“Self” is a term used frequently anywhere you look in the field of child and youth care, relating to the practitioner themselves instead of the young people and families they work with. This domain envelops things like reflective practice, boundaries, use of self in interventions and self-care. The domain of the self is (arguably) the most important in the entire field- because it is focused on the practitioner, and if there is no practitioner, there is no care.
Reflective practice is the continual self-assessment of the practitioner and their work, skills, knowledge and personal well-being as they work (Stuart, 2009). As well as their feelings and well-being, practitioners assess their history (which may include their own trauma or abuse) and how it affects their practice now. Having knowledge of the self and how one best can put it to use in work with young people is absolutely necessary, because the people one works with are always changing, and they consequently make changes in the practitioner. Being able to observe changes in oneself may boost their ability to recognize changes in others, which certainly includes their clients.
Next in the list is boundaries, which are often addressed by the consequences that follow when there is a lack of boundaries in one’s work (Stuart, 2009). Boundaries are set between client and practitioner, and between the personal and professional sides of the practitioner. Every client is different and thus the boundaries between the practitioner and whomever they’re working with shift depending upon the client. These boundaries that CYCPs set between themselves and their clients involve caring (a core characteristic of practice; being emotionally involved), being personal (deciding when to relay personal information, sharing your story as well as listening to the client’s to establish an equal information exchange), touch (young people need healthy touch to develop well; shape boundaries based on that both practitioner and client are comfortable with and go from there) and social networking technology (practitioners must determine how much they share online; not private, not easily translated all the time and accessible to strangers). Boundaries are important in practice because they ultimately establish an automatic comfort with all parties, and comfort leads to better relationships.
Use of the self in interventions is integral to this field, because practitioners are humans as well, and carry their personalities and values with them wherever they go. Part of using the self in intervention is being aware of one’s own thoughts and feelings as they unfold, which has been described as “consciously interacting with [one]self within [their] interactions with others” (Stuart, 2009), which in turn helps one make more meaning of the interactions they are having. To be extremely skilled in this puts a practitioner in a heightened state of awareness of their own self as they interact with clients, making them very present and in-the-moment as they work with clients, and giving them the ability to know the difference between their own thoughts and the other party’s; this allows the practitioner to let go of any thoughts they might have that they know are biased or may create bias in the other party.
The last (and most important) sub-domain under the self is self-care. Self-care is so very important for practitioners in this field because, if one cannot take care of themselves, they surely cannot take care of anyone else. As helpers and providers in social work with young people, CYCPs must always remember to check the stress they are under, whether or not that stress is good or bad (too much can seriously affect one’s health), and take further action if it is found to be unhealthy.
Two terms one may commonly hear when looking into social work are vicarious trauma and burnout. Vicarious trauma is a type of trauma that occurs within someone when they are repeatedly exposed to the stories of hardships, trauma or abuse from another, and they may soon begin to feel the effects of the other’s trauma in all of the senses (touch, taste, smell, sound, sight) without having experienced any of it themselves. Vicarious trauma may consequently cause people with their own history of trauma to “spiral,” remembering everything that they have experienced while simultaneously trying to process the other person’s stories and experiencing the effects of those, too. Practitioners who are feeling the effects of vicarious trauma and continue to deal with stressful stories and events while neglecting to seek help will undoubtedly soon face burnout. Burnout is pretty well the exact reason that self-care is so important in this profession: it takes a very long time and is difficult to recover from, and pushes the physical and emotional symptoms of exhaustion onto the practitioner. They no longer are able to function to their full ability and develop a very negative outlook on life, work and anything personal because of the overwhelming exhaustion they feel, inside and out. Having good social networks and support from other professionals, coworkers, family and friends is a good preventative measure against burnout, and it is highly recommended that all practitioners have another professional that they can turn to when they need to speak.
It is evident why self-care is so important to the self, and why the self is so important to the practice. Please remember to take care of yourself today.
Evidence of Competency
BOUNDARIES: As discussed above in its respective paragraph, boundaries are a really important part of the work that CYCPs do, and it’s something that encompasses just about everything that we do. Here, to provide evidence in my knowledge and competence in this particular sub-domain, I thought to simply give an example of something that I do myself to reinforce my knowledge and respect of boundaries as a concept.
When I first meet another person, out of respect for them, I have begun to ask whether or not they are okay with shaking hands. Here in Canada, exchanging a handshake with a stranger is a ritual of greeting that most people take part in, but may potentially be uncomfortable for a lot of people for a variety of personal reasons. As such, I am mindful to never extend my hand to another person upon meeting before I ask if they are okay with that kind of physical contact, unless of course I am invited by the other person.
Stuart, C. (2009). Foundations of Child and Youth Care. Dubuque, IA: Kendall Hunt Publishing Company.
Image taken from vecteezy.com.