Stress within the social work profession

Stress within the social work profession

Although a career in social work can be tremendously rewarding, students who are earning their master of social work (MSW) degree should be aware of the stress that can be placed on social work professionals. Challenging situations, emotional clients and unique ethical quandaries can all contribute to a high level of stress for social workers.

Minimizing stress in social work careers

As with many demanding professions, social workers are at considerable risk of what is known as burnout – health problems, whether physical or psychological, caused by periods of prolonged stress in professional situations. Burnout can result not only in health problems, but also reduced or poor performance on the job, relationship difficulties with family, friends and partners, and – in the case of social workers – detrimental effects on a social workers’ clients.

Balancing Our Personal and Professional Lives An article published in Social Work Today magazine focusing on how maintaining an appropriate work-life balance is of vital importance to social work professionals.

Online Stress Management Support Groups for Social Workers A report studying the potential triggers of stress for social workers. This source identifies factors such as inadequate resources, time constraints, the emotional needs of clients, and ambiguous, conflicting job roles as potentially stressful aspects of social work.

How Do Social Workers Cope? A membership workforce study published by the National Association of Social Workers. This website outlines potential health concerns resulting from work-related stress in social work, primary and secondary stressors for social work professionals, and how stress management techniques can vary depending on ethnicity and practice area.

Social Workers May Indirectly Experience Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) News article based on a study that indicates that social workers may be at twice the risk of developing symptoms relating to PTSD than other human services professionals.

Empirical evidence of the effects of stress on social workers

While there is little doubt that social work can be a demanding profession, assessing the true extent that practitioners are at risk of developing physical or psychological side effects from their work requires appropriate qualitative analysis. The following resources may be of particular use to students earning their MSW in recognizing the situations in which they may be at risk, and how to handle them appropriately.

Occupational Stress in Social Work An extensive study of social work professionals practicing in Northern Ireland. The paper examines the individual case loads of participating social workers, from the perspectives of primary practitioners, managerial personnel and case supervisors.

Sources of Stress Experienced by Social Workers in Mental Health Settings A detailed examination of the unique psychological pressures faced by social workers practicing within the mental health sector.

The Prevalence of Secondary Traumatic Stress Among Social Workers A white paper focusing on the frequency of symptoms indicative of secondary traumatic stress by social workers practicing in a variety of care areas.

Secondary Trauma in the Child Welfare Workforce Resource published by the Child Welfare Information Gateway that examines instances of secondary trauma as an occupational hazard within the social work and human services profession. It aims to identify the various types of trauma that social work professionals may face, and how different practice areas can manifest varying symptoms.

Do Social Workers Need Stress Debriefing Programs? A detailed study examining the potential triggers of burnout in social workers specializing in child welfare. This report also investigates the potential gains of such programs, and how initiatives like this can improve social work professionals’ effectiveness.

Addressing Secondary Trauma for Caseworkers A collection of resources that students who are pursuing their MSW may find useful. Many of these pages focus on the necessity of effective stress management techniques for social workers and human services professionals.

Decision-Making by Stressed Social Workers: Stay, or Leave the Workforce? A study examining the contributing factors faced by many social workers suffering from work-related stress and secondary trauma that can lead to career transitions or leaving the workforce. This report also studies how retention rates are affected by stressful caseloads.

Burnout – A Smoldering Problem in Human Services A publication from the National Criminal Justice Reference Service examining the primary symptoms of burnout in social work and human services professionals. This paper also investigates how managerial personnel can identify the symptoms of excessive work-related stress in individuals under their supervision.

The Prevalence of Secondary Trauma in Social Workers A study that focuses on how prevalent secondary trauma is in social work professionals, how often such instances exhibit symptoms of PTSD, and the extremity of individual reports of work-related stress in relation to caseload and the practice area of the affected individual.

Anxiety of a Social Worker in a Medical Setting A defining paper that uses real-world case studies of work-related stress affecting a social worker practicing in a medical setting. This study highlights some of the reasons that social workers may choose to endure secondary trauma as part of their vocation, including insecurities regarding future employment, a strong sense of professional obligation, and concerns regarding the impact of seeking treatment on employment referrals from managers.

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