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.