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Table of Contents

The professional context


1. Social work and wellbeing: setting the scene

Although social work is undoubtedly rewarding, practitioners frequently encounter situations that are emotionally demanding and potentially stressful.The stress experienced by social workers arises from a combination of occupational demands (such as managing a high caseload) and organizational constraints on effectiveness (such as working within bureaucratic cultures and coping with rapid change).This chapter sets the scene for the book by considering the context of social work practice and the demands that social workers face. A key aim of the chapter is to highlight the value of a perspective derived from positive psychology that aims to enhance wellbeing and resilience, rather than merely offer a range of tools to social workers to help them manage stress. While the emotional demands of social work require professionals to be personally resilient, it is emphasized that the responsibility for recognizing and ameliorating the causes of stress lies with the organization.
Louise Grant, Gail Kinman, Richard Fountain

2. What is resilience?

Much has been written about stress and burnout in social work and ways in which this can be managed.Although it is acknowledged that social workers need to be resilient to protect their wellbeing in an increasingly stressful profession, there is little guidance to help them accomplish this. This chapter introduces the concept of resilience and considers its relevance to the social work context. The advantages of adopting a strengths-focused perspective (that aims to identify the factors underpinning human fulfilment) over a problem-focused approach (that tends to dwell on the ‘dark side’ of organizational life) are considered. It is argued that resilience can explain why some practitioners who encounter profound difficulties not only fail to burn out, but frequently gain strength from their experiences.
Louise Grant, Gail Kinman

Developing techniques to build resilience


3. The work/home interface building effective boundaries

Resilient social workers will be able to maintain a healthy balance between their work and personal life.The personal satisfaction gained from social work can enhance the quality of non-working life. Due to the nature of the job, however, social workers are at particular risk of work life conflict and may struggle to replenish their physical and psychological resources sufficiently to function effectively.This chapter discusses the ways in which work demands can ‘spill over’ into the non-work domain to impact on wellbeing, satisfaction and personal relationships.The concepts of role conflict and time-based, strain-based and behavioural-based work–life conflict and their relevance to the wellbeing of social workers are explored. Particular focus is placed on how the emotional demands of social work practice can impact on the non-work domain.
Gail Kinman, Almuth McDowall, Mariette Uys

4. Critical reflection and reflective supervision

Supervision is a key opportunity for social workers to engage in reflection and learning. It is an environment in which they can discuss their practice and their emotional reactions to it, and plan for future intervention and their professional development. Reflection is fundamental to the supervision process, but this chapter focuses specifically on the role played by critical reflection and meaningful reflective supervision in enhancing emotional resilience in social workers. First, the chapter explores how critical reflection can help social workers manage their emotional reactions to practise more effectively. Secondly, it examines the role played by reflective supervision in fostering a relationship characterized by positive regard which, in turn, can build emotional resilience. Finally, it provides both social workers and managers with some skills and tools required to enhance resilience through the supervisory process.
Louise Grant, Becky Brewer

5. Personal organization and time management

On a daily basis, social workers face competing demands from service users, managers, administrators and colleagues as well as people working for other agencies.Well-developed personal organizational strategies are required in order to survive, let alone thrive, in such an environment.This chapter considers ways in which these behaviours can be enhanced to help social workers cope successfully with competing demands, enhance their personal effectiveness and build emotional resilience.The behaviours that support or undermine the use of effective time-management strategies are explored.Also considered are ways in which personal needs and time shortages can be communicated effectively and interruptions managed to minimize disruption
Siobhan Wray, Sacha Rymell

6. Cognitive behaviouralbased strategies

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) has long been established as an effective psychological intervention in the treatment of a variety of disorders, most notably depression and anxiety. However, there is evidence that cognitive behavioural strategies can be used to help people manage everyday difficulties more effectively.The principle of CBT is based on understanding key cognitive processes and how they impact on feelings and behaviour by identifying ‘thinking errors’, challenging and then modifying them to reduce their negative impact and therefore enabling a more accurate response to events and experiences.
Kelly Alexander, Sara Henley, Kay Newman

7. Mindfulness for resilience in social work

Mindfulness, the ability to focus ones awareness on the present moment while acknowledging and accepting feelings, thoughts and bodily sensations, has strong potential to build resilience.This chapter sets out some of the key concepts and practices that can be utilized to cultivate mindfulness, providing insight into how social workers can use it in their professional and personal lives.The chapter begins by offering a practical definition of mindfulness before outlining research findings that document its role in promoting resilience and its underlying competencies. Some of the main practices used in mindfulness meditation are subsequently outlined and their benefits in the social work context are considered.Also explored are the ways in which mindfulness training can used to expand awareness of the present moment which, in turn, can help social workers manage stress more effectively, improve their self-care practices, and notice and celebrate the positive elements of their work.
Rose Parkes, Susan Kelly

8. Peer support and peer coaching

The importance of social support in enhancing the wellbeing of helping professionals has been widely emphasized. Friends and family can provide emotional support during challenging times. Many people find that support from colleagues is particularly helpful, as they can empathize and generate options for change that are firmly grounded in the organizational context. Peer coaching formalizes this type of support; it refers to a dyadic relationship based on sharing experiences and practices in order to enhance learning and problem-solving as well as to build stressmanagement skills. Its intrinsic focus on human strengths and flourishing also means that peer coaching has strong potential to enhance emotional resilience.
Sarah Baker, Kathryn Jones

9. Enhancing self-knowledge,coping skills and stress resistance

In order to build resilience, it is vital for social workers to gain insight into the aspects of the job that they find stressful, their personal stress reactions and the resources they have to help them manage stress.An overview of research that has examined stressors and strains in social work was provided in Chapter 1.This chapter focuses on some of the key internal and external stressors that have the potential to threaten the wellbeing of social workers. Several frameworks of workplace stress that are relevant to social work contexts are considered. Particular focus is placed on the transactional approach, which emphasizes the importance of individual appraisal and the effective use of personal and professional resources to not only help manage stress but build emotional resilience.
Gail Kinman, Isabella McMurray, Jo Williams

10. Resilient individuals and organizations:an integrated approach

This chapter considers the role played by the organization in supporting resilient social work practitioners.The policies, structures and support systems that have the potential to protect wellbeing and practice and build resilience are explored.The need to develop multi-level interventions that comprise national and organizational initiatives as well as seek to enhance the competencies of individual social workers is emphasized.Ways in which these perspectives might work together to promote a culture of personal and organizational wellbeing are discussed. Particular focus is placed on the risk-assessment approach developed by the UK Health and Safety Executive (HSE) to monitor the work-related wellbeing of employees.Also considered is how the HSE manager-competency framework can be used to identify the behaviours required by social work managers and leaders to help their employees manage stress and develop an organizational culture that supports individual resilience.
Gail Kinman, Louise Grant
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