Caseworkers! You’ve got to look after YOU!

As a caseworker working with complex clients one of the key attributes that is needed is personal resilience. Most people are drawn to this industry because they want to help others better their situation, this is of course a very positive motivation. The reality is often that people are very entrenched in their unhealthy and complicated life situation and often have multi layered complex personal barriers to making positive change.

When we scratch the surface with our clients what we find can seem overwhelming, and over a period of time this complexity, our hopes and dreams for clients not being fully realised and the sheer amount of human suffering we witness can lead to the phenomenon of burnout. Burnout can happen in any industry but I think it is particularly prevalent in social services because we are working with people’s lives and thus the stakes appear high, plus many workers feel it is their personal responsibility to “fix” clients. Those positive intentions we start this career with become a source of stress as timeframes, outcomes, competing priorities, funding and client complexity and human suffering all add pressure to an already difficult job.

The emotional strain of this becomes too much over time and then one day people just stop caring about their role as a self defence mechanism to that emotional strain. They then lose their ability to be strengths based and positively focused in their client work and have lost effectiveness as a worker. This is why so many resources are put into looking after workers in this industry.

But this is a personal responsibility first and foremost: I have been able to work over ten years in this industry with a range of extremely complex clients by having some firm beliefs set in my mind around casework practises, some are as follows

  1. We are not here to save the world, we are here to support clients by facilitating an opportunity for positive change. Whether they take that opportunity or not is up to them.
  2. We are not here to rescue our clients. Teach them to fish rather than feed them. To this end my efforts for clients tend to mirror their efforts for themselves. Never then do I get a martyr complex over client outcomes.
  3. Do not impose our hopes and dreams onto clients. If clients are leading the process, that leaves little room for our personal expectations and subsequent disappointments to be a source of personal suffering.
  4. Don’t get drawn into client drama! Nothing will drain you faster.
  5. Take a mental step back regularly from the work – keep some perspective.
  6. Most importantly: Don’t take life too seriously – it will not make you any better a worker.


Article written by: Gareth Houghton, Team Leader – Youth Hope
Nepean Community & Neighbourhood Services

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