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From Theory Toward Empathic Self-Care: Creating a Mindful Classroom for Social Work Students

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Social work students experience stress, emotional exhaustion and vicarious trauma during their education; these reactions can negatively impact their ability to objectively practice and integrate course material. When social work students are mindful in the classroom, meaning they are present without internal or external filters, they are better able to regulate emotions and are more open to diverse perspectives. Teaching social work students to become mindful can improve self-care and is also the first step toward developing empathy. As such, mindful practice can help enhance practice skills, especially those related to tuning in to clients. This paper describes the elements of a mindful classroom, introduces a framework for teaching mindful practice, and presents the results of a research study that examined learning outcomes associated with this framework. Graduate students participated in a 16-week course that focused on enhancing self-care and professional development via the use of formal and informal mindful practice strategies. The Kentucky Inventory of Mindfulness Scale was administered before and after the course to assess changes in students' use of mindfulness skills. Four skill areas were tested: acting with awareness, observing, accepting without judgment, and describing; results indicate that students significantly increased their use of mindfulness in the first three areas.
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Keywords: Attention; Emotional Regulation; Empathy; Mindfulness; Sensory Awareness; Stress; Vicarious Trauma

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Arizona State University, USA

Publication date: September 1, 2011

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