Letter to the Editor (February 2014)

Social workers need to take self-care seriously

I read the article on compassion fatigue (January 2014 issue) with great interest, especially comments by Sandra Lopez, who I have had the privilege of knowing for many years.

I recently retired after nearly 22 years of federal service as a LCSW and I can identify with everything she noted. For years, I took care of active duty military and then veterans without thought of the toll it was taking on me.

I used to laugh at the idea of compassion fatigue or vicarious trauma or burnout, because I loved my work with my veterans, especially the many military sexual trauma veterans I served.

Then I had a cerebral vascular accident at work one day and had to re-evaluate what I was doing. What had worn me out was not anything physical (all of my medical tests came back clear), so the doctors identified the cause as stress. I was advised to retire as soon as possible to reduce my stress level.

While some of the stress was due to the years of hearing traumatic stories, the majority was from the ongoing demands by the bureaucracy of the VA and the lack of understanding and support by upper management for the work I was providing, as well as the work of many other social workers, psychologists and mental health professionals.

I endorse every word of the article and I hope the newer social workers out there will take the article seriously and work at taking good care of themselves while they provide good care to the people they work with in their respective practice settings.

Susan B. Avery, LCSW, ACSW
Retired MST Coordinator
Fort Worth, Texas