The A-to-Z Self-Care Handbook for Social Workers and Other Helping Professionals, edited by Erlene Grise-Owens, Justin “Jay” Miller, and Mindy Eaves, White Hat Communications, Harrisburg, PA, ISBN: 978-1-929109-53-1, 2016, 164 pages, $16.95 paperback, $7.99 Kindle.
Many of us often scoff when we talk about self-care, rest, and the dreaded phrase, “work-life balance.” We all know we need it, and everyone else seems to have it. Yet, the idea of finding calm amidst this work proves all too elusive. If you struggle with self-care, are worried you might, or don’t even know where to start, this book is for you. Exactly as the title states, this manual goes through each letter of the alphabet and provides a short, concise, yet helpful topic for you to integrate into your own practice. You can read it all at once or savor it bit by bit when you have time. No matter where you are in your practice, who you work with, or how many times you have already read it, this book will be lovingly dog-eared and worn as you get something new each time you pick it up.
The issue with many self-care books/articles, I have found, is that they are too broad, too personal, and/or not really applicable to our lives as social workers. By using evidence-based research, pragmatic examples, and our Code of Ethics as guideposts, this book does not have one smattering of vagueness or impracticality. Of the many topics covered, the authors go beyond mental well-being to honestly and openly challenge our notions of diet, exercise, sleep, time management, and spirituality.
An element that I particularly liked was the fact that the authors borrowed our very best social work techniques and skills and directed them back on ourselves. Goal setting/timelines, accountability/social support, specific language (SMART style), monitoring self-talk, compassion, and strengths—the authors capture all the key elements that make this work unique and help them apply it to our own lives.
Never claiming a “right or wrong” way, the book’s structure (complete with reflection questions and prompts at the end of each chapter) allows it to be used for self-study, in classrooms, as part of your workplace culture, or in study groups of friends and colleagues. Done with tact and humor, the authors don’t admit to having all the answers, but rather emphasize that you cannot do social work without robust, structured, and consistent self-care. Cultivating self-care habits may be hard, but it is part and parcel to the success and sustainability of our profession.
Bottom line: we all know we do hard and often thankless work that leaves us exhausted mentally, physically, socially, and spiritually. We know that this is not good, yet we don’t know how to get out of our fatigued ruts. By breaking it down and appealing to multiple learning and life styles, this book makes the task of balance that much more manageable.
Reviewed by Elisa Kawam, MSW, Ph.D., Executive Director, NASW-New Mexico Chapter.