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Thriving, not just surviving, in emotionally demanding fields of practice

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Research within the disciplines of Social Work and Education has for sometime acknowledged the tragedy, trauma, conflict and misery that can be experienced by workers in their associated professions. More recently, there has been an aligned interest in the role of passion, emotion and energy in sustaining these professionals through such experiences. This paper contributes to the growing literature in this area by reporting on a study conducted with five social workers and six teachers who work in Australian lower socioeconomic, urban-fringe and communities. It also engages the concept of the ‘personal domain’ to explore how these social workers and teachers cannot only survive, but can actually thrive in demanding work contexts. The methodology adopted for the study was an appreciative enquiry approach, where these professionals, each with over a decade of experience in urban-fringe communities, were recruited via non-probability, purposive, snowballing techniques and interviewed about what sustained them in their work during November 2008–February 2009. Thematic analysis of the interviews found that participants not only identified specific survival strategies, but could also articulate how their life experiences, ideologies, beliefs, values and other life resources informed their work in ways that aided their flourishing as professionals. The paper concludes by calling for further research into the work of social work and teaching professionals from a ‘personal domain’ perspective and considering the potential implications of such research for these professions, particularly in terms of promoting professional trajectories characterised first by endurance, and then by development and triumph.
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Keywords: personal domain; social work; surviving; teaching; thriving

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: School of Psychology, Social Work and Social Policy, University of South Australia, Adelaide, Australia 2: Work and Stress Research Group, Centre for Applied Psychological Research, School of Psychology, Social Work and Social Policy, University of South Australia, Adelaide, Australia 3: School of Education, University of South Australia, Adelaide, Australia

Publication date: 2011-05-01

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