Over the past few years I’ve found myself observing helping professionals and reflecting back on my own experiences and wondering how anyone actually does it anymore. How do we provide care and service support when the fundamentals of the system we operate in seems broken? Is professional sustainability in Social Work realistic anymore?
Funding for services is ever under threat. Caseloads are too high and expectations of practitioners are unrealistic given the resources they have. Risks are seemingly ever increasing and the culture of blame is the norm. How do the helpers keep on helping? And maybe more importantly is it possible to be a helping professional for the long term and stay Healthy, Compassionate and Well whilst doing what you love?
Let me set the context for you here, I am not new to the helping profession, I am a qualified Social Worker with 20 years experience in the Child and Family arena across two continents. I however no longer practice my profession. I didn’t have the knowledge, skills or awareness to look after myself within the system and it eventually broke me. But does it have to break you too?
Maybe in order to survive in a broken system we need to change our understanding and acknowledgement of what it means for practitioners to actually exist and better still thrive. I’ve done my fair share of trying to rally against the system to no avail, we simply won’t get the utopia of empathy, provision and equity we desire for society. So maybe we learn to work smarter, and stay healthy within the system we have.
We need to change the narrative, it is the norm for helping professionals who face, respond to and support those in trauma on a daily basis to be impacted by the work we do. Compassion Fatigue, Vicarious Trauma and Burnout are part of the normal continuum of experiences we face. It is not the weak, the ineffective or the inexperienced workers burden, it is an expected consequence of our work.
I know one thing from my personal experience and that is that your work should not make you ill. The question then before us is how do we educate and support the helping professionals and the organisations that rely on us to have the skills, knowledge and resources to respond to the normal processes we experience? How do we learn to be aware enough to stand up and pull back when we feel ourselves sliding along the continuum towards Burnout? How do we educate organisations about their obligations to support the helping professionals as they do their job and protect against the debilitating impacts of the untreated effect of being a caring person in the helping professions?
Understanding and answering this is the journey I am embarking upon now. I was in your shoes, I have been where I don’t want you to go and I am committed to walking alongside those helping professionals who continue to fight the good fight. We need professional sustainability in Social Work. The system may be broken but it doesn’t need to break you!
Yours in Caring,