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

1 What is emotional resilience?

Social work is a rewarding job, but it is emotionally challenging and can be stressful. You know this from experience, but may not be familiar with survey and research evidence about this. For example, researchers Grant and Kinman (2014, p. 6) write that: ‘For several years, the UK Labour Force Survey (HSE, 2013) has found the highest prevalence rates of work-related stress amongst health and social care workers.’

This may not seem a very encouraging start to this OpenLearn course but it is worth knowing that, despite evidence of high stress, studies have also found consistently high job satisfaction among social workers (Stalker et al., 2007; Collins, 2008).

If social work is such a stressful occupation, what helps social workers to survive, and even thrive? This is a question which researchers have been keen to explore. According to Beddoe et al. (2013, p. 102), research indicates that resiliency is supported by:

  • factors that reside within individuals
  • factors that reside in the organisational context
  • factors linked with the educational preparation of practitioners.

The concept of emotional resilience may be familiar to you in relation to children and adult service users (Gilligan, 2009; Smith and Hollinger-Smith, 2015). Simply defined, it refers to people’s capacity to constructively protect themselves – and rebound – from stress. In the workplace, stress is ‘the adverse reaction people have to excessive pressures or other types of demand placed on them at work’ (Weinberg and Murphy, 2013). It is important to note that resilience is usually conceptualised as a two-dimensional construct ‘including the experience of adverse conditions and the presence of positive skills in coping with these conditions’ (Beddoe et al., 2013, p. 101). In this sense, it is the experience of overcoming adversity which develops a person’s resilience. As you will see, adversity can arise from both personal and external stress factors.


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