The Scottish Poetry Library is working alongside the University of Edinburgh and Edinburgh Napier University on a poetry anthology for newly qualified social workers in Scotland. The project builds on the success of similar projects such as Tools of the Trade: Poems for new Doctors and To Learn the Future: Poems for Teachers.
Our companion of poems for social workers will explore the meaning of social work and compassion in order to promote our new social workers’ self-care and wellbeing. We mean this to provide comfort, support and inspiration to all newly graduated social workers in Scotland. Sharing this book with all qualifying social workers also creates a shared language of poetry and a model of valuing practitioner emotional health. Thereby contributing to the construction of a strong professional identity, which is instrumental in retention of social workers (Burns, 2019).
Social work has a long history working with the humanities which will inform the selection of poems for this new anthology, twinning arts and health (Huss and Bos 2019). Poems selected will demonstrate compassion, including the service user-social worker relationship and the narrative of what it means to be a social worker. The poetry will be arranged thematically around some of the major challenges of social work: childhood, disability and ill health, death and dying, beginnings and ends, and transitions. It will focus on the light as well as the darkness encapsulated within these themes.
We feel poetry has the potential to promote the wellbeing of social workers in at least three ways. First, poetry is a powerful aid in the development of empathy and compassion, both for service users and for themselves as social workers. As Kotera et al. (2018) suggest, developing self-compassion can be a key strategy for improving social workers’ mental well-being. Self-compassion improves physical health and productivity at work, while reducing health care uptake and improving relationships (Bakker, 2011).
Second, poetry can be a source of emotional support and a tool for reflection and discussion with others (including supervisors, colleagues, family and friends) (Furman et al. 2005). For these reasons poetry is increasingly being used as a tool for discussion and reflection in social work education (see for example the new course at the University of Edinburgh – Creative Social Work and the Arts and London South Bank University’s use of poetry on the PQ in Social Work Leadership). This work is supported by a growing evidence base on the value of poetry for teaching and reflection across a range of social groups (Kleppe and Sorby, 2018; Lapum et al. 2015). This poetry anthology will help to support newly qualified social workers to deepen their reflective practice during the most formative years of their professional development. It will be a flexible resource that can be used by lone workers, groups or in supervision.
Finally, this anthology will provide a visible sign of how much the social work profession appreciates its newly qualified workers. Gifting this poetry collection sends the message ‘we value you and your wellbeing’. Giving and sharing poems has also been shown to be a way of building community among social workers (Furman et al. 2004).
We are absolutely thrilled that the Social Workers Union and Scottish Social Services Council recognise the value of this project and have agreed to support it with sponsorship. You can also read more about our call for poems and sponsorship here.
The current steering group is comprised of Dr Autumn Roesch-Marsh (University of Edinburgh), Dr Ariane Critchley (Edinburgh Napier), poet and former social worker Alistair Findlay, and Samuel Tongue (SPL)
After a callout for work that reflected upon the many issues that social workers face in their professional lives, we received many poems. Some came from social workers themselves, others from people who have used social services. They all provide creative insight into the complex threads that make up our common life together.
You can read these poems here.