Resilience, Advocacy and Wellbeing to meet the demands of Placement 

Tilia Lenz
15th March 2024

Today our 3rd year Social Work students joined me for a Skills Day at Bournemouth University. The group is part way through their final placement before qualifying and working in statutory settings and Local Authorities.

Placements are an integral part of the degree and are a key part to prepare students for the realities of Social Work practice. But what does that actually mean? From my experience of front-line Child Protection services in England over the past 18 years, I often reflect on the stresses and pressures that I was exposed to: conflicting deadlines, lack of resources and meeting people at their most difficult times in life. The empathy Social Workers have to bring to situations to work in a strength-based way, can be eroded by the exposure to stress and trauma. Vicarious trauma is something experienced by many people who hold roles and responsibilities to care for others. I explain to my students that we are like sponges and soak up the trauma of others. 

The problems arise when we are full- a sponge starts to leak and so do we: At some point in practice, many Social Workers ‘are full of trauma’, which can cause significant impact on their holistic health. It also influences our decision making and behaviours in our personal and professional roles. As a group we reflected that we seldom take healthy decisions for ourselves when we are under significant pressure and stress. For example, we would opt for the chips and booze dinner rather than the balanced meal. Whilst we may have fixed the momentary cravings, such behaviours can quickly become unhealthy habits. 

Our professional decision making can become biased and based on our previous experiences with similar situations rather than person centred and fair. 

Students explored how and where they experience symptoms of stress within their bodies and in small groups discussed how this impacted on their day to day experiences. They found that each had different signs of stress and they manifested all over the body- from a sense of hair raising to stumbling over their own feet. 

We further looked at wellbeing or how being well feels in our bodies and minds- again everyone had a different experience and for some the absence of physical pain and stress symptoms was a sign of wellbeing. 

All groups identified that tension in the muscles was caused by stress and we looked at Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR) as a technique to reduce this and maintain a healthy balance within our bodies. I led a guided meditation that incorporated PMR and Autogenic Training (AT) elements. 

One of the students said it was the guided relaxation which really had an impact and it came at the right time in the placement.  It made her also think about the balance of work/life balance more consciously.   

Going forward our students will be working in busy environments where they will engage with the most vulnerable people in society. In order to do their job well, they will need to look after themselves first. Practicing tools for self-care and wellbeing regularly, will help them to become resilient practitioners and enable them to identify the signs and symptoms of stress and trauma early, before they manifest and cause ill health. 

Meet the author(s)

Tilia Lenz

Senior Lecturer Social Work and CPD Framework Social Sciences. (She/her)
Tilia is a Senior Lecturer for Social Work and the CPD Framework lead for Social Sciences. She is a qualified Social Pedagogue and registered Social Worker and spent 15 years in front line Children’s Services as a practitioner and manager. She undertook her MA studies in Managing and Developing Services in Health and Social Care at BU with the focus on Organisational Cultures and Staff Performance. She is now undertaking research for her PhD on ‘Relationship Performance Management in Child Protection’. She has a particular interest in practitioner wellbeing and resilience.
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