Conversation between Sierra Israel and Julie Gerber
How would you define social work?
Social Work is an opportunity to serve others in their journey of discovery and healing. Social work allows one to offer safe space to others and provide compassion to others in pain.
What drew you to the social work profession?
After experiencing a personal health transformation at a young age, I knew I wanted to help others who are struggling and feeling lost and to guide them along a journey of self-love and self-empowerment. I began fully investing myself in personal development (and watching a lot of Oprah…come on, who does not love Oprah?!?).
I catapulted myself into studying the work of leading self-help authors including Eckhart Tolle, Tony Robbins, Louise Hay, Marianne Williamson, and Gabrielle Bernstein, among others. At the same time, I developed a desire to use my personal experience to help others heal from their eating disorder. This led me to pursue professional training in a Masters of Social Work program.
What is your current role?
Through my social work career, I became aware that there was more to healing besides working on one’s thoughts, beliefs and emotions. There was a missing element… spiritual healing. I completed my I am the first and only trained CONSCIOUSNESS COACH™ in Canada. After working in the social work field for 10 years specializing in eating disorders, I pursued my CONSCIOUSNESS COACHING® Certification at The Academy of Soul Empowerment. I now have my own spiritual coaching practice @empoweredsoulcoaching where I offer 1 to 1 coaching to women to help heal their relationship with food and their body so they can have inner freedom.
What is the favourite part of your “job”?
Helping clients make breakthroughs and transformations that allow them to live an empowered life.
What supports are available to you in your workplace/organization?
Throughout my career, my workplace has offered EAP services; however, valuing my own physical and emotional wellbeing, I have sought different sources of support such as energy healers, like-minded individuals, teachers, and peer support networks.
If you could have any superpower, what would it be, and how does it relate to social work?
The ability to heal people’s wounds. Through the years I have witnessed many clients be in a place of pain and I would love to have the power to take away their pain.
What has been one of your biggest learning opportunities in social work practice?
The biggest opportunity is working with a multidisciplinary team and learning new clinical skills beyond my social work education. Learning to appreciate different perspectives from other professionals is also a highlight for me.
How do you practice self-care?
I have a morning ritual which includes meditation, prayer, and a practice of gratitude. I also ensure I’m caring for my spiritual and emotional self on a regular basis.
What advice you can give new social workers entering the field?
Learning to have balance with your personal and professional life is essential to not burning out. Find strategies to leave the emotional work at the office versus taking that home – set clear boundaries, stick to your schedule, learn to be okay with saying no when you know you can’t emotionally take on anything more. Most importantly, take your lunch! I know that sounds simple but taking time away from the office during the day helped me so much.
What is your guiding value and why it is meaningful for you?
My guiding value is authenticity. If I’m not being true to myself, it’s difficult for me to ask others to do the same.
What do you wish the general public knew about social work?
Social workers do have a vast knowledge and education that can allow them to be an important part of your healing journey.
Voices of Social work is committed to highlighting the efforts of Social Workers from all over the world. If you or someone you know would like to be interviewed please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we can share your story.
Thank you, Julie, for your time and your leadership in the Social Work profession.
Oleksandr (Sasha) Kondrashov, and Ani Dingamtar. January 2020
What is burnout?
Maslach and Jackson (1986) defined burnout as “ a syndrome of emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and reduced personal accomplishment that can occur among individuals who do “people work” of some kind. . . . Burnout can lead to a deterioration in the quality of care or service provided. . . . It appears to be a factor in job turnover, absenteeism, and low morale. … It seems to be correlated with various self-reported indices of personal dysfunction, including physical exhaustion, insomnia, increased use of alcohol and drugs, and marital and family problems, (pp. 1-2).
Maslach and Leiter (2016) state that burnout is a cronic problem. Muldary (1983) defined burnout as the “process by which a once-committed health professional becomes ineffective in managing the stress of frequent emotional contact with others in the helping context, experiences exhaustion, and, as a result, disengages from patients, colleagues, and the organization” (p. 12). Corcoran and Bryce (1983) defined burnout as the “loss of motivation for creative involvement with one’s client population and/or organizational setting” (p. 72). Brown (1984) reported that the problem of burnout among social service employees is “an increasing one” (p. 55).
All of the definitions, offered in the literature, involve negative reactions from and towards work. “Burnout is an individual experience that is specific to the work context” (Maslach, Schaufеli, & Lеitеr, 2001, p. 407; Maslach, 2017).
What does burnout mean for social work?
“Social workers are considered an occupational group at above-average risk for burnout.” (Soderfeldt & Soderfeldt, 1995, p. 638). Burnout not only affects the individual, but also can affect many others around that individual. In social work, burnout affects the quality of care, relationships, and effectiveness of care towards clientele (Wilson, 2016). Burnout also affects organizations by way of employment status, organizational reputation, and ultimately service provider numbers (i.e. having fewer employees to handle caseloads). This in turn indirectly affects clients as well. Although most of the research found that burnout is more a social or job situation than an individual issue (Soderfeldt, et al., 1995; Maslach et al. 2001; Maslach, 2017) there are some differences in who is susceptible and what type of burnout is experienced.
How you can recognize burnout (signs and symptoms)?
Certain demographic variables have been found to be related to the level of burnout. Marital status, age, level of education are some demographic factors identified in the literature as contributing to burnout in some form (Soderfeldt, et al., 1995; Maslach et al., 2001). Of all the demographic variables that have been studied, age is the one that has been most consistently related to burnout. Among younger employees the level of burnout is reported to be higher than it is among those over 30 or 40 years old. However, these findings should be viewed with caution because of the problem of survival bias—i.e. those who burn out early in their careers are likely to quit their jobs, leaving behind the survivors who consequently exhibit lower levels of burnout (Maslach et al. 2001).
With regard to marital status, those who are unmarried (especially men) seem to be more prone to burnout compared with those who are married. Singles seem to experience even higher burnout levels than those who are divorced (Maslach et al. 2001).
Some studies have found that those with a higher level of education report higher levels of burnout than less educated employees. It is not clear how to interpret this finding, given that education is confounded with other variables, such as occupation and status. It is possible that people with higher education have jobs with greater responsibilities and higher stress. Or it may be that more highly educated people have higher expectations for their jobs, and are thus more distressed if these expectations are not realized (Maslach et al. 2001).
Avillion and Hamilton (2018) from Wild Iris Medical Education lists physical, emotional and behavouiral signs and symptoms of burnout:
• Feeling tired and drained most of the time
• Lowered immunity, feeling sick a lot
• Frequent headaches, back pain, muscle aches
• Changes in appetite or sleep habits
• Sense of failure and self-doubt
• Feeling helpless, trapped, and defeated
• Losing motivation
• Feeling alone in the world and detached from others
• Becoming increasingly cynical
• Decreased satisfaction and sense of accomplishment
• Withdrawing from responsibilities
• Isolating oneself from others
• Procrastinating, taking longer to get things done
• Using food, drugs, or alcohol to cope
• Taking out one’s frustrations on others
• Skipping work or coming in late and leaving early
Maslach and Leiter (2016) provide some ideas on how to assess burnout by referencing Banishing Burnout: Six Strategies for Improving Your Relationship With Work book. For each item, think about how your current place employment matches up with your personal preferences using the following continuum: Just Right-Mismatch-Major Mismatch
The amount of work to complete in a day
The frequency of surprising, unexpected events
My participation in decisions that affect my work
The quality of leadership from upper management
Recognition for achievements from my supervisor
Opportunities for bonuses or raises
The frequency of supportive interactions at work
The closeness of personal friendships at work
Management’s dedication to giving everyone equal consideration
Clear and open procedures for allocating rewards and promotions
The potential of my work to contribute to the larger community
My confidence that the organization’s mission is meaningful
If everything is a match, you have found an excellent place of employment. However, if there is a lot of major mismatches that can lead to burnout.
What you can do to stay empowered (practical tips, strategies and tools)
Staying empowered can be difficult when you are facing with burnout. Maslach and Leiter (2016) suggest that when burnout is counteracted with engagement, exhaustion is replaced with enthusiasm, bitterness with compassion, and anxiety with efficacy” (p.44) there is a possibility to change.
Laura Biggart from The Centre for Research on Children and Families at the University of East Anglia in the Youtube video by Community Care (2017) offered the following tips for coping with burnout in social work
1. Use supervision opportunities
2. Aim to raise concerns with supervisors and team leaders
3. Use your team as a resource for sympathy, advice and guidance
4. Remember that no social worker is invicible or all-knowing
5. Identify what you find emotionally rewarding at work and at home
Inspiration Quotes about Burnout
“Slowly you may have transformed from a helper to one in need of help. It’s important to talk about this, to identify the wounds you carry.”
― Jenn Bruer, Helping Effortlessly: A Book of Inspiration and Healing
“Dear Stress, I would like a divorce. Please understand it is not you, it is me.
–Thomas E. Rojo Aubrey”
― Thomas E. Rojo Aubrey, Unlocking the Code to Human ResiliencyMore quotes on Goodreads
Where you can learn more about burnout
There are a number of resources available to learn about burnout. Below are resources that can help guide you move from burnout out back to engagement.
- Read Petra Durianova research Burnout Syndrome: A Disease of the Modern Age. Durianova (2012) suggest that burnout syndrome intervenes in every aspect of your life and is capable of destroying it both physically and mentally. In Petra’s work there is a good review of Freudenberger’s 12 stages of burnout (p.25-27):
A Compulsion to Prove Oneself
Neglecting One’s Needs
Displacement of Conflicts
Revision of Values
Denial of Emerging Problems
Withdrawal From Social Contacts
Obvious Behavioral Changes
- Check Wild Iris Medical Education module on Burnout and Stress:Creating a Healthy Workplace
Upon completion of module, you will be able to identify the causes, symptoms, stages, management, and prevention of job-related stress andcomponents of a healthy workplace. Specific learning objectives include:
• Describe the effects of stress on the human body and how to relieve such stress.
• Explain the types of job stress common in healthcare workers.
• Discuss the presentation and causes of job-related stress in healthcare.
• Summarize actions for responding to different forms of job-related stress.
• Describe individual and organizational strategies to minimize job-related stress.
- Review Lauren’s video on 10 tips on how to stay well is social work. Lauren just celebrated 10 years of working in social work practices and the video is part of the social work scrapbook channel
- Read SaraKay Smullens article in the new social worker What I Wish I Had Known: Burnout and Self-Care in Our Social Work Profession that focuses on burnout, compassion fatigue Vicarious Trauma and Secondary Traumatic Stress and self care tips as antitode to the above concerns.
- Watch Ernst-Jan Pfauth and Frédéric Meuwly Ted Talks. Ernst-Jan Pfauth shares ideas on how we can beat the burnout society. The video provides ideas on how to stay balanced while living in overachieving society. Frédéric Meuwly talk Burnout… A friend of a friend’s problem is based on a true story from a “burnout survivor”. This talk provides an overview how the exhaustion work and how to manage it effectively.
If you find any additional resources please share them in the comments.
Keep learning and sharing your knowledge.
Sasha and Ani.
Maslach, C, Jacksоn, S. Е. (1986). Thе Maslach Burnоut Invеntоry manual (2nd еd.). Palо Altо, CA, CоnsultingPsychоlоgists Prеss.
Muldary, T. W. (1983). Burnоut and hеalth prоfеssiоnals: Manifеstatiоns and managеmеnt. Nоrwalk, CT, ACapistranо Publicatiоn.
Cоrcоran, K.J., Brycе, A.K. (1983). Intеrvеntiоn in еxpеriеncе оf burnоut: Еffеcts оf skill dеvеlоpmеnt. Jоurnal оf Sоcial Sеrvicе Rеsеarch 7 (1),71–79.
Brоwn, L.N. (1984). Mutual hеlp staff grоups tо managе wоrk strеss. Sоcial Wоrk With Grоups 7 (2), 55–66.
Maslach, C., Schaufеli, W. B., & Lеitеr, M. P. (2001) Jоb burnоut. Annual Rеviеw оf Psychоlоgy, 52, 297-422.
Sоdеrfеldt, M., Sоdеrfеldt, B., & Warg, L. (1995). Burnоut in sоcial wоrk. Sоcial Wоrk, 40, 638-646.
Maslach, C., & Leiter, M. P. (2016). Burnout. In Stress: Concepts, cognition, emotion, and behavior (pp. 351-357). Academic Press.
Maslach, C. (2017). Burnout: A multidimensional perspective. In Professional burnout (pp. 19-32). Routledge.
Wilson, F. (2016). Identifying, preventing, and addressing job burnout and vicarious burnout for social work professionals. Journal of evidence-informed social work, 13(5), 479-483.
Sierra Israel-Schned, Oleksandr (Sasha) Kondrashov, and Ani Dingamtar. December 2019
What is compassion fatigue?
Compassion is a “feeling of deep sympathy and sorrow for another who is stricken by suffering or misfortune, accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate the pain or remove its cause” (webster’s, 1989, p. 229). Although professional boundaries should always be acknowledged and followed, the therapeutic alliance is built out of the client liking and trusting his or her therapist. Therefore, these feelings are directly related to the expression of empathy and compassion of the practitioner (Figley, 2002). Moreover, because the therapist/patient relationship is based on feelings of empathy, genuineness, and unconditional positive regard, the emotional and interpersonal bond is a unique but essential component to a healthy therapeutic alliance (Ardito & Rabellino, 2011). Therefore, it is important for the practitioner in these emotional therapeutic relationships to pay close attention to their own mental and physical health.
What does compassion fatigue mean for social work?
Compassion fatigue is not limited to the social work profession, however as ‘caring professionals’ we work closely with individuals who have experienced trauma. Vicarious trauma often referred to as the “cost of caring” (Figley, 1982) is a phenomenon where counsellors/social workers are exposed to therapeutic dialogue where trauma survivors share their stories. Although this work is meaningful and necessary therapeutic partnerships can lead to emotional exhaustion, this is referred to as compassion fatigue (CF). Therefore, paying close attention to our emotional and physiological health is imperative for providing empathetic and compassionate allyship to those we work alongside.
How you can recognize compassion fatigue (signs and symptoms)?
As mentioned above, It is important to pay close attention to your wellbeing when engaging in therapeutic conversations. The signs and symptoms of CF will vary from individual, however, bellow is a list of some signs and symptoms to look out for:
- Sadness and Grief
- Avoidance or dread of working with some clients
- Reduced ability to feel empathy towards patients or families
- Somatic complaints
- Frequent use of sick days
- changes in beliefs, expectations assumptions
- decreased intimacy
- Racing thoughts
- health concerns
- decreased creativity
- loneliness (transitional support, n.d)
What you can do to stay empowered (practical tips, strategies and tools)
Staying empowered can be difficult, however, you are not alone in your journey. There are ways to balance and even prevent compassion fatigue, which include:
- Living more consciously
- Knowing when to slow down
- Physical activity
- healthy eating habits
It is important to know self and map out formal and informal supports to build resilience. Understanding and recognizing your limits to your work is crucial for knowing when it is time to slow down.
Inspiration Quotes about Compassion Fatigue
“Slowly you may have transformed from a helper to one in need of help. It’s important to talk about this, to identify the wounds you carry.”
― Jenn Bruer, Helping Effortlessly: A Book of Inspiration and Healing
“I discovered that compassion fatigue is a real thing. Emotions, so strong at first, can easily shift into apathy. The subsequent guilt is paralyzing; it can prevent us from ever doing anything and freeze us into inaction. No wonder some people live for themselves, unaware of or unengaged with those who desperately need help. When global problems overwhelm, the human tendency is to do nothing.”
― Chris Marlow, Doing Good Is Simple: Making a Difference Right Where You Are
More quotes on Goodreads
Where you can learn more about compassion fatigue
We are fortunate to live in a time where access to great resources is just a click away. Below are resources that can help guide you on the path of self-care and compassion fatigue prevention.
The Compassion Fatigue Podcast with Jennifer Blough, LPC
The Compassion Fatigue Podcast provides self-care tips, stress management techniques, and support to animal welfare professionals including shelter workers, veterinary staff, rescue workers, animal control officers, humane investigators, animal rights activists, wildlife conservationists, animal attorneys, pet sitters, dog walkers, groomers, volunteers, foster parents, ethical vegetarians and vegans, and all other animal lovers. Professional counsellor Jennifer Blough interviews experts on the best ways to combat compassion fatigue and burnout and cultivate compassion satisfaction
The Figley Institute Website
Figley Institute offers cutting edge training and continuing education programs to those who provide relief to emotionally traumatized individuals, families, businesses, and communities.
The Figley Institute: Basics of Compassion Fatigue Work Book Click here
To provide each participant with the knowledge and skills necessary to reduce the secondary impact of working with traumatized populations.’
Compassion Fatigue among Healthcare, Emergency and Community Service Workers: A Systematic Review click here
Compassion Fatigue Awareness Project (CFAP) website
CFAP Founder Patricia Smith recently gave a presentation at the TEDx SanJuanIsland event. Check it out Here !
If you find any additional resources please share them in the comments.
Keep learning and sharing your knowledge.
Sierra, Sasha and Ani.
Adams, R. E., Boscarino, J. A., & Figley, C. R. (2006). Compassion fatigue and psychological distress among social workers: A validation study. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 76(1), 103-108. doi:10.1037/0002-9418.104.22.168
Ardito, R.B, Rabellino D. (2011) Therapeutic alliance and outcome of psychotherapy: historical excursus, measurements, and prospects for research. Front Psychol. 2011;2:270.:10.3389/fpsyg.2011.00270
Blough, J. (n.d.) The compassion fatigue podcast. Retrieved from https://www.stitcher.com/podcast/the-compassion-fatigue-podcast
Cocker, F., & Joss, N. (2016). Compassion fatigue among healthcare, emergency and community service workers: A systematic review. International journal of environmental research and public health, 13(6), 618. doi:10.3390/ijerph13060618
Compassion Fatigue Awareness Project (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.compassionfatigue.org/index.html
Figley Institute (2012). Workbook. Retrieved from http://www.figleyinstitute.com/documents/Workbook_AMEDD_SanAntonio_2012July20_RevAugust2013.pdf
Figley, C. R. (Ed.). (2002). Treating compassion fatigue. Routledge.
Good therapy (n.d.). Compassion fatigue. Retrieved from https://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/psychpedia/compassion-fatigue
Smith, P. (2017). How to manage compassion fatigue in caregiving | Patricia Smith | TEDxSanJuanIsland. [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7keppA8XRas
Transitional Support (n.d). Burnout vs. compassion fatigue. Retrieved from: http://transitionalsupport.com.au/transitional-phase/compassion-fatigue-trauma/
Boyle, D. A. (2015). Compassion fatigue: The cost of caring. Nursing2019, 45(7), 48-51. Retrieved from https://journals.lww.com/nursing/Fulltext/2015/07000/Compassion_fatigue__The_cost_of_caring.15.aspx
Coetzee, S. K., & Laschinger, H. K. (2018). Toward a comprehensive, theoretical model of compassion fatigue: A n integrative literature review. Nursing & health sciences, 20(1), 4-15.
Diaconescu, M. (2015). Burnout, secondary trauma and compassion fatigue in social work. Revista de Asistenţă Socială, (3), 57-63. Retrieved from https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/03b1/b5fc11bb545a9e61f0baf2cb5420df9daf52.pdf
Hamilton, S., Tran, V., & Jamieson, J. (2016). Compassion fatigue in emergency medicine: the cost of caring. Emergency Medicine Australasia, 28(1), 100-103. Retrieved from https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Jennifer_Jamieson2/publication/290963237_Compassion_fatigue_in_emergency_medicine_The_cost_of_caring/links/5a711231aca272e425ed3b0a/Compassion-fatigue-in-emergency-medicine-The-cost-of-caring.pdf
Kapoulitsas, M., & Corcoran, T. (2015). Compassion fatigue and resilience: A qualitative analysis of social work practice. Qualitative Social Work, 14(1), 86-101. Retrieved from http://vuir.vu.edu.au/24738/1/QSW%20final.pdf
Lynch, S. H. (2018). Looking at compassion fatigue differently: Application to family caregivers. American Journal of Health Education, 49(1), 9-11.
Pehlivan, T., & Güner, P. (2018). Compassion fatigue: The known and unknown. Journal of Psychiatric Nursing/Psikiyatri Hemsireleri Dernegi, 9(2). Retrieved from https://www.journalagent.com/phd/pdfs/PHD-25582-REVIEW-PEHLIVAN%5BA%5D.pdf
Pelon, S. B. (2017). Compassion fatigue and compassion satisfaction in hospice social work. Journal of social work in end-of-life & palliative care, 13(2-3), 134-150.
Sheppard, K. (2016). Compassion fatigue: Are you at risk. American Nurse Today, 11(1), 53-55. Retrieved from https://www.americannursetoday.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/ant1-Compassion-Fatigue-1222.pdf
Wagaman, M. A., Geiger, J. M., Shockley, C., & Segal, E. A. (2015). The role of empathy in burnout, compassion satisfaction, and secondary traumatic stress among social workers. Social work, 60(3), 201-209.
Yi, J., Kim, J., Akter, J., Molloy, J. K., Ah Kim, M., & Frazier, K. (2018). Pediatric oncology social workers’ experience of compassion fatigue. Journal of psychosocial oncology, 36(6), 667-680. Yi, J., Kim, M. A., Choi, K., Kim, S., & O’Connor, A. (2018). When does compassion fatigue hit social workers? Caring for oncology patients in Korea. Qualitative Social Work, 17(3), 337-354.
Last week Nicole Peters started a petition on change.org to discuss the appropriateness of paying for parking at Thompson Rivers University (TRU) for Secwempec students.
The fourth-year TRU social work student was inspired by the October 2019 announcement of the University of Northern British Columbia (UNBC) to grant free tuition to local Indigenous students and decided to choose a social action research route for the final social policy assignment. At UNBC members of the Lheidli T’enneh Nation can now earn an undergraduate degree at no cost. It’s a common misconception that all Indigenous students in Canada get free tuition (CBC, 2019). The Northern Promise Partnership was described as “a meaningful response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s call to make education more accessible for Indigenous people” (Nielsen, 2019, para 2). UNBC’s Prince George campus is Lheidli T’enneh territory.
Instead of focusing on the free tuition, Peters in the petition asked TRU to stop charging Secwepemc students parking fees. The campuses of Thompson Rivers University are located on the traditional and unceded territory of the Secwepemc Nation within Secwepemcul’ecw. By eliminating parking fees for Indigenous students, TRU can strengthen its efforts to indigenize its campuses and promote reconciliation.
The petition in one week received more than 400 signatures and gathered media attention that resulted in both Kamloops Matters and Kamloops BC Now writing articles about the petition. Unfortunately, the media coverage also resulted in many inappropriate comments that the online community expressed towards the petition. Nicole shared with Doug Herbert from CBC Daybreak Kamloops: “[People are] posting comments that are just blatantly racist. Some of the things that are being said [are] awful. Christopher Foulds wrote an op-ed in Kamloops This Week and wondered why “people who would otherwise not even think of uttering such offensive garbage face to face find the courage behind the social media screen to vomit forth the most vile filth imaginable”?(Foulds, 2019)
It is incredibly disappointing to read comments that show disrespect, lack of awareness, and inability to engage in meaningful conversation. It is critically important that those who post online will not hide against their screens and use inappropriate language to allow meaningful dialogue to occur. Online commentators should engage in open dialogue, ask questions, stay curious and learn about challenges that Indigenous People face in Canada instead of posting hurtful comments. When I connected with Nicole we discussed some ways to move forward, and we need your help:
- Please share/sign the petition: https://www.change.org/p/thompson-rivers-university-stop-charging-secwepemc-students-parking-at-thompson-rivers-university-80b6116b-7ec6-47c9-923f-1e0968cb5788
- Please help Nicole to find an organization (e.g.TRUSU Equity Committee) that can take this petition to the next level. It is incredibly overwhelming and discouraging when voicing concerns to receive disrespectful responses.
Please feel free to add other ways to promote respectful dialogue that values diverse opinions and allow the exchange of ideas using social action writing tools (petitions, op-eds, letters to the editors). Students should feel safe to express their views in public and not being silenced when they raise points that they are passionate about researching. Having diverse voices helps to create adequate, accessible, affordable, acceptable social policy in Canada for groups who historically have been excluded from the decision-making process.
Sasha Kondrashov and Ani Dingamtar
What is “empowerment”?
Empowerment originated from the Latin verb for power, potere, which means, ‘to be able’ and is also linked to the word ‘potent’ meaning powerful, cogent, persuasive and having or exercising a great influence (Rodwell, 1996). Its prefix ‘em’ means ‘cause to be or provide with’ (cited in Abdoli et.al, 2011). The suffix ‘ment’ is defined as a result, act or process and thus by adding the suffix ‘ment’ to the verb ’empower’, empowerment becomes a noun defined as the process or result of empowering (Rodwell, 1996). Empowerment is individually determined (McIntosh, 2016), and can be seen as a helping process, a partnership valuing self and others, mutual decision making, and freedom to make choices and accept responsibility (Rodwell, 1996).
How can social workers empower themselves?
Empowerment is a process. When one understands how the process works, they can empower themselves daily (Salzman, 1994). Social workers can empower themselves individually and collectively through the use of support groups, caucuses of professional organizations, social media and other forms of groups to process their experiences, build coalitions with each other, strategize for the next steps, and/or to take actions to fight against oppression and discrimination (Sakamoto, 2005).
What is the Empower Social Worker Campaign? #EMPRsocialwork
Similar to the mission of the Wikimedia Foundation ‘‘to empower and engage people around the world to collect and develop educational content under a free license or in the public domain, and to disseminate it effectively and globally’’ (Botella et.al, 2012) Empower Social Worker campaign’s mission is to engage social workers and allies around the world to collectively create a list of individual empowerment tools through the use of images and story-telling and to disseminate them effectively among social work communities of practice.
We plan to achieve our mission by running the social media campaign to introduce some very successful empowerment tools that social workers and allies use around the world to empower themselves. Those tools can assist current social work students and future social workers to practice social work and stay empowered. Empowerment tools are personal growth activities that are used over time to create a sense of self-worth, personal and professional accountability, and generate power within an individual.
Why Empower Social Worker (ESW)?
Empowerment on an individual level should be considered an important step to strengthening social work practices, connecting with communities, reducing the sense of powerlessness, which, in turn, would help social workers and allies to link their critical consciousness and self-actualization to work toward social justice (Sakamoto, 2005).
We argue that #EMPRsocialwork campaign is crucial because it helps social workers and allies to maintain personal and professional power to effectively perform their multiple roles in different practice contexts. Empowered social workers are more effective in challenging oppression and privilege and affecting positive changes at different levels (Sakamoto, 2005).
How to join the campaign and share what empowerment means to you as a professional social worker?
#EMPRsocialwork is a space to encourage social workers and allies to share their stories and tools that empower them in their fields of practice.
Join the campaign in 4 steps:
- Find and Follow us on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook
- Think about the tool that empowers you to practice social work
- Share an image and provide the brief story of that tool on social media using #EMPRsocialwork
- Invite your social work friends and allies to follow the campaign and challenge them to share their empowerment tools
Abdoli, S., Ashktorab, T., Ahmadi, F., Parvizy, S., & Dunning, T. (2011). Religion, faith and the empowerment process: Stories of Iranian people with diabetes. International journal of nursing practice, 17(3), 289-298.
McIntosh, D. (2016). Empowering clients means empowering ourselves first. Retrieved from http://www.socialworker.com/extras/social-work-month-project-2016/empowering-clients-means-empowering-ourselves-first/
Botella, C., Riva, G., Gaggioli, A., Wiederhold, B. K., Alcaniz, M., & Baños, R. M. (2012). The present and future of positive technologies. Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, 15(2), 78–84.
Rodwell, C. M. (1996). An analysis of the concept of empowerment. Journal of Advanced Nursing, 23(2), 305–313.
Sakamoto, I. (2005). Use of critical consciousness in anti-oppressive social work practice: Disentangling power dynamics at personal and structural levels. British Journal of Social Work, 35(4), 435–452.
Salzman, J. (1994). Self-empowerment: Achieving your potential through self-awareness. Women in Business, 46(3), 24-27.
Last academic year I had an honour to work with Rayell Sellars-Sarnowski on SOCW 4900 Directed Studies Course: Developing Professional Self-Identity in Social Work. TRU School of Social Work and Human Service provides a unique opportunity to students to select a topic and design the course that can strengthen their research and expand their knowledge (the course should cover topics that require in-depth exploration of the issue outside of regular courses). We work with Rayell on creating course learning objectives and selecting readings that can enhance the development of professional self-identity. Rayell participated in all aspects of course design and contributed many ideas that I incorporated in the final version of the course outline.
The course critically examined the role and the contributing elements of professional social work identity development process. The course aligned with the core learning objective for social work students to develop professional identities as practitioners as outlined by the Canadian Association for Social Work Education: Standards for Accreditation. This objective also involves social work students developing the ability for self-reflection to develop an awareness for safety in practice. Due to the sensitive nature of exploring individual identity, self-care and support systems were established before an in-depth exploration of the following. Foundations such as intersectionality, and pedagogical influence were explored to deconstruct identity. Especially for populations that face discrimination, historical and contemporary, context were applied to conceptualize the influence on identity. By conceptualizing these aspects students had the opportunity to form their own professional identity separate from dominant discourse. Many frameworks that capture various facets of identity were introduced to aid in students establishing identity. This process allowed to deconstruct the pedagogies taught within education institutions and discern how they impact self and beliefs.
Rayell met all the key learning objectives and at the conclusion of the course, were able to:
- Understand professional social work identity components and implications to practice.
- Develop identity and find relevant supports to develop identity.
- Understand how pedagogy and power influences professional identity development processes for social workers.
- Ensure safety in the process of establishing identity.
- Achieve a well-grounded professional self-identity that positively strives to maintain the Canadian Association of Social Work Education: Standards for Accreditation learning objectives.
I have asked Rayell to share the experience of taking the course to encourage other students to take directed studies courses and receive one on one mentoring and preparation to advance their studies and promote social work research. Thank you Rayell for all your work and for being part of this directed studies experience.
Reflection on Directed Study – Developing professional self-identity in social work By Rayell Sellars-Sarnowski
Participating in a directed study gave me the opportunity to develop a framework that would enable me to unearth identity’s role in social work. The basis of the course topic prompted by various antecedents I was experience within the program. These antecedents were related to the intertwining cultural complexities that form my intersectionality. I identify as a Secwepemc-Tsilqhotin woman, who was raised on traditional Secwepemc ne Esk’etemculucw territory.
Being raised on the reserve Esk’et, I was gifted with a very unique perspective of the world. I was blessed to grow up with knowledge of my culture, healing practices, and language. I was custom adopted as a child by my grandmother and provided with a safe, nurturing home. I also have a very large family, and was wrapped by supports and the community. I was provided with a very wide support circle from a young age, and given the tools and caring to strengthen my own resilience. I was very sheltered from the outside world, being surrounded by other Indigenous people until I was 11 years old. When I was 11, I transferred from Sxoxomic school in Esk’et to a catholic private school in Williams lake. Transitioning from a predominantly relevant culture to another was a culture shock, and since then I have been fascinated by the differences in discourse. Later in my teen years, I faced traumas that were detrimental to my holistic wellbeing. I became isolated and turned to unhealthy coping mechanisms. However, despite the hardships my family, community and friends came together to support my holistic wellbeing. Again, strengthening the resilience that I had been fostering since I was a young child.
This journey prompted my interest in the helping profession, as I understand it has with many others. I entered the human services diploma, successfully completing this, then moved on to the bachelor of social work. Within the BSW I noticed that I was questioning my reality, my perspective on life, and generally gaining a new one or trying to. As many of the course work involved questioning dominant discourse, I became more interested in societies perspectives and how they were created. Myself and another student started to focus on how social work discourses impacted our positioning as Indigenous students. Stemming from this, I began to question how is the program supporting students to shape their identity after losing it? It is heavily acknowledged that you will learn “more about yourselves than you want to know,” and that dominant discourse needs to be untangled to understand how it affects our clients. However, I felt that the program lacked supports for students having identity crisis. Especially to support those like myself, with complicated intersectionality’s. Acknowledging my own identity disconnection, and others, I began the process of enrolling in a directed study.
The process itself of entering into a directed study was not as daunting as it may appear. I hope that in the future there is more information on directed studies, I just heard about it from another student doing it and decided to try to supplement those identity development needs. If I hadn’t put myself out there by participating in extracurricular BSW club events, I wouldn’t have had this opportunity. Upon discovering this, I was instantly intrigued and decided I was going to do it. Research and confronting gaps within structures is where I thrive. The directed study was an opportunity to utilize and grow those skills. I was pushed to do in-depth research at the library and start discussions with other students and faculty. The process allowed me to approach the topic of identity development utilizing a flexible approach. I wasn’t only able to take the appropriate amount of time to analyze my identities, I was also able to apply appropriate lenses to my work.
I was constantly applying Indigenous approaches in my other class papers, but in smaller scales. In this course I was able to view the entire picture of my Indigenous identity and the various ways it would impact my wellness. Not only was I able to more thoroughly utilize and Indigenous approach, but I was able to apply theories and concepts I truly associated with, such as strengths perspective, a structural approach, trauma-informed practice, decolonizing theory, and systems theory. I was able to weave these together, among many other concepts, to fully understand my approach to social work. By creating my own course outline, I was able to choose what mattered to me as a unique individual to be included in the content. Not only was this project about simply identifying how to manage identity development, it grounded my own knowledge and unique perspective of the world, to allow for my practice to become even more effective.
This was truly an opportunity not only for professional identity growth, but for personal identity growth as well. I believe truly digging into our unique world perspectives is a benefit to our practice as social workers who continue to have the need to understand the complexities of the unique individuals we serve every day. Not only do we have the duty to our clients, we have it to ourselves to truly grant ourselves with holistic wellbeing. It is a beautiful moment when you begin to understand your identity. I think in social work we become obsessed with the idea of controlling who we are as professionals, we lose touch with our true self, who has such a love for being in the helping profession. When we lose touch with our individuality we succumb to robotic helping, and lose meaningful connection to those we serve. These are the types of realizations and connection to practice that can be created in a directed study. How passionately I feel about a connection to identity, is only an example of what type of work can be done in this opportunity. If this sparks an idea about what you would study, I highly suggest exploring it in this manner.
“As life goes on it becomes tiring to keep up the character you invented for yourself, and so you relapse into individuality and become more like yourself everyday.” ― Agatha Christie
The Mitacs Globalink Research Internship is a competitive initiative for international undergraduates from Australia, Brazil, China, France, Germany, Hong Kong SAR, India, Mexico, Tunisia, United Kingdom, and Ukraine. From May to October of each year, top-ranked applicants participate in a 12-week research internship under the supervision of Canadian university faculty members in a variety of academic disciplines. More information about Mitca Globalink Research Internship can be found here: https://www.mitacs.ca/en/programs/globalink/globalink-research-internship
Recently I got very exciting news, that all 11 projects I have submitted for funding has been supported by Mitacs Canada so I can train 11 students, 1 from each of the participating country to help me with my research in summer 2020.
If you know a third year undergraduate social work student from the following countries: Australia, Brazil, China, France, Germany, Hong Kong SAR, India, Mexico, Tunisia, United Kingdom, and Ukraine who will be interested to visit TRU from May-August 2020 for a 12 week all-expense paid internship ask them to apply before September 18th and select one of the projects that I supervise from the list on Mitacs Canada Globallink website. https://globalink.mitacs.ca/#/student/application/projects
Next summer can be busy but it is very exciting as I can get more help to complete some of my research work. Please share this message with your networks and it will be fun to have social work students from around the world to visit Kamloops in May-August 2020 so we can do research together at Thompson Rivers University and strengthen global social work community.
Here is the list of project to apply before September 18th deadline: