Self-Care Center

Compassion Fatigue in Social Work Students

Visit the website of Simmons School of Social Work's Field Educator section with an article by MSW Candidate Miranda Smith.

Article: Compassion Fatigue in Social Work Students
The New Social Worker

Visit the website of the social work careers magazine, The New Social Worker.

The New Social Worker
Social Work Supervision

See the NASW Association of SW Boards Best Practice Standards for Social Work Supervision. Copyright 2013 National Association of Social Workers and Copyright 2013 Association of Social Work Boards.

See the NASW Assn of SW Boards Standards for Social Work Supervision

Practicum Perspectives

Thoughts, Experiences, and Self-Care Solutions of Students in Field Practicum

self care logo


Ashlie Boyett, MSW Student

Self-Care: For me I found myself struggling with self-care. It's always been hard for me to do something for myself, to take that time out of my busy schedule for me. I’ve always been one that thinks about others, which is probably true for most people in our profession. Finding out what works for you is the key to self-care, even if it means switching it up every now and then. I have found it helpful to surround myself with people who I can talk to you and that have positive attitudes. Another thing that I have found to help me is putting time in my schedule for “me” even if it’s just a 15 minute block of time. In this time I will do something that I want to do or even just go somewhere that is quiet and that I can think and do some reflection.

Adrianne Cooper, MSW Student

In graduate school you will be so busy it will seem hard to find the time to do the much needed self-care. Look for little things that you can do that are forms of self-care that do not take much time. Make at least one good friend in the program and go grab a coffee and study together. This way you can still get your work done, but you have someone there to talk to and who knows exactly what you are going through. I do not know how I would have made it through this process if it wasn't for the friends I made in this program. It is really helpful to have that support, encouragement, and helpful tips on classes/teachers they have taken.

Whitney Ellis, BA Psychology 2011, MSW 2014

Take time for yourself. Turn your home into a work and school free zone. I realized after my first year I did not manage my time wisely. I would spend hours on my weekends working on assignments and missed out on spending time with my family and friends. At that point in time I was working full-time and going to school full-time. My husband and I made the decision for me to drop down to part-time at both school and work. By taking care of myself and working on time management I have been able to enjoy the program and get the most out of my classes and practicums.

I was blessed to have amazing supervisors in both my generalist and clinical practicums that modeled and promoted self-care. This is your life, make the most of it. Best of luck to you!

Miranda Green, MSW Student

As part of a self-care routine, I get my nails done every other Thursday. I do not take my cell phone in the salon and I use the 30-60 minutes to relax. Working in child welfare, it is important for my health to take time for myself and escape the daily stressors we experience in the field.

Janet Hickey, LMSW, 2010 WU Social Work Graduate

One of the most challenging things I had to learn, and still continue to learn, after graduating from Washburn with my MSW in 2010, was the importance of changing my thinking habits, to avoid burnout. Maybe it was the role of being a student for so long, or the expectation for most things in life, but I had a compelling desire to complete tasks on time, when they are due. When I first started out in the field, and could not complete tasks on my nice to-do list I had outlined that day, or complete tasks that were due that day, I would have bouts of anxious thoughts and felt physically stressed, especially in my shoulder region. At first, I didn't change my thoughts, and thought the anxiety/stress would go away by not dealing with it. Then, my shoulders were killing me one day, from the physical (psychosomatic) impacts of stress. I felt out of balance and knew I wasn't providing myself enough positive self-care.

I took some personal time outside of work to reflect, and really think about what exactly I was stressed about, and how I could reframe my thoughts about that stress/anxiety. It took some time, and I finally recognized that you will never have your "to-do" lists done in social work, or in life. You can make nice lists on pretty stationary, with nice pens, then one crisis, or event, can throw your entire day off in seconds. I believe now to make it in this field, you need to learn balance, in your thoughts, face and learn realistic expectations, recognize your human, realize you can only do so much, and not be your worst enemy when that doesn't happen!

Rachel King, MSW Student 2013

I am currently in my clinical practicum in the Emergency Department at Children's Mercy Hospital. When I started my practicum, I went in aware that I would be exposed to very traumatic situations. Early on in my practicum, I adopted a mantra that has helped me to provide for the patients, yet also maintain my self-preservation. My mantra is, "Bad things are going to happen to people whether I am here or not. Since I am here, I can do what I can to make it better." I also ensure that I am processing any concerns I have during supervision as well.

I used to dance when I was younger and have found that Jazzercise is a great way for me to exercise and fits well with my love for dance. It is a great stress reliever and feels good to do something for just me. I stopped working full-time to complete my practicum's and had to figure out a way to keep my Jazzercise membership. I provide childcare at the Jazzercise center for two hours a week that gives me a discount on my membership and also covers the cost of my membership and then some from the money I make. Definitely worth being able to continue my self-care!

Tameka McCray, WU MSW student 2013

Self Care

Self care: is it for me?
Without it where would I be?
In this field of social work the burdens can be very weighted
The stress and emotional trauma are underestimated
It is important to take care of yourself, because if you don’t, who will?
You’re always giving out, why not stop to refill?

Chelsie McGraw, MSW Student 2013

Self-Care -- What is it and how important is it really? Throughout my social work school career I have been lectured about the importance of self-care and have been given different ways on how to practice self-care. However, I don’t think many of us students or professionals truly practice self-care until we realize how strong the need is for it. For me, the topic was one in which I understood but could not fully conceptualize until this last year when I had to put it into play.

I had just graduated with my BSW and had gotten my first job in the social work field when I was faced with any clinician’s worst nightmare: a client committing suicide. Imagine just graduating from school, not even licensed, and having to face one of the biggest and hardest obstacles a clinician will face. We read in textbooks and give presentations on how to handle these situations and how to try to prevent these situations from happening, but nothing will ever prepare you for the way you feel when it happens! I had worked with this client one-on-one for almost a year when she decided to take her own life.

Self-care had an entirely new meaning to me at this point. For me I had to learn how to understand the mental processes in this client in order to process the event. I also had a decision to make, was this the field I wanted to be in? I had even more personal questions I needed answers to: Was I good at my job? Could I protect others? Can I trust myself and my skills? Can I learn from this? These are only a few of the many racing questions I began asking after this event.

As a month came and went, it became clear that I was not ready to handle this on my own, but I also knew I had a passion for people and wanted so bad to help. My only option was to seek counseling. Turns out, this was a life-saving and life-changing experience for me. I have been going to counseling for over a year now and am still working through the trauma of that night. Unfortunately, I am no stranger to trauma as I had endured a fair share in my childhood. I had always thought I had dealt with my past and my demons until that fatal night. Fortunately, I knew my tolerance level and I knew I was not managing myself well after the event. I was able to make the right decision to seek help.

Counseling not only helped me process the suicide event, but it also saved me in this field so I can continue my work. Counseling also helped me process old wounds that had either never been healed or were reopened as time went on. I hope nobody has to realize the importance of self-care through instances such as these but I do hope people can learn from my story. I don’t think I would be in this field if I had not sought counseling when I did and I don’t think I would be mentally healthy. I am happy to continue into this field and can only learn from the night of the suicide. I continue to slowly deal with the extent of the trauma from that evening, but I also know I will go on to help others find their own strength and abilities to conquer their obstacles.

I am currently a Master’s level student and am looking forward to becoming a trauma counselor, primarily with children. My challenge for future and current social workers is to practice self-care daily and not just in times of horrific events. There is a reason people talk so much about the high turnover rates in this field. Taking care of ourselves should be of most importance. We are in a field when we are constantly looking at the needs of our clients and usually forgetting our own or feeling unable to do what is best for ourselves. Take the time, the ten minutes or an hour or an entire day, to be who you are. Take the time to love yourself the way we tell our clients to love themselves. It's easy to get wrapped up in clients and work and not take the time, but your life and your career depend on it.

Christopher Parker, MSW Student 2013

Courageous, Cared For Selves

Self-Care gets the most lip-service in this field, yet is acted on the least. Here are some things to consider:

My advice upon entering the field is to examine your goals within the program. Not lightly should this program or field be entered as it will take so much from you. It will take effort to get through this program, but the field as a whole will in most cases have next to no boundaries regarding your wellness. It is a good idea to touch base with the purpose and drive that has you interested in the field. If you are sure this is the field for you, hold those reasons very tightly and visit them when (not if) you are shaken. Protect those reasons and let them continue to motivate you.

There will be times when the program is drawing you away from things you value--these growing pains will go smoother if you reach out and stay in touch with colleagues, friends, and family.

We are told to operate within our scope and depth in the field, but the reality is that even going into this program it is likely that you already over function with how many commitments you have and all of the new experiences you have been or will be thrust into. This will make you feel anxious, exasperated, and jaded. Combat this with the knowledge that this is making you stronger and that you know what the real need is, rather than most people's ignorant perception of the need.

People drawn to work in Social Work tend to have baggage. Try to put much of that to rest as you gain knowledge and reach out to others. Use therapy because you have already paid for it at the school and it will greatly enhance your ability to relate to others when you are the clinician down the road.

The bottom line is that you need to remember how important you are as a person. We can get so consumed in others that we fail to see the light we represent and how a dedication to the field has enhanced us.

Embrace courage, hone your skills to a razor's edge, and enjoy the ride.