Building social work resilience is like building muscles.
There’s a point in time when nothing seems to be changing. But deep within, changes are happening which you might not see.
Not being able to find a suitable definition for social work resilience, I’ve crafted one.
Resilience in social work is the ability to bounce back from each setback.
In many ways, resilience is like a trampoline. Each time you fall, the strength of the trampoline determines how fast and how high you can bounce back again. Knowing this about resilience (and trampolines), how might we increase our social work resilience?
See failures in social work as lessons
I’ve failed many times as a social worker, and as a student.
During my student placements, I went through the concerns procedure twice in two months! For those unfamiliar, the concerns procedure is initiated when your supervisor is concerned that you would fail your placement.
But as Guy Winch shares in Emotional First Aid, in times of failure, we need to ask ourselves:
- What can I learn from this?
- What can I do next time?
- What will I stop doing in future?
This translates failure into a lesson, making it more positive. Often, we see failure as a personal failure. We end up seeing ourselves in a worse light, thinking of ourselves as being inadequate. Yet seeing lessons from failure can encaourage us to see the qualities in ourselves too, and how we might develop them for the better in future.
Tell yourself that this too shall pass
One of the Alcoholic Anonymous’ slogan is ‘This too shall pass,’ to help alcoholics remember that whatever urges they face, it will pass in due time. When we face difficult times in social work, we tend to be enamoured by it. We are flooded by it. We sink in it.
Often, we forget to take a step back and remember that this is just a momentary period in time. Social work resilience is about reminding ourselves that tough times don’t last, but tough people do.
Remember, in difficult times, tell yourself: This too shall pass.
As social workers, we help others.
But we seem averse to the idea of getting help ourselves.
We aren’t perfect.
We need help too.
Resilience is about realising that sometimes, we can’t solve difficult things on our own. We need to engage the help of those around us, who can lend a different perspective to what is around us.
We want to care for others. But we mustn’t forget that to give, we must first be in a position to give. To draw out of the well of help, we must constantly fill up that well.
Be 100% responsible for yourself
Cloud and Townsend share in their book, Boundaries, that we are responsible to others, but responsible for ourselves.
This means that we are accountable to others we serve, but we are not responsible for the changes we see in their lives.
Sometimes, social work can be frustrating when you see that nothing is changing.
It makes it more difficult to bounce back from failures you see in the clients you work with. you wonder if you just aren’t good enough to help them.
But the truth is that we can’t change others. This is a brutal, but definite reality. Accepting the limits of what we can change helps us to be kinder to ourselves.
Instead, we start learning to bounce back better by being 100% responsible for our own social work resilience.
Recharge your social work resilience
Recharging your resilience is like charging your battery. You don’t want to wait till its dead before you charge it.
Therefore, regularly taking steps such as:
- A walk in the park during lunch time
- Eating lunch away from the work desk
- Meditating with an app like Headspace
- Going for regular breaks every 30 minutes
- Making yourself a nice mug of tea
These small acts of self-care help to recharge your social work resilience. It ensures that you are not burnt out, but are rested and refreshed. Too often, we push ourselves to the limit for the sake of our clients. That’s admirable, but it forgets that we are human.
Social work resilience is about bouncing back – stronger, better, and more resilient.
But it starts with a commitment to ourselves, rather than to others. When we start caring and loving ourselves, we realise that bouncing back is not a myth, but a possibility.