Social Work Under Pressure – A Review


Jessica Kingsley Publishers sent m e a review copy of ‘Social Work Under Pressure – How to Overcome Stress, Fatigue and Burnout’ by Kate van Heugten  I interviewed the author and the interview is available on the Jessica Kingsley Blog here .  I know I’m biased but I highly recommend reading the interview to put the book into a context.

I was intrigued by ‘Social Work Under Pressure’ and what it might provide that is ‘different’ in the market of text books for social workers. While there are books covering the legalities, theories and policies, I haven’t come across a book that covers the emotional stresses and pressures of social work as a discrete issue.

van Heugten presents issues of workplace stress in social work (although there is no doubt that the issues and learning can be extrapolated into other areas of social care and health sectors) in the context of theories of ‘stress’ and stress management.

The first chapters are a great example of the importance of using theoretical approaches and research, in this case about models of workplace stress and stress management in practical situations.  van Heugten explains and expounds the relationships of vicarious trauma, compassion fatigue and burnout in more details as being issues for which the profession is particularly prone.

Her discussion of the increased stressors relating to bureaucratic tasks and a lack of control seem to have put a lot of my personal experiences of working as a frontline social worker into a context that made me able to understand better where my own reactions were ‘coming from’. As a ‘reflector’ by instinct, having a context within which to place the stresses and difficulties experienced at work helped me to explore how to build up my own resilience and recognise my own needs regarding self-care and support.

Van Heugten does address the issue of self-care and building resources and ‘toolkits’ to resist and overcome from the the stresses at work. Some of the ideas and plans are aimed squarely at managers and systems but there are also ideas there for individual practitioners without managerial control or authority.

Van Heugten looks at some of the specific issues which affect different areas of social work but her book is focussed internationally and she calls on a wide range of interviews and research data to back up her hypotheses about the reasons and solutions for workplace stress.

There are chapters about dealing with violence and aggressive service users and dealing with bullying in the workplace as well as ‘making mistakes’ and an appreciation that humans work in human services and we need to look after ourselves as well as each other in this trade because ultimately, stress and overload lead to poor practice and sick professionals.

I’d definitely recommend this book to managers, practitioners and social work students as it introduces a lot of elements that are fundamental to a successful and long career in social work and social care as well as health services and these elements are very seldom taught formally but rather learnt most frequently from decent managers, supervisors and colleagues.

It is easy to read and there is a good use of quotations and personal experiences, including the authors’ own experiences of personal stresses and combining this with work.  Each chapter concludes with references and it is a very well researched book that allows readers to discover more for themselves about specific issues that might affect them.

It is available from Jessica Kingsley Publishers and costs £19.99

2 thoughts on “Social Work Under Pressure – A Review

  1. This is so timely for me! As a supervisor, my staff have had a rough couple of months… I think some extra reading on how to encourage their self care is in order!

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