This spring, I will graduate with a bachelor’s degree in Social Work. With this degree, I’ll be able to help people on many different levels; with policies that affect their livelihood, with interpersonal relationship struggles they might face, and with getting assistance they might need to thrive (just to name a few). This is something that I have always wanted to do, and I am sure that I cannot see myself doing anything else as a career. However, committing to working in a helping profession isn’t always fond feelings of helping people who need it. Compassion burnout is real and intimidating, and I wanted to take a minute to talk about that.
I feel like a certain kind of person chooses to work in a field of social services – someone who is particularly empathetic and eager to help others no matter the cost or strain. While this can be considered admirable, it is important to understand that if we give too much of ourselves to our work and neglect to take care of ourselves, we can get tired real fast.
I would always get annoyed of peoples’ unsolicited two cents about me wanting to be a social worker…
“Oh, that’s going to be really hard for you.”
“You really want to spend your career taking kids away from their families? I bet you only do that for a few years.” (let the record show that I’m very aware that this is not how child protection actually works).
“Social workers burn out really quickly. Make sure you have a backup plan for when you do.”
These are just some of the things that people I love (and some strangers…that’s a whole other issue, though) told me when I first decided to change my major after going back to college. I like to believe that they all come from a loving, concerned place, but that doesn’t mean that it’s not frustrating to hear. I know I’ll probably get tired. I know I’ll experience some challenging situations with clients that I won’t understand completely. I’m not convinced that this will be an “easy” career path, and believe me, I’m preparing for the day that I eventually start to burn out.
This applies to all career and life choices, by the way, I just speak from a social work perspective because that’s what I’m accustomed to. It’s important for us to realize that while we’re taking care of other people, we need to look out for ourselves, too. It’s not uncommon for people working in helping professions to have regular therapy sessions, even if they do not have any particular traumas they want to discuss. It’s necessary and vital that professionals take breaks every once in a while, in order to provide better care for their clients, as well as care for themselves.
Long story short, compassion burnout and fatigue are real. They can be kind of scary, but they’re not incurable. Being passionate about the jobs we do and the populations we aim to help is not a bad thing and putting in all the effort we have is definitely not frowned upon. It’s just important to check in with ourselves occasionally. While it might be hard to admit that we also deserved to be taken care of, it’s so important for us to seek the help that we need as soon as we need it.