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Mindfulness Based Social Work and Self Care: An article plug and review

Updated: Jun 26

As social workers we have to recognize the critical importance of psychological resilience in our field. Psychological resilience refers to our capacity to recover and adapt positively when we face adversity and it’s essential for the individuals and communities we serve. By breeding resilience, we set the example for our clients to navigate and overcome the many challenges they encounter themselves, while promoting their overall well-being and ultimately aiding in their recovery. Our role is not only to support individuals in times of crisis, but also to advocate for systemic change to prevent future hardships. We must lead from the front. Behavior change, not just behavior understanding. Resilience-focused approaches help clients build empowerment, self-efficacy, and achieve long-term positive outcomes. Psychological resilience is not just a guiding principle but a practical tool that enables us the longevity needed make a lasting mark on our profession AND make a meaningful impact in the lives of those we support. A May 2024 article from “Social Work in Public Health” titled Exploring Social Work professionals’ Experiences of the Mindfulness-Based Social Work and Self-Care Programme: A Focus Group Study included 3 points that should really speak to us as Social Work Professionals.

The first thing that stood out was “Moving from Avoidant to Approach coping”. Some definitions are probably in order here.

Avoidance coping is apparently exactly what it sounds like. It involves evading the stressor and/or the emotions and thoughts associated with it. This “strategy” focuses on minimizing engagement with the source of stress. It is procrastination at the highest level bordering on denial as best I can tell. It includes distraction, substance use, or engaging in activities that help take the mind off the problem. This (non)tactic obviously leads to unresolved issues. It increased stress and the almost guaranteed development of additional problems as it doesn’t address the root cause of the stressor.

Approach coping is confronting the stressor and dealing with it head-on. This strategy focuses on actively managing and resolving the issue causing stress. When we use Approach coping, we use problem-solving, social support, cognitive restructuring (a change how we thing about the problem), and actively work to change the situation. As can be expected, Approach coping leads to effective long term reductions in stress (after an initial short term spike in stress) and improvement in mental health including, but not limited to, increased self confidence, increased self efficacy, and increased internal locus of control.

Participants in the program learned about understanding and recognizing avoidence. They learned about their habitual triggers. A quote from the article’s participant 9...

I think one of the most useful things they started to talk about early on in the course was avoidance,...and when it was suggested we dig down into what drives some of those emotions … What are some of the contributing factors? Where’s my head going? … What’s this all about? [It] really made me think of some of my behavior, particularly avoidance behavior. I procrastinate. I put things off. Why? Fear. Where does that come from? … I think that’s a really helpful way to deal with things in the here and now, if you can. I thought that was really, really helpful.”

For Participant 8 it was the mindfulness aspect of the program that spoke to them…

“… it is acceptance of “this is the way it is, this is my job” and it’s (mindfulness) making things probably a little bit easier … that procrastination still hasn’t gone away completely, you know… But … I definitely feel a little calmer … and I’m more in control which is a nice way to be.”

We know that we shouldn’t put things off that seem difficult, yet we do it anyway. And then (if you’re like me) you sit around surfing YouTube marinating in your negative feelings stewing over that fact that you absolutely should not be procrastinating and worrying over how much more stress it’s going to cause you in the long run. It’s a vicious destructive cycle.

The next part of the article caught my attention because I’m a broken record droning on and on about it. It addresses the need for Improved Personal Self-Care Boundaries. Participants were prompted to think about their current sense of boundary between their professional and personal lives. Participants 3 and 10, respectively, spoke on “making peace”, “blame”, and “fault”.

“… that really helps me to reflect that I can’t physically stretch myself around all them people to be the perfect practitioner. I can only just do what I can just do. And once you start to kind of make peace, that’s the course [mindfulness] coming at the right time for me, helping me make peace with things; because you really blame yourself, like somehow it’s my fault that I can’t get to these people, even though not enough hours in the week, but now I can kind of go “No, actually it isn’t my fault because I’m doing the best I can do.”

“… previously I would have beat myself up. I would have been ruminating, you know, “what a waste,” or “waste of space,” you know, I would have been quite self-critical.”

We can see how personal they take their performance. We see how perfectionism is a bug not a feature. These self assigned “failures” can create a huge amount of negative energy inside of us. But, we also see that when proper boundaries are applied the participants are able to let go of the perfection mindset and move to a realistic one. They fire their Evil Caddie and squash the negative inner dialogue beating them down.

The third and final point I want to address from the article was “Increased Emotional Awareness and Reduced Negative Thinking”. The mindfulness practices from the program allowed participants to gain greater self awareness and emotional control. For participant 12, this awareness shed light on the mountain of stressors and lack of time to properly address them all in a way that will satisfy everyone. The participant was able to respond as opposed to react.

“… sometimes the phone can just be really bombarding … I’m in sort of a more childcare setting … and the phone, just pings, pings, pings … but I just don’t feel quite reactive to them … I’m pacing myself, taking that breath, answering the call, dealing with that query, and taking another breath. So it’s definitely helped out … you’re in more control of the situation and I’m very conscious of that and conscious when … more conscious of my emotions when I’m getting caught up in it.”

This article was a great reminder and clear illustration of what we preach around here at LifeAlignment. Mindfulness can only enhance our Social Work skills, not hinder them. Mindfulness allows us to attack issues straight away and head on as opposed to avoiding them, letting them fester and get worse. Mindfulness creates an environment of self care and reality based expectations. By having this attention to give, we can have laser focus on our clients issues before, during, and after our meetings with them resulting in greater understanding, problem solving, and reflection on those meetings.

I highly suggest reading the whole article. There are several sections I didn’t touch on, all with great information.

Alan Maddock, Karen McGuigan, Pearse McCusker

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