Burnout and Self-Care in Social Work

Burnout and Self-Care in Social Work

A Guidebook for Students and Those in Mental Health and Related Professions

This resourceful guide offers clarification, direction, and opportunity for reflection to help students and professionals in social work, related fields, and beyond find balance in their personal and professional lives as well as ease work-related stress to better serve clients—and, in this way, achieve professional equilibrium, success, and personal fulfillment.

Carol S. Klein says:
Grounded by deep research and valuable insight, humanized by rich experience, this wise book is a must-read (and must-read-again) for caregivers as well as for anyone in or about to enter a profession or serve a philanthropy aimed at creating a better educated, more just and equitable society: doctors and nurses, first responders, mentors, professors and teachers, public defenders, social workers, therapists, and volunteers. Sarakay Smullens’ voice is never didactic, always collegial; the approaches and lessons to put to immediate use are innumerable. Each chapter is followed by engaging thought- and action-provoking questions. (I would tell you some lessons and questions that resonated with me, but it’s better to discover yours yourself.) I have already wrapped as holiday gifts two copies of Burnout and Self-Care—one for my son and daughter-in-law (speech therapists), one for my step-daughter (a family therapist). I’ll be back soon for more copies!

J. Cooperman says:
In clear and compassionate prose, veteran social worker and therapist SaraKay Smullens successfully defines "burn out," and just as importantly, offers practical steps for the self-care that will help readers reengage with their work and family lives. Written for social workers, this book is also a useful resource for anyone struggling to balance emotional well-being with the demands of helping others. Readers will benefit not only from Smullens' academic research, cited throughout the book, but also from her decades of experience as a social worker, therapist, mother, wife and grandmother.

Ellen Singer Coleman, LCSW, says:
I first met SaraKay Smullens at a professional conference where I witnessed her extraordinary capacity for empathic attunement, astute clinical acumen and generosity of spirit. In her most recent book, Burnout and Self-Care in Social Work, Smullens successfully applies these talents in providing compassionate support to social workers and others engaged in related mental health professions.

From the first page of this book, one appreciates this project as a labor of love. After 30+ years of passionately devoting herself to the practice of social work, she shares her extensive experience in the field to inspire, support and guide other mental health professionals whose daily work is to apply their aptitude for empathy and professional compassion to help heal their client's emotional suffering as well as problems-in-living. This task is not an easy one, the author explains, without the risk of becoming depleted, hardened or swallowed up.

In her book, Smullens speaks to her readers with compassion and a direct "say it as it is" style. She lays out the fact that the talents that bring social workers and therapists to this field also make them susceptible to the emotional contagion and over-involvement with their clients' pain. These are feelings, she says, that many understand all too well from their unresolved pasts. To avoid what the author refers to as "compassion fatigue," and burnout, she stresses the importance of examining one's own life, reflecting on how one thinks about and approaches the work, and maintaining "effective emotional boundaries." She calls these "gifts to the self," and which help the social worker or clinician "stay with" their clients empathically, without "taking on" their problems and personal suffering. Doing so, she believes will lessen the potential for countertransference pitfalls and vicarious traumatic stress.

Toward this end, Smullens offers readers a framework to reflect on personal experiences in the workplace, replete with emotional tools and concrete strategies to be used as a springboard for each to find their own unique ways to replenish and maintain personal well-being. These needs for self-care within the professional, personal, social and physical arenas are explored in depth.

In the conclusion of Smullens' heartfelt book, she states "People will disappoint you. Life will hurt you. But if you have something that is completely yours to invest in, something you are passionate about, you can rise above pain and find personal joy and loving connection. For me, that something is social work."

These words, and the wisdom one will discover in SaraKay Smullens' exceptional "must read" book will stimulate the minds and hearts of all mental health providers, whether new to the field, or seasoned practitioners. It will not only inspire, but also promises to enrich the reader's career and personal life so as to allow it to thrive and prosper.

A review from the Journal for Family Life Education

A review from Pennsylvania Physician

A review from The Philadelphia Lawyer

A review from The New Social Worker

A review from NASW 2016 Mental Health Section Newsletter

A review from the CFLE newsletter, Spring, 2017, published by the National Council of Family Relations

For more comments from those who have endorsed the book, click here.

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