Episode 112 Transcript: Social Work is Everywhere Social Work Month Campaign

Anthony Estreet:
Happy Social Work Month. I am Dr. Anthony Estreet, chief executive officer of the National Association of Social Workers. Today, I'm your special host on NASW Social Work Talks Podcast. I would like to introduce our guest, Dr. Jay Miller. Dr. Jay Miller is Dean of the University of Kentucky's College of Social Work and an expert on child welfare issues and self-care for social workers and others in the helping profession.

But today Dean Miller is here to talk about his college's Social Work Month campaign. It's a campaign we think everyone needs to know about. Welcome to Social Work Talks, Dean Miller.

Jay Miller:
Hey, thanks so much for having me. I really appreciate it.

Anthony Estreet:
Let's go ahead and jump right into it. Why did UK's College of Social Work decide to launch a campaign Social Work is Everywhere?

Jay Miller:
Well, so it's an interesting story. I was actually out walking around campus one day, and on campus we have these group tours. Folks come on campus with their families and go around and physically explore campus and all that UK has to offer. I can never resist the opportunity to run up to the group and start picking with them or talking to them about where they're from, what they're studying, all those kinds of things.

There was a young lady I was speaking with. Her mother was there and she asked me about social work and was sitting there talking about social work. Her mom chimed in and said, "Well, where do social workers actually work?" Without thinking too much about it, I just responded. I said like, "Oh, social workers are everywhere," and I kept going with the conversation. She said, "Well, no. No, really, where do social workers work?"

As I started to explain it, it was this funny thing that it was even occurring to me as I'm talking about it with her that there's not a place that social workers aren't working or don't impact. I think as I had the conversation with the mother, she was very surprised. She didn't realize. People often think about CPS and social workers and that's where social workers are. But when we started talking about, say from womb to tomb, everything in between policy and everything around is influenced, impacted, worked in, around with social work.

And so I came back to the office, I said, "We got to do a better job at educating folks about where social workers are and what they do." Of course somebody in the hall would say, "Well, where are they?" I said, "They're everywhere." And so that started this whole concept of trying to explain and educate folks about all that is social work and then all the social work is to be.

Anthony Estreet:
No, it's so important to have those conversations. I think it certainly resonates with the current social work, my theme of empowering social workers. One of the things that I have been doing certainly is when I go around and talk is really talking about this idea of social work branding.

It's interesting. One of the things that I do, especially when I'm in large groups, is I ask people literally to raise their hand if they have social work in their title. It's usually less people that have social work in their title than there are in that room, and so we really have to do this job of public awareness and public education around who actually is a social worker and in what spaces are they in.

I think one of the things that you mentioned it, yes, we started in child welfare, but we have expanded so broadly to include financial areas, IT, you name it. We are in everywhere. I love the whole idea of Social Work is Everywhere because everywhere you look it really does resonate to where a social worker can be. And then even to that, we're in an election year thinking about all the topics that are going to come up are going to be literal areas where social work can address, whether it is from practice all the way to policy.

I think this is a great opportunity, so talk to me a little bit about some of the activities that you have planned for your campaign.

Jay Miller:
I think to your point, one of the things that we're really trying to do is pick out places and spaces where you wouldn't typically think social workers are, right? I actually was having a conversation today with a couple of students in the sports social workspace, and we started talking about these social workers who are in or work around these pro or college athletic teams. And so as part of this campaign, and again, we're looking at it as a year-long thing, so much longer than... Well, I'll be honest, to me, I think every month is Social Work Month. That's where we start is where we want to celebrate all the time.

But around just pushing, sharing in the social spaces information and getting people to think about all of these different places and spaces. Doing celebration, appreciation events and spaces, particularly in the health space. I think I would say the quickest growing healthcare need in the country is mental health care, yet we don't hear a lot about it in the context of other forms of health. The campaign is about informing and influencing the way that people conceptualize social work and then how they understand where social work is.

I also think a big piece of it is understanding the impact of social workers, so for example in the policy space. Knowing and understanding that just because a social worker by title, degree, license, et cetera might not be working in a space does not mean that space is not influenced by social work. Again, the policy, advocacy space is a really good example of that. At the end of the day, the campaign is always and all the ways highlighting and showing, celebrating where folks are in their social workspace and then educating future social workers about where they could be. I think that's another big part of what we're trying to do.

Anthony Estreet:
No, I appreciate that. I think that as we think about where we are in this public awareness, public education space, especially around social work, NASW was fortunate enough to engage Ipsos to do a public opinion survey.

What we learned was that 86% of the public is aware of social workers and that they work in social services, but they also know that 65% of those social workers work in mental health and substance use, right? Less than half of those know that social workers work in any other settings such as policy, advocacy, and community organizing. And so why do you think there's such a narrow view of the social work profession right now?

Jay Miller:
This might sound tacky. We don't do a good enough job of talking about and framing it and naming it. I say folks say, "What do you think social work needs the most?" I'll say, "A really good PR person."

Sometimes we get so caught up in the job or the impact of what we're doing that not only do we forget to celebrate it, but we forget to share it. I was somewhere the other day, and I saw a little sign and it was talking it was discounts for something. It had first responders and police officers and all that. I got halfway mad. Why social work not there, right? I actually asked a lady who was at the front desk and she said it never occurred to her. It's something that she never thought about. It's not that it was an intentional slight or we're going to leave social work out, it's just that it didn't occur to them, which to me ends up in the same place.

But I think it's up to us to do a better job of pushing, sharing, celebrating the narrative, naming and framing out in all these spaces. That's the only way folks are going to learn. I think even for some social workers that I talk to sometimes they might not realize that social work is in all the space that it's in. We just have to push and talk about it more.

I think at the end of the day, it expands the concept of social work such that it includes other folks. You got some people running around today thinking about what they major in. Well, if they knew all the places that social work were or what social workers were doing, I think that some of those decisions become a lot easier.

Anthony Estreet:
It's so interesting. As I think and hear you talk, it really does resonate just back to just how well these overall concepts of empowering social workers and social workers are everywhere, how they connect dearly to the work that we do, right?

And so when I think about empowering social, exactly what you're talking about. Empowering us to say, "Hey, we are here and we are in these spaces." Really again, it's funny that you mentioned this because while you got halfway mad, I get full mad every time I go somewhere and I see a first responder discount and I don't get one. I'm like, "We were first responders and we were superheroes during." And now it's like we don't have that same level of benefit, right? And so I do and have been talking to my team here about how do we get more benefits for social workers? How do we bring that awareness to some of these things?

One of those things that always comes up is how come social workers not considered as a first responding kind of profession when we do respond? I mean we're in a place now where some people are just now talking about it, but social workers are responding to police calls when mental health happens, right? And so I think that the more that we talk about where social work is and where it has been and also where we're going, I think it does help people to understand that we are literally everywhere.

And so I want to get back to this conversation. Really, what do you think social workers and other supporters can do to raise awareness and really talk about how diverse our profession is?

Jay Miller:
Yeah, so I think it's interesting. I would say two things.

I think number one of the reasons that we're not in those spaces, I always say words are really, really important. I draw a distinction between first reacting and first responding, and I think in some of those spaces, they're first reacting. Social work, we don't think about them as first responders because we've always been there. We were there before the thing happened and we'll be there after the thing happened. And so it's like we're almost the constant there. And so a lot of times, a lot of the attention, our energy, is spent around an event that folks have to react to. They're not thinking about what was there before, what's there during, and then what will be thereafter. I think, again, how we frame it and name it. I think right now we should start claiming the space around first responding in a way that's consistent, persistent, sustained, as opposed to these kind of reaction spaces.

I think that would go a long way in getting folks to understand all that is social work, and then frankly all that it could be. I don't think it's as hard necessarily as we make it. I always say we should sell the concept of social work the same way we sell shoes or clothes or anything else, right? It's getting it down into consumable information pieces that folks can take in. Sometimes the thing they love it and hate it for the same reasons, meaning something that's everywhere it's really hard to talk about what it is. Even sometimes I find myself when someone will ask me, "Well, what do social workers do?" Take a seat. That's not a quick thing that you can answer, right? Again, that becomes part of the challenge. For us, it's really naming and framing in a way that makes it tangible for folks to reach out and grab.

And then really focusing on the impact. I think we could talk about the task of what people do, but focusing on the impact is what folks are going to remember. You want to celebrate this change in the community? You want to celebrate these mental health wins, et cetera? Thank a social worker.

And then the last point I would say we have to be unapologetic about the work that we do. I say all the time. Some of my colleagues, they're teachers or medical doctors or whatever, and I always say, "That's cute, but none of it moves without social work." You think about whether school, it is hard to teach a kid who's hungry or who's been abused or who's not there. You can't perform that physical, medical care if they don't have a way to get to your office in a persistent way. The policies that we advocate for, that we work on around accessing things, we have to get better at being unapologetic about the work and then the impact that emanates from that work.

Anthony Estreet:
No, I agree wholeheartedly. You bring up a very good point, right? It's really, again, expanding that scope of social work. And so you're talking about moving beyond just the clinical services that social workers provide to getting into those community spaces, those resources, those connecting people back to other providers, right? Really, this interdisciplinary approach that we take to the whole human, right?

And so one of the unique things that we've always talked about in terms of social work education and this unique pedagogy of social work is that we take people in their environment and we are working with them and walking alongside them along this journey to wellness, whatever that may be for them, right?

And so one of the things that we have been focusing on here at NASW, especially around empowering social worker, is this issue of workforce, right? And so workforce is a whole lot of things, but when I thought about this social work month theme, it really was trying to rally the profession around this issue around social work pay, right? And so that comes in a lot of different categories and different things. And so one that specifically thinks about the educational space, there's been a lot of talk about around pay for placement and all that good stuff and how that relates to workforce. I just want to hear your thoughts on pay for placement, how it relates to workforce, social workers being everywhere, and all that.

Jay Miller:
Yeah, so I think that's something I told my folks for years. We have a running bet. Taking the over under on getting to a space and grappling with social work has this unique training model whereby you do these placements and such prior to graduation, which is a bit unique in the way that we have it set up. I think that it's certainly something that the profession in general, but the education space specifically, is going to have to grapple with and figure out a way to balance out the preparation piece of what that looks like with the workforce space of what that looks like.

One of the things that we do, a couple of years ago I started an initiative. It's called Corp Collab, or C2 for sure. But I've said the future of academia, at least in my opinion, is going to be in much more structured community corporate leaning partnership models, where we are training folks, preparing them, educating them in ways that they're ready for a job day one. I'm sure you have a lot of examples across your career where you walk into a space and I say, "Well, let me teach you how we really do that." It's like, "Shouldn't we have been doing that in school?" Let's teach them how they really do it in the academic space so that when they come to you they're ready day one.

I think field education can be a really important part of that, but I do think there are a number of different issues we're going to have to grapple with. The pay in the field piece is certainly one of them. Thinking about these partnerships and how folks move through an academic space. Accessibility to me is always really big. How are we ensuring that folks have access to high-quality education, be it online, virtual, digital, on campus, or otherwise. I think that a lot of that we get to by, your point, empowering social workers to know and to understand that they have a responsibility and then a shared accountability for what does or does not happen in those spaces. It's going to take all of us being everywhere to make it happen.

And then in some of these spaces, we're going to have to ask some critical discussion amongst ourselves. Every day I meet somebody who says they're a social worker. I'll say, "Oh, well, what'd you study? Where'd you go to school?" They say, "Oh, well I got a PD degree." I'm like, "Well, that doesn't make you a social worker." But that's not what the public would think.

I mean a lot of those we throw around the term too loosely. I couldn't walk into a courtroom and say, "I'm an attorney and I'm here to practice today." That would never fly. Same thing with nurses, same thing with doctors, these other allied helping professions. Yet in social work for some reason we think that it can. Again, I'm not casting a judgment on that. It's just an observation that it does complicate the discussion even amongst ourselves. I think part of the empowerment is being willing to have the tough discussion, getting to a place that we can all rally around, and then projecting that out to say, "Here's who we are, here's what we do, and here's what we need to continue to make these communities well."

Anthony Estreet:
No, absolutely. It's really one of those things where I'm glad you brought it up, right? This whole idea of critical dialogue, critical conversations, I think we need to lean more into those, right? Because we are definitely at an inflection point within the profession when we think about social work pay, when we think about the interstate compact, when we think about this whole conversation around the examination.

You asked me earlier how are things going in NASW world? I was like, "They're going," because all these things are happening at once. And so these are big issues to tackle in the social work space, and there's a lot of different conversations that people are just not willing to have or not willing to address at this time, right?

I think that for many of these issues that we're seeing in the profession, as we think about empowering social workers, as we think about social work, social workers everywhere, we also have to think about how we are working internally in our own profession to address some of these needs, right? Because what I am seeing is that a lot of the proposed solutions are coming from outside the profession where people are trying to dictate how social work should be, what should happen, what are the standards, as opposed to social workers having these critical dialogues. Because sometimes we're just in such a space where we don't want to talk to each other, and the critical dialogues is where we find solutions, right? It's in those places of conflict where we'll find the solutions to the problems that we have.

I think you bring up a very good point in terms of just being bold enough to have those conversations. Really to your point, you brought up the issue of just title protection in and of itself. Why don't we say, "As a social worker, you need to have X, Y, and Z to call yourself a social worker"?

Jay Miller:
That's fun. If you think about, no other professional discipline is still having that discussion. It's been settled, dealt with, et cetera. It's, I think, coming to a space.

I grew up in foster care, and I always say I live my life and I try not to make judgments. I just make observations. What I observe is that we're still having these discussions year after year after year after year. And so you're right. I would say my way is a way and not the way, and so having the discussion and getting a space that we can all live with...

But I think one of the things, I say this to my students a lot is social work, sometimes we get so caught up in the fight that we don't think about what comes next, right? I've been in places and there's a rally or something going on, and I'll take out a pen and a piece of paper. I'll walk up to somebody like, "All right, we can do exactly what you want to do right now. What do you want to do?" It's crickets. They haven't thought past the fight of what they're doing. And so certainly the organizing, the rally, that certainly needs to happen. But then after that comes the work of getting to the change, whatever that change may be.

Let me ask you, so what do you think? In terms of in the academic space, what more can the academic space do in terms of getting to an empowered space or getting to... How can we more differently impact or shape or contribute to having some of these dialogues or empowering folks to at least have some of these dialogues?

Anthony Estreet:
Yeah, that's a great question. And so it's interesting, right?

Before this role, I was a professor at Morgan. We had a lot of these critical dialogues. I would really say that a lot of these conversations are already happening outside of us. They're happening within the student circles. They're happening within the spaces of MSW, BSW, and PhD students, and they're coming up with some great ideas. I always say when we talk about political action and the social justice movements of the past, they were always fueled by the "younger folks", right? And so we just have to stop and listen because a lot of the solutions to the problems are going to come from people who have the energy to carry that forward.

But also because I say it's also a caution, right? We also have to be able to have those critical dialogues. As the young people are moving us forward and being progressive, they also have to be able to listen to the wisdom and knowledge of the past so that they can guide the future and not make those same mistakes. And so when we talk about how can social work be more progressive, how can social work do this, there's a lot of innovative ideas out there.

I had the opportunity last week to be on a call with the pay for placement group, right? And so when people typically talk about pay for placement, people are like, "Oh, well, where's the money going to come from?" But when I sat down and had a conversation with that group, there were so many different ways that they were thinking about pay for placement in terms of alleviating the financial cost to students or the burden to students. It's not just money. It's reducing the number of hours that is required for field placement. It is if there's a stipend through the HRSA and SAMHSA grants that went through schools of social work, they're talking about a lot of different ways to alleviate the burden that social work students have to endure while going through their educational degree.

And so having more conversations like that helped me to understand really what they were looking for. Now, we're at a place now where I can now carry their message and then create a platform so that their message could be heard by more people, right? And so I think this is all about leaning into those critical conversations, but then also creating space for those conversations to continue to be had and develop over time.

Jay Miller:
Yeah, that's interesting because I think that does happen a lot where, again, I think it's back to having a delineation between reacting and responding. I think most time folks, particularly if you're in an academic administrative space, you might hear a placement issue or a pay for placement, and you always have an initial reaction to that. But then getting to the responding of it, you put yourself in a space to hear some of these other ideas. Where folks, they might not be talking about just cutting checks all the time, although that can be a part of the discussion. It's just I think there are different ways to get there.

I do think at the end of the day, and you kind of touched on this point earlier, again I say it a lot, we need to figure it out before someone else figures it out for us. I don't think people sometimes realize. I say you don't always want to ask for rules because you don't like them when you get them. But on the other side of that, it can be somebody's going to figure this out. It would behoove us to do it first, meaning figure it out first. I certainly hope that folks are willing to not just have the conversation because I do think that there comes a time where you got to move beyond the conversation.

Yeah, it's an important part, but it can't be the end. We got to get to some action eventually.

Anthony Estreet:
No, absolutely. I think one of the interesting things, and we talk about this a lot, if we're not at the table and we're not making space for these conversations that are happening outside of us, and then somebody's going to take a solution and pop it down on us. We've seen examples of that where people have put a solution and it just didn't work out the way they thought to because they didn't engage with social workers in that solution-making process.

But I do want to switch gears a little bit because you have been at the UK School of Social Work for some time. I remember when you were first appointed to the dean position. Tell me a little bit about your story, and why did you choose the social work profession?

Jay Miller:
Again, that's one of them take a seat type situations, but I'll keep it short.

Honestly, seven years old, I get called to the principal's office. There's a lady sitting in there. Lady has a manila folder. It turned out she was a CPS worker. Of course, I didn't know that at the time, right? You walk in the office and she immediately starts asking me all these questions about what's happening at home and all these things. Obviously I don't know about you, but when I was growing up you didn't talk about what happened inside your house outside your house. That just wasn't a thing.

But I remember I had so much I wanted to tell this lady. I mean, I had a very tough childhood. Home situation was not good at all. But I didn't feel like I had the space to do it, quite frankly. I committed to myself that day that I was going to do what that woman did. Again I didn't know what it was at the time, but that I was going to do it a different way and that I wanted to create spaces for young people to share the things that they were worried about or scared about or what have you.

Not to make it sound any kind of fairy tale because it certainly wasn't that, but I knew at seven years old that I wanted to be... I actually named it to be a CPS worker. I got to college and they said, "What do you want to major in?" I said, "I want to major in CPS," and not knowing that wasn't the thing. But I think it's really what drove me to that space and then got me to wanting to do and be impactful.

I think in the academic space, honestly, I never set out to go into administration. I got into it because I got mad about something one day. I said, "It shouldn't be like this. It doesn't have to be this way." And so I've been fortunate enough to be at UK with a great group of folks. We go there at times, and we're willing to have some of these dynamic discussions to get to a better space. And so it's been a fun ride ever since. I always say I want the first couple of years I want to redo though because I had to go through COVID, right? Stepping into the role and then immediately hitting COVID and having to navigate that from an administrative standpoint was tricky. But it's been fun.

To me, education is social work practice. It is a form of social work practice. I think sometimes we separate it and we talk about the practice world or the real world. There's only one world. We're all in it in a different way. I think I try to approach social work education as an arena of practice to think about it from a standpoint of you're a student of the thing: you study, you learn, you regroup, you make mistakes. You do all of these things in the practice space. And so I think we try to mirror and mimic that in the academic space as well. Empowerment, the concepts that you're talking about, that's something that we want to do not just in the students space, but to faculty and staff and these other stakeholders. Get them to understand that there's enough social problems for everybody and we need everybody to help fix them. And so there's no need for us to get territorial or worry about yours and mine. No, if you got something that will help ours, come on. We need you and we'll try to contribute where we can to the other ones.

But that's the concept, at least to me, every morning I wake up that keeps me going is to know and understand that we're all trying to get to the same place. There's enough of that problem for everybody. There's no need for us to waste energy fighting about it. We need to put our energy in finding some solutions and getting beyond the discussions.

Anthony Estreet:
And so yeah, I think you bring up a lot of great points, especially around just figuring out this collaboration, this connection, between practice and education and that we are one social work profession, right? And so from education to retirement and beyond, we are all in the same kind of profession doing different things and at different spaces, right? I do think that being able to celebrate all aspects of social work is one of those things that really highlights your theme of social work is everywhere.

I think the other part too, and you're speaking to it, is really just this idea of the workforce again, and really how do we leverage our workforce but also protect our workforce, right? And so you mentioned the idea or the CPS worker, and that comes up a lot in terms of CPS. What does that workforce look like, social workers, and all that good stuff? And then we also hear this narrative around large caseloads. And so I know that you're one of the leading experts on self-care, and I see behind you you had the self-care lab merchandise going on and all that good stuff. I wanted to talk to you a little bit. Talk a little bit about, give me some thoughts about, self-care and why is this an important issue to the social work workforce?

Jay Miller:
I would say it is the most pressing issue. You talk about grand challenge. There's no bigger or more grander challenge than the concept of wellness among the people doing the work, period full-stop. And so you start there.

Again, it was funny how it struck me one day. I had set out, once I got into the academic space, I was a child welfare researcher. I did all my research funding, et cetera, was in the foster care space. And as I was doing the work, one day it struck me like, well, maybe I should be trying to do something about the workers and supporting them because that's how we're going to get to the outcomes for these young people. Ever since then, I joke I've been trying to run away from self-care ever since then, and I have been able to do it because you start to realize that it is truly the thing you talk about everywhere. It transcends your practice space, your practice locality, et cetera.

And so starting from a place of understanding that it is a necessity, it's not a nicety, it is a necessity. Myself and some colleagues, we've actually argued that there's an ethical imperative related to doing and practicing self-care as it relates to whatever arena of practice that you are in. We often talk about impaired practitioners, but we talk about it from the perspective of substance misuse. You don't hear folks talk about them from the perspective of burnout or being jaded, or to your point too many cases that lead to these other inimical consequences.

With the self-care lab, I set out in this space to really focus on the science of self-care and wellness. Did a lot of research and wrote papers and such around different spaces and places, looked at a lot of different things. Interestingly maybe to you, one of the things that I've written about and have found in several studies is that if your folks who participate in professional member organizations tend to have higher levels of self-care compared to those who don't. We've actually published papers about that.

But I think it's one of those things where we all have to be attentive to. For many reasons, we're not. I call it the helping profession curse, meaning we're socialized to think about the needs of everyone else and not ourselves and particularly as social workers. I remember the first time I got up to do a self-care talk, and it was in front of a group of social workers. I said, "Hey, I need all y'all to understand that your needs are as important as the people you seek to serve." Now, I said, as important so people would feel good about it. I thought they were more important, but I was going with as important to help people.

Folks were like, "You can't say that. We're here for our clients and we're here for this." It's funny to me how the very fame, the mission, the passion, the thing we want to do, sometimes we're not able to because we don't take care of ourselves or we don't invest in ourselves. And so to me, again, there's no bigger challenge to workforce than having a dynamic, vibrant, healthy workforce. That doesn't mean it's not stressful, it doesn't mean it's not hard at times. It just means that it's manageable in a healthy way.

I think even if you think about recruiting people into the workforce, I was with a group of child welfare workers. I was traveling. I was listening to them talk about the job. I just started laughing. They said, "Dean, what are you laughing about?" I said, "Listening to this, who would ever want to go into this job?" I said, "It sounds like y'all talking about prison time is what it sounded like." They laughed because I think it's one of those things where we wonder why people think a certain way about the job. Well, sometimes that's what we project. Not to say that that's not real, it is a very real thing, but we can address that.

Self-care is both the intervention and the prevention. And so if you're going to be a sustained practitioner dealing with the things of today, you're going to have to take care of yourself. In the self-care lab, we try to do a lot of research, provide services and help and resources around doing just that.

Anthony Estreet:
No, thank you. I appreciate that. I think what you're saying resonates a whole lot. Because one of the things that as we're doing and talking about empowering social workers, I often tell people, especially when I do my talks during this month, is the more you take care of your social worker, the social worker will take care of everything else.

And so what I mean by that is when we're talking about social work pay, you pay your social worker good, they'll be there to do the things, right? When you are having good benefits and vacation, all that good stuff, all those things will lead to job satisfaction, longer time in job, and just overall happiness in the role. That stops the leak that we see when we see people leaving the profession.

I think the other thing too, and I just want you to talk about it a little bit because there's this kind of a misnomer in the field that the remedy for burnout is somehow taking a vacation. That has always been what we hear. Oh, to prevent burnout take a vacation. Go get a massage. Those are parts of taking care of yourself, but that is not the solution to burnout. Can you talk a little bit about that?

Jay Miller:
Yeah, and again, this is one of those things where we could talk for days about the problematic framing around self-care. There's a lot of, again, these myths and misnomers, and one of them is is that it's some emergency reaction to a crisis. I joke with folks, if I hear that whole mask airplane analogy one more time, I'm going to lose it, right? Because if you think about it, they're always like, "Well, put your mask on first and take care of yourself, and then you can take care of others." But if you think about it for a second, if you flying on a plane and those masks come down, something's already wrong. It's already too late. Something has happened and it's not good, right?

And so why do we have to wait for that? Self-care it is a way of being. It is a way of approaching your work. It's a vital part of your work, and we view it as separate from. That becomes the fundamental foundational problem of how we think about it. Viewing it as an integrated thing that you must do to sustain your work is important.

I think too we often muddle together self-care and self-care practices, and those are two different things. You'll see folks, no knock to my mindfulness people, but you'll see folks talk about mindfulness self-care. Mindfulness is a self-care practice. Yoga is a self-care practice. Meditation is a self-care practice. What can happen is if we're not careful... I go to the gym. That's my self-care, I go to the gym. If I'm not careful, if I say, "Hey, Dr. E, do you go to the gym?" You say, "No." I say, "Oh, you don't practice self-care." Well, that's not true. You might garden a book, do a million different things. We often confuse practices with self-care as a concept, and we get sideways from ourselves.

I think another piece is this, again, I always say self-care is a form of empowerment. What I mean there is when you think about, I tell practitioners all the time, if you are waiting for your organization to somehow come around to the idea of wanting to take care of you, good luck. Because you'll be waiting, right? We often put it off as if it's someone else's responsibility. That is not to say we definitely have to be mindful of these larger systemic things, caseload, work policies, et cetera, that are related to our wellness and self-care. But we must be empowered to know and understand it is self-care for a reason. That as an individual you have some power and authority that you should exercise around caring for yourself in whatever way that looks like to you, whether it's taking a nap, sitting out on your porch, spending time with your loved ones, then you do that because that will help you to be a better practitioner.

I also think it's really important to point out a couple of years ago I started writing about this concept of pernicious practices. What I mean there is just because it soothes you does not mean it is good for you. I'll often talk about they got this thing. What do they call it? Retail therapy. You're feeling bad about yourself, go shopping. That could be all good if you got money in the bank, right? If not, you're into these pernicious practices. Or if you go to happy hour every day, you might be in a toxic relationship or something. Just because it makes you feel good or soothes you does not mean it is good for you.

I was a big cigar smoker. I loved to smoke cigars. I don't know where I picked it up. I had actually convinced myself, and I know better, but I convinced myself that somehow in moderation they were okay. No, they're not, right? That's a pernicious practice. And so self-care is about what you do, but it's also about what you don't do. I think really understanding, particularly for a lot of social work practitioners, just because it soothes you does not mean it's good for you. And so sometimes you really got to think through your wellness and self-care in a critical way and assess it. I always say you got to have some critical friends around you, some folks who keep it real and tell you what it is and tell you what it's not. I think through several of those spaces, you get to a place where you can sustain a professional career in a way that can be impactful in the way that you want to.

Anthony Estreet:
No, definitely. Thank you for that. Really, this conversation has really been great. It really has reminded me that social workers are everywhere. We want to continue to empower social workers to really advocate for themselves on behalf of themselves, and really to practice good self-care. I think that is if we're going to really talk about the profession and the workforce, and we have to talk about how people are entering the profession, but also how they're maintaining and remaining in the profession.

And so Dean Miller, I want to thank you for joining us today. The conversation has been very, very insightful. Really, open it up for any last words you want to say to everybody, and then we'll close out from there.

Jay Miller:
No, I just always a reminder for folks to engage in self-care, take care of yourself. If you don't do it, no one will. Again, I always say social work was built for this, whatever this may be. I think moving forward the key to a well-functioning society is and can be found in the social work space.

And so thank you, Dr. E, for having me; I think as well, for the stuff that you all are doing in the professional association NASW space. I was telling you earlier I've been able to engage with some of your folks, and I really appreciate their willingness to engage in discussions and to think about things that maybe we were talking about a concept. They said, "Well, we haven't done that before, but it doesn't mean that we can't." I think that's always the best way to start a conversation.

I appreciate you all and the collaborative spirit to, again, advancing some of these ideas down the road. I appreciate that.

Anthony Estreet:
No, I think that's definitely one of those spaces where we continue to innovate. We continue to listen and try new things and see what we learn, right? It could be something that takes us to the next level. Either way, we're going to learn from it.

And so I want to thank you. I want to thank everybody for listening to the Social Work Talks podcast. Enjoy and have fun. We will be posting this on the podcast as the audio and YouTube as a video. Thank you so much.

Speaker 3:
You have been listening to NASW Social Work Talks, a production of the National Association of Social Workers. We encourage you to visit NASW's website for more information about our efforts to enhance the professional growth and development of our members, to create and maintain professional standards, and to advance sound social policies, you can learn more www.socialworkers.org. Don't forget to subscribe to NASW Social Work Talks wherever you get your podcasts.

Thanks again for joining us. We look forward to seeing you next episode.