Missing the Mark?

Reframing NASW's Ethical Mandate for Self-Care as a Social Justice Issue


  • Dawn Apgar Seton Hall University
  • Mackaully Parada




self-care, burnout, social justice, ethics, macro practice


The 2021 revision to the ethical code for social workers mandated engagement in self-care. A review of workforce data suggests that the need for self-care in social work is largely due to poor working conditions, inadequate pay, unavailability of quality supervision, and lack of professional recognition. Thus, making self-care largely a personal responsibility is adopting a “blaming the victim” mentality that the profession has historically rejected in its approach to client problems. Social work is rooted in examining the social conditions of people within their environments and focusing on making macro level changes to remedy systemic problems. Though not intentional, the ethical mandate for social workers to remedy the stress, trauma, and burnout resulting from environmental stressors is misplaced, though not surprising. In recent years, social workers have focused more on working with individuals to fix their problems rather than making contextual changes that are largely responsible for the ills. This article reframes the emotional and psychological problems experienced by social workers as a social justice issue, requiring mezzo and macro, rather than micro, level intervention. Embracing this alternative perspective requires a commitment to mobilization, advocacy, and political engagement—approaches that have been deprioritized by many within the social work profession.


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