by Erlene Grise-Owens, Ed.D., LCSW, LMFT, MSW, MRE, co-editor of The A-to-Z Self-Care Handbook for Social Workers and Other Helping Professionals
Organizational dysfunction is one huge barrier to self-care! If organizations functioned better, employees would have less need for self-care. But, self-care can (literally and figuratively) boost one’s immune system for dealing with toxicity.
Self-Care is NOT blaming the individual or discounting an organization’s responsibility. Promoting organizational wellness is imperative! (Colleagues and I are actively working on that!) And, self-care is essential. It’s not an either/or!
In decades of practice, I’ve experienced myself and observed many others navigate dysfunctional environments. I’ve learned: NOT practicing self-care gives the dysfunction even more power over us. Through intentional, integrated, and radical dedication to self-care, we can better manage the stress of toxicity and more constructively navigate organizations.
As professional helpers, we are trained to deal with problematic situations. Let’s apply this training to our own practice. Three important concepts illuminate the power of self-care in the organizational context: systems thinking; Hill’s ABC-X stress theory; and resilience/protective factors.
A systems approach explains the relationship between practitioner self-care and organizations. This visual depicts a systemic understanding of organizational wellness—and self-care as integral to that system.
Organizational Wellness: A Systems Approach
Because self-care and other aspects of organizational wellness have reciprocal effects, we can use self-care to mitigate organizational dysfunction. A change in one part of the system affects other parts of the system. With integrated and activated self-care, we can change the way we respond and interact with the organization and other stressors. We can modulate negative impacts and maximize positive strategies.
In Hill’s ABC-X stress theory: A= stressor; B= resources; and C= the interpretation/meaning ascribed. A, B, and C factors determine the impact of X = the “crisis”/experience. As practitioners, self-care provides resources and aids in ascribing functional meaning. For example, viewing the stressor as entirely outside my control (what the organization is doing to me) limits my power to affect the impact of it. In contrast, I choose to practice self-care to deal with the organization’s unhealthy functioning. Likewise, self-care builds my resources to offset the impact and pursue organizational change.
Finally, let’s consider the power of resilience or ability to bounce back from adversity. We see the importance of protective factors in negative circumstances—i.e., those attributes and strategies that help people deal with stress. Self-care develops and engages buffers to the negative aspects of one’s organization and professional role. The A-Z Self-Care Handbook for Social Workers and Other Helping Professionals provides myriad ways to design YOUR self-care plan and integrate self-care into YOUR lifestyle. And, the “O,” entry is Organizational Wellness. Check it out!
Self-care doesn’t excuse organizational responsibility; pursuing organizational wellness is crucial! And, I have experienced at a deep level and seen the evidence in others how self-care can significantly offset the organization’s negative impact on individual well-being. In doing so, we can remain passionate about our practice and sustain our purpose. Join the movement! Let’s transform our profession. Contact me if you want to contribute to the conversation by writing a blog entry on self-care.
Peace, Love, and Self-Care! Erlene (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Erlene Grise-Owens, Ed.D., LCSW, LMFT, MSW, MRE, is currently a full-time professor in social work. She is lead editor of The A-to-Z Self-Care Handbook for Social Workers and Other Helping Professionals. More than a decade ago, she and a small (but mighty!) group of colleagues began an initiative to promote self-care as part of the social work education curriculum. She develops and facilitates continuing education trainings on self-care and wellness; consults with community agencies about organizational wellness; and contributes to professional scholarship on these topics. Previously, she served in clinical and administrative roles. She has experience with navigating organizational toxicity and dysfunction, up-close and personal! Likewise, she sees students enter the field and quickly burn out. As a dedicated social worker, she believes the well-being of practitioners is a matter of social justice and human rights. Thus, she is on a just mission to promote self-care and wellness.