Supporting and developing resilience in social work
Supporting and developing resilience in social work

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Supporting and developing resilience in social work

2.2 Skills and techniques

There is no right or wrong way to enhance resilience:one size does not fit all, and different techniques work for different people. Remember the idea of resilience as ‘ordinary magic’ which grows each time you successfully deal with everyday demands. Before moving on, check your understanding of resilience against the summary of resilience skills and techniques in Box 1. You may also wish to use this summary to rate your current development, and add your evaluation to your toolkit.

Box 1 Skills and techniques which boost resilience

According to Grant and Kinman (2012, 2014) the following competencies are particularly important in enhancing resilience:

Emotional intelligence

Emotional intelligence is the ability to motivate oneself and be persistent when faced with frustration; to regulate one’s moods and maintain the ability to think even when distressed; to display empathy and hope. Emotionally intelligent people are said to be flexible, self-confident and co-operative, use coping strategies, and have good problem solving and decision-making abilities.

Reflective ability

Research indicates that the ability to reflect on one’s feelings and beliefs, and the position of others, is associated with having greater resilience to stress. During supervision, expressing and questioning doubts, values and assumptions helps social workers make sense of complex situations. As well as enhancing practice, reflection is thus a valuable self-protective mechanism.

Empathy

It appears that a social worker’s resilience to stress is enhanced by their ability to acknowledge service users’ perspectives, and to show empathetic feelings of warmth, compassion and concern towards others. Research suggests that empathy produces a sense of personal accomplishment and psychological wellbeing in the practitioner. Clear emotional boundaries are also required, however, in order to prevent over-empathising and over-involvement, which is likely to have negative implications for service users and lead to distress and burnout for social workers.

Social competencies and social support

Research findings suggest that social support is one of the most important buffers against stress. It is therefore important for you to identify potential sources of support from your professional and personal networks. The same social skills required for building and maintaining working relationships with service users, carers and other professionals – effective communication, self-confidence and the ability to be assertive – are equally important for developing successful social support networks amongst colleagues, family and friends.

Resilience techniques:

Grant and Kinman (2012, 2014) discuss the following resilience techniques:

  • enhancing skills in emotional intelligence, reflective practice, social awareness and empathetic skills
  • stress management techniques such as relaxation and time management skills
  • reflective thinking skills
  • writing a reflective diary
  • using supervision for reflective practice
  • social skills
  • peer coaching for support
  • optimistic explanatory styles
  • coping skills and flexibility
  • mindfulness and relaxation
  • cognitive behavioural techniques (CBT).

In this section you have enhanced your awareness of the internal and external factors which produce stress. You have also considered the importance of emotional resilience for your own practice, and identified some skills and strategies that could be developed. Towards the end of this course you will be asked to develop an action plan for further learning. By this stage of your learning, you will already be aware that reflection and supervision are important for skill development; they also have the potential to reduce the stressful side effects of emotional labour, and support social workers to manage emotions and build resilience.

So far, this course has encouraged you to explore strategies that you can use to develop your emotional resilience at work. The responsibility for protecting social workers’ wellbeing, however, does not rest only with individual practitioners, or even with professional bodies. In the next section you consider the essential role of social work employers and managers in supporting their staff and fostering emotional resilience. You also consider the qualities and skills involved in professional leadership. You are probably developing these skills already: leaders can create or prompt change within social work practice, but they do not have to be in management positions.

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