Self-care is a growing area of interest in the mental health field and in popular culture. Mental health workers encourage their clients to practice mindfulness and be aware of the present moment, which has been shown to have positive effects on a person’s well being. Oftentimes, workers forget to practice self-care for themselves, and this can lead to burn out, cynicism, stress, and loneliness.
The National Association of Social Workers (NASW) Policy Statement on Professional Self-Care, approved in August 2008, has helped the social work profession and other helping professions. This Policy Statement addresses how “the practice of self-care” is not only the way to respond to occupational stressors, but it is also “a core essential component” to competent and effective ongoing professional practice (2009).
In the The A-to-Z Self-Care Handbook for Social Workers and Other Helping Professionals, the editors collaborated with 25 current or former Spalding University MSW students working in the mental health care field who share their stories of how they have incorporated self-care into their daily lives. The book is organized through a unique concept. As the title suggests the A-to-Z handbooks takes each letter of the alphabet (A=Awareness through Z=Zzzz Sleep) and a contributor has outlined a self-care strategy, including questions for reflection or discussion and additional resources for further exploration. The sections are short and provide evidence-based information as well as practice-based results, personal stories, examples, and suggestions.
There are hundreds of self-care practices available to the professional helper. Many self-care books, workbooks, articles, and sites have six life areas in common. These include physical, psychological, emotional, spiritual, relationships, and workplace or professional areas. In this book’s appendix, the editors include a blank Self-Care Planning Form and a completed form with examples.
The contributors emphasize making your self-care plan SMART, much like a treatment plan that social workers learn to create with clients. The goals of the Self-Care Plan should be S=specific, M=measurable, A=achievable, R=realistic, and T=time limited. For example, one contributor set a goal under Physical Care to walk 10,000 steps per day. The Accountability Measure was to purchase a Fitbit or application on her phone to track the number of steps she took each day.
The individual contributors also provided their references and complementary resources that could be used to expand the reader’s general knowledge on various topics.
In the Balance entry, the contributor wrote about an Indian proverb, which states that each person is like a house with four rooms: physical, emotional, spiritual, and mental. Most of us tend to live in one room most of the time. But we need to go into every room to be complete. The contributor wrote about encouraging the reader to go into every room to feel that balance and to decide what is important to focus on in their lives.
While some of the chapters resonated and offered good advice and shared heartfelt, real stories, I had to skim over other chapters that felt too preachy and saccharine. The book got repetitive with advice and the overarching theme of each chapter appeared to be to take time for ourselves, connect with others, and do something we enjoy. Someone with no idea where to begin with self-care could walk away with a reasonable understanding of the importance and benefits of taking actionable steps to incorporate balance into their lives. The discussion and reflection questions and prompts are focused on this goal, but I can see how trying to complete the questions could add stress by giving professional helpers one more item to add to their to-do list.
The Handbook is a well-researched and practice-based book that offers instructions, insights, and recommendations on incorporating self-care that can guide a person’s practice in helping others. The book would benefit therapists, counselors, teachers, health professionals, and anyone in the helping profession. It would also be a good resource and teaching tool in schools and group settings.
The A-to-Z Self-Care Handbook for Social Workers and Other Helping Professionals
The New Social Worker Press, March 2016
Paperback, 164 pages