my day went, but luckily I have a pretty easy way out of a bad conversation: both of the agencies I work with (WTCS & MOCSA) have strict confidentiality clauses. Anytime I’m uncomfortable with how my day went or am upset, by stating I can’t tell him what happened that day due to confidentiality, I ensure that I don’t take it home to him.
- When finding that other person to vent to, see if you can find someone who is a social worker. This can either be someone at your agency (for example, a supervisor) who you talk to for 15 minutes, or a friend you have who is a social work student. My friend Lauren and I carpool to work Wednesdays/Thursdays there and back to KCMO (45 mins-one and a half hours depending on the time we leave). This is an awesome time for both of us to talk. Not only do we get constructive criticism from each other, we also get to talk to someone who may or may not understand being in that situation better (that is being a student in a difficult situation at practicum).
- Have something to look forward to (cooking dinner, good food, a good movie, snuggling, sleep, etc.) at the end of the work day. That way you can focus on this instead of the negativeness.
- Make lists of what you need to do (both ongoing and on a short term level). That way you can feel good and accomplished when you can cross something off of that list, and still organize your time to get the energy to complete what’s left on the list.
This is just a short list of the things that stood out in my head. I think it’s essential to learn self-care because burnout is so damn prevalent in the social work profession. I might have mentioned this in a previous post (I can’t remember now), but my practice instructor, Megan, said something to me a few weeks ago that really stood out in my head. She basically stated that I should ask myself if I felt like I had anything to give to my clients. And if the answer was no, then I needed to change something. Because this is a helping profession, and how can we help if we have nothing to give. And we will have nothing to give, if we don’t first give to ourselves. Whether this is realizing that you can’t take too much on at one time or giving yourself deserved breaks or making sure you have a good time doesn’t really matter, as long as it allows you, as the individual to give back to yourself. I’m glad I took the time to write this all out. It will be nice to be able to look back on this and see what I’ve thought about and what this means.