Social workers often face challenging work situations. The result of these situations can be stress, burnout, and secondary trauma. Though social workers are known for having compassion for others, the concept of self-compassion, having compassion for oneself, is relatively new and understudied. The purpose of this study was to develop and advance an understanding of the lived experience of self-compassion among social workers. The study was guided by one research question: What is the lived experience of self-compassion in social workers who have completed Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction, a program on developing mindfulness? The conceptual framework and methodology are grounded in phenomenology. This dissertation is important as it provides critical knowledge about self-compassion for social workers, other helping professionals, and lay people living in a stressful world.
Participants in this study included 10 social workers who have completed Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), a program on mindfulness that also incorporates learning about self-compassion. The social workers represented a variety of practice experiences including: county human service work, private practice, non-profit work, school social work, hospital social work, nursing home social work, and crisis work. The participants had between five and 30+ years of experience as social workers.
During an in-depth interview, each participant responded to the primary interview prompt: Please think about and describe a specific instance or situation in your social work practice when you experienced self-compassion. A thematic analysis of individual interviews was completed and validated by each study participant. Analysis across interviews revealed four distinct themes. First, the participants described the nature of self-compassion, emphasizing five elements. Second, participants described the value of self-compassion in stressful work situations. Third, the participants described self-compassion as a "conduit" of healing for others. Fourth, the participants described self-compassion as a life long journey. In a fifth finding, not shared by all participants, inclusion of self-compassion into the social work education curriculum and continuing education was advocated.
This research leads to an understanding of what self-compassion is as well as what it means for practicing social workers. Implications of this study are relevant to social work practice, education, and research.