Self-care should be seen by practitioners and organisations alike as a fundamental part of human service work, and not just an optional add-on.
People in the ‘helping’ professions—such as social workers, counsellors, teachers, carers, and health professionals—juggle many potential challenges everyday including high workloads, vicarious trauma and emotional exhaustion. Jobs that involve working with people who are facing difficult circumstances magnify the usual challenges of any workplace. If left unchecked, stress can build up, contributing to mental and physical health issues including anxiety, depression, high blood pressure, addictions and burnout.
People drawn to human service professions are often passionate about their work; they are dedicated to supporting others to create positive change. This can have a shadow side. Sometimes it means that staff don’t take enough time to ‘refill the tank’. A depleted practitioner has less flexibility, resilience and capacity to think through challenges. Problems seem more intractable and it’s harder to be hopeful and solution-focussed. This can compromise the practitioner’s capacity to provide an effective service to others while balancing their own wellbeing.
The organisation is significantly impacted as well, with increased sick days and staff turnover, low morale, and less effective outcomes for people accessing services. Sustained stress takes a heavy toll on the organisation, the person and often their colleagues and loved ones as well.
This is why self-care should be embedded within the culture of a human service organisation at every level, with self-care conversations, reviews and plans taking place regularly in forums such as supervision, team meetings and planning days.
Due for release in November this year is a new set of cards from St Luke’s Innovative Resources called Self-Care Cards for Home & Work. This set of 50 cards is designed to create reflection and conversations about self-care. Each card features a key topic of self-care and two questions to get the conversation rolling. With illustrations drawn from the world of birds, these cards encourage the art of ‘noticing’; noticing how we are doing, what we are feeling, what our body is telling us, what our own insights—and those of colleagues, clients, friends and family—are revealing about what’s working well and what we could do differently to support self-care at work and at home.