Edited by Janice Langan-Fox and Cary Cooper
Chapter 5: Occupational Stress in Social Work Practice
Nikki R. Wooten, HaeJung Kim and Sunday B. Fakunmoju Social work is an occupation vulnerable to high levels of stress due to the nature of the work, the complexity of social problems, and the dynamics of organizational structure, culture and climate. Social work practice involves prevention, assessment and intervention with individuals, groups, families and communities in their social environments, as well as advocacy, development and implementation of social policy to promote biopsychosocial spiritual functioning (Hepworth et al., 2010). The social work profession’s mission is to enhance human well-being and meet the basic needs of individuals with special attention to marginalized, vulnerable and oppressed populations (National Association of Social Workers [NASW], 2008). Social workers provide preventive, restorative and case management services to voluntary and involuntary clients across the lifespan from global populations in diverse settings (Hepworth et al., 2010). The majority of social workers have master’s degrees, are licensed, and most commonly practice in mental health, child and family services, and health (Whitaker et al., 2006). As licensed professionals, social workers adhere to values and ethics that promote dignity and worth, equity, informed consent, multiculturalism, client strengths, self-determination, evidence-based practice and lifelong learning (Council on Social Work Education [CSWE], 2008; International Federation of Social Workers [IFSW], 2000; NASW, 2008). Adhering to the profession’s mandates can increase social workers’ potential for occupational stress, which may result from the nature of work within public, private, non-profit and international organizations; the severity and chronicity of social problems (e.g. abuse, victimization, natural and man-made disasters)...
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