How to look after yourself: our professional resilience debate

On 6 March TCSW held its second debate on the new Communities of Interest platform, on the topic of professional resilience.

Given the stories that have been published over the last few weeks about stress and burn out in mental health and NHS social workers, the debate was another opportunity to share ideas and discuss further the types of work environment that can be conducive to ensuring that social workers' emotional and mental wellbeing is a priority.

Stress is part of life and certainly part of social work, but when severe and prolonged, this can be damaging in terms of mental and physical health and can lead to retention problems and the loss of good, conscientious and experienced staff.

There was a particular focus on NQSW and student social workers in a time where there is increasing demand and decreasing resources. Here are a few key quotes from the debate. To read the debate transcript in full, access the Communities of Interest via your membership dashboard.

“Students have protected caseloads and are rightly not exposed to the full stress of the role. NQSWs should be similarly protected, though I suspect they aren’t…This is the responsibility of educators (to prepare students for practice), managers (to support their staff) and practitioners (to be self-aware and self-manage stress where possible).

“Individuals need to learn both short term solutions – in the moment responses to stressful situations such as breathing, movement, mindfulness and visualisation, and longer term solutions around thinking styles, emotional management, reframing and reflective supervision.”

“One big question is how effective anyone can be if they are too busy – Munro pointed out that brain surgeons don’t rush operations because their waiting lists grow.”

“I don’t think that we celebrate our successes as a profession, which makes it more difficult when we are criticised. I think that knowing that you are doing a good job can alleviate stress.”

“Managers say they are open to being asked for help and having these conversations and yet still there can be a sense for practitioners that this is a ‘no go’ area and will reflect badly on them as individuals – anyone cracked how to work with this dynamic?”

Several key areas were considered and highlighted as characteristics that help to reduce workplace stress these included:

  • Importance of employer’s standards which need to be comprehensively embedded in a positive organisation culture.
  • Benefits of mindfulness in stress reduction. The need to celebrate where teams have good support and to share what works with others that need improvement.
  • Importance of developing the online communities such as the TCSW Community of Interest group ‘Looking After Yourself’ - essential for promoting help, support and a ‘you are not alone’ stance.
  • Stress control as part of the team meeting agenda.

Lydia Bennett, TCSW Professional Standards Officer and Mike Bush, panel member

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