Building Resilience in Student Social Workers and ASYE’s (for NESWA)

Thanks for attending one of the sessions I do on Building Resilience in Student Social Workers and ASYE’s for NESWA.

At the start of the session I outlined my Three Pillars of Resilience model of resilience. If you want to read more on how self-care strategies can build resilience in the areas I didn’t have time to cover then you can find articles at my Self Care Shorts Web Site



Things to consider about resilience:

  • Resilience is definitely in people – self-care is important – being organised is important – and who we are has great influence
  • Resilience is in environments – so we need to consider how we establish a resilient environment
  • Resilience is in connections – the people that are on our team – work team and our ‘personal team’ – who’s got you! – and how those connections serve to support us and sometimes get in the way.


  • Stress and burnout are caused by our resilience being undermined
  • Thinking about who social work students are is important – their psychological make-up – ‘fit’ to role is crucial in considering the impact of stress
  • Their is a tension between what we’d love social work to be – and what it is
  • Empathy as a cornerstone of practice can be problematic although essential

Resilience is not about how you endure it is about how you recover – that’s why the physical is important – particularly ‘rest’. It’s interesting that how we live these days outside of work when we are allegedly resting isn’t often restful – we move from one thing to the next without taking a break.

Resilience is a dynamic trait – not a static character trait – you don’t have a certain amount of it to use up before you restock
It fluctuates over time depending on physical factors
Resilience is about emotional control (and that fluctuates)

But we can build a resilience window – we actually become stronger as a consequence of being challenged

Resilience is about leveraging our strengths (but we need to build our strengths first

Questions to ask students:

How do you ‘operate’? How do you rest? Do you feel rested after you’ve rested? How do you plan and organise?

We know that stress triggers a state called vigilance — and vigilance is where you find it harder to focus because your brain is scanning the horizon for danger. Which means you can’t focus.


We need to keep rooting people in ‘Why’ and supporting them to do the ‘How’


“most prepared to ‘promote and enable’ (89 per cent) and least prepared to ‘intervene and provide’ (32 per cent)” – the first is ‘why’ based – the second ‘how’

“‘feeling ready to’ is reported by the majority of participants in relation to areas such as conducting assessments, building relationships and communicating with clients”. This is a WHY

“and less in terms of preparedness for more instrumental aspects of the role such as commissioning services, dealing with IT systems and working with accountability mechanisms”. This is a HOW

Where do the problems exist?

Role Ambiguity and Clarity

ASYE’s I speak to are saying they struggle to understand where their role ends and feel they have ended up taking on jobs that weren’t theirs (exacerbated by working from home) – and the research bears this out as a predictor of work place stress

Where there is Role Ambiguity the worker wastes precious time figuring out what to do and how to do it – this takes up the workers ‘resources’ and depletes the energy and left to actually do the job. We’re constantly running out of time because we’re constantly figuring out what to do.

Role Conflict

Social Work and bureaucracy are an uncomfortable fit. Social Work as a ‘culture’ adopts a strong value, person centred, position that applauds itself on a ‘one size doesn’t fit all’ ethos, yet, in terms of the ‘office function’ risks seeking to fit people’s circumstances into a rigid structure or process. This causes a problem for the practitioner who may want to spend more time with people but ends up spending more time on administrative functions, often driven by external factors, than being out and about in the field.

One of the main facets of good Social Work practice is frequent reflection to understand the ‘self’. Alessandro Sicora (2017) puts this eloquently and figuratively by suggesting that reflection builds a bridge between heart and mind. It is essential to bring into mind a knowledge of who we are but often who we are can be out of reach to our conscious mind. We need to do this because stress manifests itself in this relationship between what our heart is telling us to do and what our head knows we should be doing.



Innate quality or not?

Lishman (2009) suggests it’s a core ‘skill’ or ‘way of being’ when with service users (Both AFFECTIVE and COGNITIVE)

Givens (2021) suggests that ‘empathy is a practice, not a state of being’ (COGNITIVE)

Ruiz-Junco (2017) suggests that empathy is a sharing process that seeks to interpret the world of the other person and evokes in the self the emotions of others to attempt to comprehend the position of the other person. She uses the term ‘feeling with’ erring on the side of a ‘way of being’ – and AFFECTIVE definition.

Rutger Bregman in ‘Humankind’ suggests:

Temper your empathy, train your compassion. When you choose compassion you realise how little separates you from the other person. Compassion takes you beyond yourself – in a cognitive exercise.



You can take a version of the Highly Sensitive Person ‘test’ here 

This version breaks the HSP scale into Highly Sensitive or not and suggests that a score of over 14 suggests you are highly sensitive
The more complex version of the ‘test’ uses a likert scale to gain a more accurate response – but isn’t available as an online tool – it approximates (using the scale above) roughly to Orchids scoring 17 and above, Tulips being 12  to 17 and Dandelions being under 12.

If you’d like to read my MSc Research it’s here: Stephen J Mordue MSc Dissertation FINAL and includes many of the things I talked about.

Here is the Powerpoint from the session: Developing Resilience

Other articles that might help:

Working from Home

Habits and Building Better Routines

Productivity and self care articles here 

And here