Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Self-Care and Its Importance for Social Workers and Social Work Students

by Victoria Brewster, MSW

I remember from my own graduate school days, 5 classes a week, 3 hours each, 2 full days of internship, course work, a part-time job, and trying to maintain some semblance of a social life.

Staying and being busy is good, but down time is just as important. What exactly is down time? What does that mean for you? As a graduate student in social work or a newly minted social worker, down time equals self-care.

I cannot stress enough the importance of self-care in the social work profession and instilling the concept and importance of it as a student or new professional. Not practicing self-care can lead to burnout. Many students meet with friends to chat or go to parties for needed and important socialization time, and this is a good thing.

Social workers, by their very nature, are nurturing, caring, helpful, want to make a difference, and often put others before themselves. If one wants to still be in the profession in 5, 10, 25, or 30 years, practicing and implementing self-care is a must.

Self-care promotes relaxation, a needed break from work and work related thoughts. I know many helping professionals who do not practice self-care, who lack the motivation, the inclination, the skills, the knowledge, and/or willingness to seek ways to minimize stress. You see it in their interactions with clients and colleagues and by their body language and facial expressions. 

Examples of self-care are: take your lunch break, visit with colleagues and chat about non-work related things, take a walk at lunch, eat lunch outside of the office, engage in hobbies that interest you (i.e. knitting, scrap booking, reading, painting, listening to music, playing sports), take a vacation every 6 months or so (even if it is just a weekend away), practice meditation, and--probably one of the most important--"unplug" every once in a while. No computer, e-mail, Twitter, LinkedIn, or other social media. Institute a no electronics rule--no TV, no iPod or iPad, turn your cell phone to quiet, or better yet turn it off for a few hours. Relax with family and friends, and when you leave work, leave work. 

This means do not take your work home with you, and leave thoughts of work behind. This is difficult for many, and there are times when you have to take your work home to finish paperwork or to prepare for a workshop or presentation. Perhaps you are "on call" for your job after hours or on a weekend. Add some self-care to the mix, and balance your work and non-work life.

A colleague suggested the term "perpetual social work mode." It has to be left behind. As social workers or social work students, often it is part of our nature to be helpful, to assist, to rescue, to say yes even if we are feeling overwhelmed, overworked, and stressed. It is okay to say no.

Many get bogged down with papers, studying, and group projects while trying to perhaps balance a social life and employment. Be supportive of one another, mentor a fellow student, and remember you will leave graduate school behind and enter the professional world. Instill and carry the self-care concept with you into the work world.

Victoria Brewster, MSW, has 16 years of social work experience, 13 of which have been as a case manager and group facilitator with seniors/older adults. Her areas of interest are aging, healthcare, end-of-life issues, improvements in education for youth, advocacy, and social justice. She is is Coordinator of Member Relations and a staff writer at SocialJusticeSolutions.org.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Want To Be a Professional Social Worker? Make Sure Your Graduate Program Is CSWE-Accredited

I was just reading a discussion on a social media site that concerned me a great deal. The gist of the discussion was as follows:  "I just received my master's degree in human services, and I was turned down by the state social work licensing board. They said I have to have a master's degree that is accredited by the Council on Social Work Education! But I have a master's degree, and I would make a great social worker."

Yes, original poster (OP), you do have a master's degree. And it may very well be that you received training in topics similar to those taught in an accredited social work program, and that you would be an excellent social worker. But your master's is not in social work, and it is not accredited by the social work education accrediting body, and therefore, you do not qualify to be licensed as a social worker.

There are several reasons this can happen. Among them:

  1. Potential social work students do not have the information they need. They simply do not know to look for a program that is CSWE-accredited, or to find out from their state social work licensing boards what is required to be licensed and/or to practice social work in the state. Therefore, they may think that a program that "sounds like" social work IS social work. They only find out later (as in the above example) that this is not the case.
  2. Schools are misleading potential students. There are schools that advertise on the Internet (and otherwise) that they offer "social work" programs. On further inspection, they in fact are not offering social work programs. These programs may have names like human services, social services, or something else related to the work social workers do. The education one receives in these programs may be good (or not), but the fact remains that they are not social work programs and will not provide one with the qualifications to be licensed in social work or to practice social work in states with practice protection.
The fact is that, as a future social worker, it is YOUR responsibility to make sure you know what you need to know to become a professional social worker.

In EVERY state in the U.S., you MUST have a Council on Social Work Education accredited degree to become licensed as a social worker. (There are exceptions for people with foreign social work degrees that have been evaluated and determined to be equivalent to a CSWE-accredited degree.)  

So, if you are looking at MSW programs right now, make sure the program you are considering is a CSWE-accredited program. If it is not, move on to another program, or go into it with the awareness that you will be receiving something other than a social work degree. (Some programs are "in candidacy" to become accredited. If this is the case, ask when they expect to be accredited, and ask yourself if you are willing to take the chance that they will indeed be accredited before you get your degree.)

I cannot stress this enough. Ask questions! If you see an ad on this or any other site (or on a billboard, in a newspaper, magazine, or anywhere else) claiming to offer a social work degree program, check it out thoroughly and ask whether it is accredited by CSWE and whether it will give you the credentials needed to be licensed in your state (or the state where you wish to practice social work, if that is your goal). Some schools will say they are accredited--make sure they are accredited by CSWE.

If you are currently in a master's program and you don't know if it is accredited by CSWE, and your goal is to practice professional social work, ask!

This previous post explains these issues further.

It is distressing to know that some students, for whatever reason, don't know that this is an issue until they are already in a program, or worse, have already completed a degree. It is more troublesome when some schools purposely deceive students into thinking that they are receiving social work degrees when they are not.

In the example above, upon further inspection, the OP's school stated right up front on its website that the program was not for people who wanted to become licensed, and this was not billed as a social work degree. And the OP admitted that s/he had not done the necessary research.

Before you go back to school, don't forget to do your homework!

For more information, see:

Council on Social Work Education: http://www.cswe.org
Association of Social Work Boards: http://www.aswb.org

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Resources for Grad School Financial Aid

You want to go to graduate school to get your MSW, but how are you going to pay for it? Here are some recent articles and resources to help you navigate your way through grad school finances:

These are just a few resources to get you started. What other resources have you found that you would like to share with our readers?