Social Worker 24/7?

From so many colleagues and my own inner monologue I have heard variations of the following issue.

When I leave my job, I can’t turn off the caring. When I see others in my community that need help, do I respond? Won’t I burn out if I am a social worker 24/7?

This feeling is as old as the profession itself. Jane Addams describes the overwhelming feeling one has when your eyes are opened to suffering.

“For the following weeks I went about London almost furtively, afraid to look down narrow streets and alleys lest they disclose again this hideous human need and suffering.” ~ Jane Addams (20 Years at Hull House)

Can you relate? At a certain point I adopted the motto that not every good thing is my good thing to do. Otherwise, the work I put onto myself would be infinite. However,  I don’t want my care for the community to be contained only in my job. I find that what drew me to Social Work, the belief that we can bring to life a community where everyone has access to well- being, doesn’t stop when I leave work. But compassion fatigue is a real thing. So is not taking care of yourself properly. It’s a tough tightrope to walk.

At the end of the day, I believe each one of us has to find our personal balance on this question. For me, I discovered that caring for others in my free time can actual rejuvenate me- not lead to feeling overwhelmed by the magnitude of need. But, there are times I have felt like Jane Addams, afraid to look up and see the suffering in my own community. Because then I know I would feel called to act.

Honestly, I have to answer this question again and again every day. It is not a balance I have mastered. How do you manage this balance? Is this an area you struggle with. Comment or write me – would be honored to hear your thoughts.


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An MSW growing in the profession, working in rural Oregon.

3 thoughts on “Social Worker 24/7?”

  1. Hi. Social worker of 3 years with law enforcement for 4 before that…. Slowly slipping down the slope. Trying to hold on to all that is happy. Between the case notes, the provider reviews, the new ways to do the exact old things, the ever increasing drug usage by parents……. I’m tired. I’m overwhelmed. My mind hurts. My heart hurts most. I just try to do the very best I can. That’s all I know to do. Hold onto my faith while I’m holding on to my own rear end. Support is helpful. Venturing out to do something fun helps too.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for sharing. I appreciate what you are experiencing for sure. Finding the right “goodness of fit” between ourselves and organizational demands is something I know can be difficult, in social work especially. When I dread going to work or I’m quick to get irritated I know I need to readjust. Counseling and gratitude meditation have been helpful for me at times. Glad you’ve found some things that work for you too-hope you continue to find ways to work in peace and joy for yourself amidst the darker things you may see day to day. Thank you for doing your best each day to make your community a safer, stronger place to live.


  2. I’ve been working in the social service field for 10 years, started my official social work career in 2012 and I recently became licensed in my state. In Fall 2018 I left my job in human services as a case manager and therapist for individuals with severe and persistent mental illness- community based, meeting with consumers in their homes. My 2.5 years at that job were phenomenal, I learned more than I ever thought I could in such a short time. It made me a better clinician.

    Leaving was a real struggle though, because I was taking a huge risk- I didn’t have another job. It turns out that even though I’ve been working in crisis prone environments and feeling competent and skilled in my ability to assess risk and crisis, it was taking a toll on my mind and body that I finally noticed last year. I felt like I had tried everything to balance work and personal life, to find energy wherever I could to take care of myself (exercise, eating well, self-reflection…). My body was swollen, bloated, irregular- no matter what remedies I was implementing to ensure optimal health. I didn’t want to see my family. I was canceling on my friends the majority of the time, I didn’t think I had enough energy to participate in my relationship with my partner and accomplish the goals we set for the year. I say all of this because in less than a week after changing my life drastically by going from working full time to being unemployed, my body did a total 180. My mood and energy level did a total 180. I could not believe how quickly my body responded to my choice to find another path in my social work career. After much self-reflection, mindfulness practice, tapping into my creative side, and discussions with friends, family, peers, I realized that my empathic boundaries needed an update. The roles I had been in up until this point were seen as ‘heroic’ or things ‘no one else could do, it takes a special person.’ I couldn’t be that special person anymore, that hero. My nervous system is not wired for it. I am now providing psychotherapy at a private clinic. There are still challenges to work life balance and I still think about my precious consumers and wonder if I let them down. Overall, I came to accept that in order to live my life to the fullest, be healthy, and still help others, I needed to take a risk. I am so grateful that I did.


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