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The Profession Must Prioritize Self-Care

Social Workers Owe it to Themselves and Clients to Value a Healthy Lifestyle

"It was not the clients themselves who were causing the major portion of the stress."
The Profession Must Prioritize Self-Care

How much help are social workers to their clients if they are stressed, sick or tired and haven't made time for self-care? Obviously the professional value they have to offer may be compromised, but social workers in particular - professionals who are often trained to focus on the needs of others - often neglect their own well-being. As a result, they may suffer not only in their professional lives, but in their personal lives as well.

Social workers and stress. In 2004, NASW conducted a benchmark national study that provided a wide range of information regarding social workers' roles and work environments. The findings pointed to an impending shortage of licensed social workers, but there was no clear indication as to why this would occur.

In an effort to better understand what was happening, the NASW Center for Workforce Studies conducted an anonymous online survey in 2007 to which 3,653 NASW members responded. One report from the survey, "Stress at Work: How Do Social Workers Cope?" revealed some important insights.

"We learned that it was not the clients themselves who were causing the major portion of the stress, but the work environment itself," said Tracy Whitaker, director of the Center. "The primary stress social workers face is that they don't have enough time to do their jobs, and related to that, have too heavy a workload. This was true across practice areas."

Thirty-one percent of respondents said they didn't have enough time to do their jobs; 25 percent acknowledged that a heavy workload was a primary contributor to their stress; comparatively, just 16 percent cited their clients as a significant source of their stress.

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