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SOCIAL MEDICINE

At the end of February, I attended the Alabama Conference on Social Work in Orange Beach Alabama. I am on the board so I might be biased, but it is the best social work conference in the Southeast! For three days I attended informative classes and workshops to increase my knowledge, skills and abilities in my chosen practice field. Even after 36 years in social work, there are always benefit in hearing new perspectives by established social work and mental health professionals.

It had been a hard previous few months, juggling multiple projects while still seeing trauma clients, until my patience and empathy, depleted of fuel, threatened to go on strike.

I was so brain-tired.

But, by the end of the conference, I was body-tired but had experienced a renewal of the passion and commitment to my chosen practice! My patience restored; my brain received a much-needed injection of self-care as well as reminders as to why I do what I do. In other words, I came stressed and left happy and calm.

Were the classes that good? Did they reignite the spark in me for taking on other's trauma? Well, yes, the classes were excellent, but they were not the balm for my soul.

It was the fellowship: the after-conference dinners; dancing at the piano bar; and most importantly...the laughing. Being silly, having fun, while catching up with old friends and colleagues, replenished up my self-care fountain to overflowing. As a trauma practitioner, I am normally a neutral but active listener to the troubles of others. My clients would most likely be extremely surprised to see my goofy, boldly weird side that comes out when among friends and colleagues. Seeing and interacting with old friends allowed me to just "let go and be me" around "my tribe" and therefore infusing me with a good dose of social medicine.

What is social medicine? According to Wikipedia, "The field of social medicine seeks to implement social care through. understanding how social and economic conditions impact health, disease and the practice of medicine and. fostering conditions in which this understanding can lead to a healthier society".

Quite the mouthful.

Basically stated, our physical and mental health can be affected by our environment. Isn't that the very definition of social work? Hmmmm. I am not a scientist, but I can attest that, after over three decades of social work, I have seen firsthand the above mentioned social and economic impacts of the mental health on my clients (of course) but also on the mental health workers.

Today, it is the latter that I want to address.

I do realize, that in the above example, by labeling my experience (the ACSW conference delivering a mental health boost) as social medicine, that I am playing loose with the definition of social medicine and describing it as a treatment rather than a field of study. But bear with me because, whether or not I am coining a new use for an established phrase, taking a spoonful of social medicine can lessen the symptoms of secondary trauma or even burn out.

There are so many "treatments" a social worker, therapist, psychologist, teacher or any other "people helpers" can self-administer to address their stressful work environments. Today I am advocating for prioritizing your need for continued growth and self-care by attending workshops or conferences. The benefits are twofold. Not only will you be increasing your KSA's in new or expanding social work ideas for professional growth, but also you will be feeding your need for a dose of "social medicine".

The things I hear from other practitioners is " I don't have time to go to conferences". "There's just too much to do". "My employer wont give me professional release time". OK, those are fair. But they are also the reason you feel like going into the corner and screaming when your stress level peaks. Or the reason you keep getting sick and missing work, putting you even more behind.

Ignoring your own emotional needs can lead to chronic tardiness, absenteeism and even serious health issues. Doesn't it make more sense to do what you can to address the stress and underlying secondary trauma by taking care of your need to connect with your tribe?

It doesn't have to be a conference. I just find, for me, combining learning and laughing is a great prescription when I am experiencing the downward slope of the roller coaster that is social work. If conferences aren't for you, there are other opportunities for your own brand of fellowshipping as a form of social medicine. Some of my colleagues have implemented the following ways to utilize fellowship in the prevention of chronic secondary traumatic stress

😊 Set up a regular, weekly lunch with friends/colleagues who share your views and passion

😒 Set up a weekly support group to talk about the ups and downs of your week. (don't wait for your employer to set up one. It can be informal, snacks and drinks after work.

😎 Set up a walking club to get outside and just experience the rejuvenating tonic of nature

And Most Importantly for Me.....😂🤣😁😉 LAUGH! LAUGH! LAUGH! There is something about the release of serotonins and endorphins that can drop stress levels quickly. Make more opportunity in your life for laughter.

My challenge to you is to reconnect with your tribe (those who understand the stress and emotional strain that caring for others can bring). Find a way to support each other so that together you can stay focused and motivated on your journey to make a difference.

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