One of the things that they've really been hammering into our heads at school is the importance of self-care. We're only two weeks in, and already all of the professors have at least mentioned it, with one devoting an entire lecture to the subject. The idea is simple: you can't help other people effectively if you're not taking care of yourself. Letting yourself become too involved with your cases, taking your work home with you, and not utilizing some form of an appropriate support system (be it talking to co-workers or supervisors or going to therapy) has the potential to wreck both your personal and your professional life. According to the professor, inadequate self-care and insulation between one's private life and one's job is a major cause of the burnout that plagues social work and related professions, so learning appropriate coping mechanisms early on is really important.
I believe it. In the short amount of time I've worked with foster kids (since February), I've witnessed a number of truly screwed up situations firsthand, and I'm only in court once every couple of months, if that. Afterwards, I sometimes find myself wondering about what's going to happen to the people I see while I'm waiting for my hearing. It's easy to see where the work can really get under the skin of social workers at DSS, who have to see that stuff day after day after day. I've also known a couple of individuals who qualify as cautionary tales-- they got sucked into the "Well, I'm doing better than my clients, so I'm okay" trap, and the personal and professional repercussions they've experienced as a result have been pretty unfortunate, and not anything I'd care to experience for myself.
This, of course, is all easier said than done. When you're a giant perfectionist who has work to do, it's hard to do frivolous things without feeling guilty and/or internally panicking about all the crap you should be working on. For example, I spent Friday and Saturday nights hanging out with my cousins and Sunday and Monday with my mom and my stepdad. Very little homework happened, and while I have a solid block of time today in which to work on it (the person who is driving the carpool needs to get to school early) and I'm off all day tomorrow, I still had a hard time not thinking about all the reading and research and outlining I needed to do, not to mention a half dozen e-mails I probably should have written and sent last week.
I think this will get a bit easier once I finish working out my notice (four more days!) at my current job and go back to my previous job, which makes far fewer demands on my time, energy, and mental health. I also won't be working on Sundays anymore, so I'll be able to do much of my homework then and still have some relaxation time to myself. Next semester, when I start my first internship, will undoubtedly be trickier.