Although social workers often see the very best of people, there is no doubt that the average worker also sees much sadness and struggle. Some social workers practice among poverty and violence. Some work with individuals who are physically ill or dying. It is safe to say that social workers treat an array of people and problems.
This sadness can add up. I supervise a team of care coordinators who work with individuals who have high acuity of physical and/or mental health needs. They are transitioning clients from a long term setting into the community. Although they see lots of success, they encounter loss each day. They listen to people’s stories which are wrought with loss. They watch people relapse into addiction. They watch individuals deteriorate physically and sometimes decompensate mentally. They have clients die under both expected and unexpected circumstances. This can be wearing on workers. When we experience loss we often feel grief. Grief is one of those uncomfortable feelings we often try to avoid.
Most of us understand personal loss. Personal loss includes things like a death of family or a loved one. It may be loss of a pet, a job or of a dream. It may be loss of an idea or transition to another stage of life or a divorce. We deal with personal loss by using our support system and talking about it. We have rituals and memorials. We use self-care. Much of our personal life is seen by people we love so there is support. It can be somewhat different for professional loss.
Professional loss is what we experience in our work lives with clients. It is different from personal loss because the relationships are different and often we don’t stop and take a moment to acknowledge and grieve. Professional losses are often internalized. It is possible we might go home and say we had a rough day or maybe even say a client died but we can’t share much of our experiences with family and friends so we miss out on the support you would get when family and friends are sharing the loss with you.