Abstract: Exploring the Self-Care Practices in Response to the Covid-19 Pandemic: A Qualitative Study (Society for Social Work and Research 27th Annual Conference - Social Work Science and Complex Problems: Battling Inequities + Building Solutions)

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SSWR 2023 Poster Gallery: as a registered in-person and virtual attendee, you have access to the virtual Poster Gallery which includes only the posters that elected to present virtually. The rest of the posters are presented in-person in the Poster/Exhibit Hall located in Phoenix A/B, 3rd floor. The access to the Poster Gallery will be available via the virtual conference platform the week of January 9. You will receive an email with instructions how to access the virtual conference platform.

Exploring the Self-Care Practices in Response to the Covid-19 Pandemic: A Qualitative Study

Friday, January 13, 2023
Camelback B, 2nd Level (Sheraton Phoenix Downtown)
* noted as presenting author
Rebecca Cole, MSW, Student, University of Texas at Arlington, Arlington, TX
Sophia Fantus, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Texas at Arlington, Arlington, TX
Background and Purpose: At the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, social workers experienced multiple challenges, including rapid changes in service delivery, shortages in staffing and resources, and high-risk work environments. Heightened levels of stress, burnout, and compassion fatigue initiated a renewed conversation regarding the need for individuals and organizations to implement approaches to self-care. Extant research has provided frameworks for self-care management, many of which are informed the stereotypes of exercise and mindfulness suggested to social workers. However, frameworks developed prior to COVID-19 fail to address the unique stressors encountered during the pandemic. An understanding of the self-care needs of social workers ought to be constructed in order to value their critical role in supporting communities and care teams, and the long-term grief and trauma experienced during the pandemic.

This research will address the gap in the research by examining self-care practices and strategies among a sample of healthcare social workers in Texas working during the COVID-19 pandemic. In recounting their own stressful encounters in health systems, participants identify their own self-care strategies and approaches their organizations ought to uphold.

Methods: Forty-three interviews were conducted with healthcare social workers across Texas. Researchers used purposive and convenience sampling strategies, including social media recruitment, word of mouth, and chain referral techniques. Participants were predominantly female (Female 93%; Male 7%), White (70% White; 27% Black 27%; 2% Asian) and Not Hispanic/Latinx (67.4% Not Hispanic/Latinx; 32.6% Hispanic). Semi-structured interviews were recorded and transcribed verbatim. Researchers removed any identifying participant information and data were thematically coded using a content analysis approach. The research team met frequently to discuss patterns and themes that emerged from the data.

Findings: Findings demonstrate that social workers’ curate their self-care practices with their needs and their resources. Participants in our study reflected on multilevel self-care strategies: 1)individual, 2) interpersonal and 3) institutional. Notably, participants indicated that the burden of upholding a responsibility to assume self-care shifts from an individual activity to a shared approach between the institution and social worker. Social workers’ self-care is inherently tied to having strong support systems and boundaries to separate their social work and personal spaces. Interpersonal self-care strategies reportedly included the participation in shared spaces to debrief and process with supervisor and peers. Social workers look to the institution to respect work-life boundaries and to create opportunities to share their perspectives in how clinical, ethical, and policy-level decision-making make influence patient care and provider well-being.

Conclusion and Implications: Participating in self-care activities help ease stressors arising from their social work practice. These findings advocate for creating self-care activities that focus on the needs of the individual social worker, not exercises like mediation, yoga, or a bubble bath, propagated by systems advocating for the collective benefit of the institution. This multi-tiered approach to self-care shows that self-care practices should rest on the individual social worker and incorporate a holistic approach to self-care, targeting strategies on the micro, mezzo, and macro levels.