Amelia Seraphia Derr (Seattle University )
Topic: Educating for Resilience: Sustaining Social Workers for Career Longevity
Social Workers face one of the highest burnout rates of any profession. This has become even more severe over the course of the pandemic. After almost three years of COVID, there is a staggering need for mental healthcare and other supportive services, a significant loss of funding for social service agencies, and a radical shift in the way services are delivered. This has had a profound effect on all those working in this field, including social work students. A recent study found that 80% of social work student reported the pandemic had a negative impact on their own mental health (Council on Social Work Education, 2021).
As students consider a career in social work/social justice, they are both drawn to it and daunted by the realities of well-documented stresses, particularly related to multiple, conflicting demands of study and paid work, financial concerns, strained relationships, and inadequate coping skills (Collins, Coffey, & Morris, 2010). High levels of work-related stress and burnout have been found in social work trainees (Deary et al. 2003; Jack and Donnellan 2010; Kinman and Grant 2011), and many students feel ill-prepared for physical and psychological health problems they know can be part of a social work career – compassion fatigue, secondary trauma, and burnout, all of which have been shown to contribute to high rates of turnover in social work agencies and early career dropout (Pryce, Shakelford, & Pryce, 2007). In spite of what is known about these problems, traditional social work education places very little emphasis on teaching effective strategies for managing stresses and building the resilience needed for sustaining the practice of social work over the lifetime of a career (Radley and Figley 2007).
This paper addresses the question of how to respond to this crisis through educating social workers in ways that build radical resilience and help sustain their commitment to social justice work. We examine current practices in social work education related to building resilience and capacity for social workers and offer customized best practices in educating social workers for sustained careers. Further, we offer ways to infuse this content throughout the required foundation graduate and undergraduate social work curriculum.