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

2.1 Creating your emotional resilience toolkit

This is a good point at which to set up your ‘toolkit’ of practical techniques to develop and support your emotional resilience. The simplest way is to create a folder on your own computer or tablet and name it ‘emotional resilience toolkit’. As you continue through this course save notes and other documents into your toolkit. You could also create a Word document within the folder, in which you can build up a list of ‘bookmarks’ by copying and pasting links to websites or documents that you find helpful. Alternatively, you are free to create your toolkit in any format that enables you to access the resources wherever you are. For example, you may wish to save bookmarks on one device and then sync with your mobile phone.

However you set up your toolkit, remember that it is intended as a practical resource which you can use in your social work practice. For this to become a genuine resource it is important to be proactive in deciding what to keep and to add other ideas generated by your reading or practice. In Activity 3 you explore the meaning of emotional resilience and its implications for your practice. The activity includes a reading which is based on research with social work students, but its findings are equally applicable to qualified and experienced social workers.

Activity 3 Building emotional resilience

Timing: Allow about 1 hour

In this activity you will read Enhancing wellbeing in social work students: building resilience in the next generation [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] by Grant and Kinman (2012).

Part A

Read the first half (pp. 605–12) in which the authors summarise their research and outline the key competencies and factors which produce resilience.

As you read, you may find it helpful to look at your notes for Activity 1. Or, if you felt that you needed more support than you were offered, think about what was missing as you read the Grant and Kinman article.

Part B

Now read the second half of the Grant and Kinman (2012) article (p. 612 onwards) which suggests practical strategies that have the potential to promote resilience and wellbeing. As you read this, notice which strategies sound helpful for you.

In the text box provided, make some notes about three techniques that you intend to practise in future. Be realistic about these, and select what is personally meaningful and achievable. You may wish to include a technique that you use already, but try to add at least one new one. Save these into your toolkit.

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It is likely that by this stage in your career you are already using many skills to support your emotional resilience, even if you haven’t previously thought about this. As new challenges arise during your continuing progression, you will find it useful to carry on developing your toolkit.

The techniques that you have selected may reflect and build on coping strategies that you already use. For example, you may already be familiar with the concept of peer coaching, but gained new ideas from the techniques described. On the other hand, you may have picked out strategies that offer a new way of dealing with difficulties. You may not have considered ‘mindfulness’ before now, but liked some of the suggestions for focusing on the present rather than excessively dwelling on past mistakes or worrying about what might happen in the future.

If you identified an interest in time management, you may also have thought about this in relation to work-life balance. As an experienced practitioner it is likely that you are already proficient at managing the boundaries between work and home life. You will know that it can be difficult to leave the job behind at the end of the day, and social workers can struggle to maintain a healthy separation between work and home. Commitment to the job is essential for satisfaction, but over-involvement can be detrimental for non-work life, and can even lead to difficulties in maintaining professional boundaries with service users. Over time, this is likely to have a negative effect on your sense of job satisfaction as well as your personal life and wellbeing.

You may also have reflected that resilience can vary across a social worker’s professional career. Even though you are likely to become more resilient over time, changes in both organisational and personal circumstances may reduce your resilience. However experienced you are, it will always be important to seek support at such times.

Audios: Developing resilience

Audios 1-3 provide some suggestions from Janet Howard, Sophie Terrell and June Sadd about how newly qualified social workers might develop their own emotional resilience.

Audio 1: Janet Howard

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Transcript: Audio 1: Janet Howard

In terms of newly qualified social workers developing their own resilience, I have a particular quote that I enjoy. It is that ‘work life balance does not exist. It is all life and it is how you live it that counts’. So it’s about looking after yourself both personally and professionally, both mentally and physically; take your lunch break, take your holidays, take your time off in lieu, develop good organisational skills, become a team player, use the support around you. I also like the saying that ‘big girls don’t cry’. Well, we do, and it’s okay to cry in supervision. It’s okay to cry about some of the stories we hear. To me, being open to those feelings enables you to build up further resilience. Social work will touch all of your emotions at some time. It’s about developing strategies for yourself in terms of managing your feelings as well. I know ‘mindfulness’ is a buzzword but, someone who practises mindfulness, myself, I do know the benefits of just stopping, giving yourself a gap, giving yourself a minute or two, and trying to be in the now rather than thinking about the hundred and one things you have to do.
End transcript: Audio 1: Janet Howard
Audio 1: Janet Howard
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Audio 2: Sophie Terrill

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Transcript: Audio 2: Sophie Terrill

I’ve actually found cognitive behavioural therapy approaches really helpful, and it’s something which is brought up in the Learning Guide within the suggested readings. It’s a really helpful way of trying to manage my reactions and stress levels in a situation. I think particularly if you’ve had bad experiences and they’ve involved a particular situation or scenario, and you find yourself in something similar again, that’s really helpful to try and put into perspective what is fact and what is coming from your feelings. So, what maybe anxieties and worries you have going into a situation and how they’re causing you stress, so sometimes to try and step back and say actually, ‘do you know what, it’s a past situation that’s making me feel like that. It’s not worth responding like that in that situation and it causing me further stress’ and that can build your resilience because I think you’ve actually given yourself the time to step back and say, you know, ‘I can respond differently to this actually and there’s a different way for me to manage my stress within this.’ I think using supervision is a really really important tool in managing your stress levels and staying resilient as a social worker. If you’ve got good supervision, it gives you time to step back, look at your cases, see where you’re managing, where you’re perhaps not managing so well. So actually within that supervision, it’s also really important to be honest, which can be quite difficult as a newly qualified social worker where you’re trying, trying to make the best of your opportunities and you’re perhaps trying to give off the impression that you know what you’re doing when you don’t feel like that all the time, but it’s really important to be open and honest because if there is something which is causing you real worry, real stress, and you’re finding it’s getting to the point where you are not coping with it anymore, then it is something that you need to take higher and recognising that will help you build resilience and recognise in the future when you get to that point.
End transcript: Audio 2: Sophie Terrill
Audio 2: Sophie Terrill
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Audio 3: June Sadd

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Transcript: Audio 3: June Sadd

I think, to support newly qualified social workers to develop their emotional resilience as practitioners, there are two solutions I think, and one of them is peer support. There need to be opportunities created for newly qualified social workers to meet, to support each other. It’s called peer support. It’s quite a fashionable word ‘peerness’ now but I think it’s really important. So, if time can be set aside and structure set aside whether it’s newly qualified social workers can meet together to discuss and to think through strategies, and I think the other thing is actually that they are offered opportunities – this doesn’t really always fit in with the agency’s agenda – but offer opportunities to meet together in alliances so that they can challenge. But if you can support people to come together in alliances, maybe with others in their profession, maybe with other newly qualified social workers, maybe with people outside the profession, maybe wonderful as it would be alliances with service users, to challenge, then, that would be a wonderful thing, and I think that could promote and help the emotional resilience of newly qualified social workers.
End transcript: Audio 3: June Sadd
Audio 3: June Sadd
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Image of woman sitting at desk with pen and paperwork
Figure 1 Woman sitting at desk with pen and paperwork

Going further

You may wish to search online and discover more about one or two of the strategies identified by Grant and Kinman (2012; 2015). For example, journals such as Community Care often publish tips about time management and personal organisation techniques; mindfulness; taking care of your health; or peer support and coaching.


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