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Nurturing the Nurturer: School Social Workers & Self-care

I know, I know…Self-care (you all are about to tune out)…BUT WAIT!! This blog will discuss ways to self-care (truly) for yourself and tips on how to advocate for yourself within your school district to promote and support you with your self-care!!

The Costs of Caring (Figley, 1982) are not a novel concept…but do we actually know what the costs of caring are as we continue our daily work as school social workers? How does caring for others show up in your professional and personal life? Do you take time to prevent burnout and mitigate vicarious trauma in your work? What are the differences between trauma, vicarious trauma, compassion fatigue, and burnout?

Well…most of us have NO IDEA!! The National Association of Social Workers (NASW) amended the Social Worker Code of Ethics in 2021 to include a greater emphasis on self-care…which means if you are not doing self-care…then you ARE PRACTICING UNETHICALLY!!

Stop right where you are, remember that YOU are the MOST IMPORTANT part of your job…okay, now... you can proceed.

When a doctor’s stethoscope becomes inoperable, they will get a new one. When a plumber’s wrench is rusted or broken, they get a new one. Our biggest tool of our trade in social work is US!! We are the instrument with which our job is conducted…so if we are broken or we cannot continue, we CANNOT simply get a new us to continue our practice!

The NASW Code of Ethics tells us TO self-care…however, most of the time, we don't fully learn how to self-care. We know as school social workers that we are supposed to be doing self-care, and we go to so many workshops that say “self-care is good”... “be sure you are self-caring”... “the answer to everything is…self-care”

–BUT, really, the onus on “doing self-care” is on the social worker themselves. The profession does not tell us how, when, or give guidance on how to ensure your workplace allows you time for self-care, and that makes it EVEN HARDER to live out what it means to self-care when you are always caring so much for others! SSWAA has a Position Paper that details how to Promote Self-Care for School Social Workers that can help support your work in your school!

SSWAA’s Position Paper: Promoting Self-Care For School Social Workers walks you through specific ways you can encourage your school administration to assist and mitigate the effects of burnout on all employees…and helps you come up with ways to advocate for your school district to help YOU with Self-Care (so it’s not just on you as the individual school social worker) 😁

Is Self-Care the SAME thing as Coping Skills? NOOOOOO!!

  • Coping Skills help us DEAL with what is going on…

  • Self-Care Skills help us HEAL.

  • If you come out of your self-care the same as you went in…then you really just did coping skills!

There are SO MANY ways to Self-Care that I cannot sit here and tell you how to do it, LOL…I know I know…you wanted a quick fix checkbox list to do. But remember you need to create and develop strong social support both at home and at work, set and maintain work-life boundaries, create increased self-awareness, and be in the moment (whether that be with mindfulness, meditation, narrative work such as journaling, etc…), and develop an individual plan that works for you! Your Self-Care Plan MUST include intentional, regularly scheduled, and specifically supportive things that help you HEAL.

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