Overcoming Self-doubt in Social Work

Some self-disclosure here—I’m a rather sensitive person and I often tend towards self-doubt, thinking something is my fault if it doesn’t go well and lots of critical voices in my head always.  With time, I’ve learned to see this as a strength since it means I’m constantly evaluating myself and pushing myself to become better.  However, often in the day to day, this self-doubt can be difficult.  And especially so in the field of social work, where decisions made often have far reaching repercussions.  Repercussions I’m so aware of and sensitive to…repercussions that directly impact the lives of others not only in the present moment but potentially for years to come.5 tips for overcoming self-doubt

Over the years I’ve had to develop methods to help me not to linger in my own self-doubt and to feel more confident in my decision-making (or I would NOT still be in social work).  I’m guessing there are other social workers out there who have struggles with self-doubt as well, so wanted to share the methods I’ve used (and still use), to help feel confident and to shake off the nagging self-doubt voice.  These are applicable to non-social workers, as well so feel free to share with others you know who might find these ideas helpful.

  1. Regular self-reflection. This almost seems counter-intuitive, but I’ve found it to be very helpful. For years, I don’t think I recognized or acknowledged my struggles even with self-doubt and so maybe didn’t realize I needed the extra support.  I was extremely lucky with my first supervisor out of college.  She built me up, believed in my assessment, and had my back when others didn’t agree with me.  She made me believe in myself.  I needed that—but, I think part of why that worked was that I was always reflecting on what went well, what didn’t, and sharing that with my supervisor.

  2. Continued professional development. I love learning…and have found that when I know more about myself, about the profession, about current practices, current issues, etc., the more I feel like (and AM) a competent social worker. It’s interesting, but I feel this area has actually gotten harder to take time for as my personal life has gotten busier and required more of me.  I didn’t realize how much I craved this until I did take two days a few months ago and went to a conference that for me was all about professional development.  I left feeling so re-charged, confident, excited…and during a timeframe when if I had not gone I probably would have felt professionally drained and would have questioned myself lots and lots.  By taking the time for professional development, one grows…and when you know you are growing, self-doubt sort of takes a back seat (at least that’s how it works for me!).

  3. Letting my supervisors and/or trusted colleagues know my biases and asking for them to push me on certain topics based on my own self-awareness. Self-reflection (#1) leads to self-awareness.  I know most of my biases…one of my work-related biases is that kids over the age of 12 are better off NOT in foster care.  My experience is that they are way more likely to struggle, end up as victims, and/or breaking the law and living a scary life if they are in “foster care” aka group homes (at least where I work the vast majority of kids over the age of 12 who are not placed with a relative are in a group home) than if they stay with someone else, who may be unsafe.  This is something that I shared with my supervisors when I worked as an Initial Assessment Social Worker…and it meant that at least on one occasion I strongly disagreed with a decision that I had to implement (detaining a teen and placing her in a group home).  I think it’s so important to know and acknowledge my lens and share it with others, not to convince them that my lens is right, but so that they can help by asking further questions and making sure my assessment is based on all of the facts of the situation.  Having others there to help me explore means a more collective-decision-making process as well, and more minds and eyes on the situation generally lead to better, more well-thought out decisions (and less self-doubt!).

  4. Learn from perceived mistakes (and trust the gut). I’ve been in the same general profession, a social worker in child welfare for over a decade.  I’ve seen my successes and I’ve seen my failures.  There are sadly cases I worked on over 10 years ago that I ran across again because of failed adoptions or failed reunification…adoptions and reunifications that I supported/proposed/facilitated.  And hearing about these cases breaks my heart and makes me want to crawl under a rock because of my participation in something that turned bad.  But, once I’m ready to pop my head back out and again go back to #1 and reflect, usually there is some wisdom gained.  Sometimes it means I realize I had a gut reaction, and the next time someone else brings me a gut reaction about a case I will push them further—will point out the importance of the decision and will ask what else can we process/assess so that the gut reaction isn’t just a gut.  Also, I think self-doubters actually have the best guts…they just don’t trust them so talk themselves out of the gut reaction…at least I know I have…and I’ve supervised a few individuals who I think fall under this same category.  If you are a natural self-doubter and in social work, then PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE, trust your gut.  And then dig…you will find something concrete to support you gut.  I’m 98% sure of it.

  5. Practice self-compassion. No one is perfect. Even those who don’t struggle with self-doubt are not perfect (in fact, they actually may need a healthy dose of self-reflection to recognize their areas of needed development).  As a natural self-doubter you are also a natural self-improvement person and that is actually a sign of a true leader.  You will take the time to recognize what you need improvement in and improve it.  And when you doubt yourself and it’s not warranted, with time you will learn to treat yourself with the same compassion that you treat others with.  I’m still working on this piece, but am realizing how important it is to treat myself as I would a friend–listen, acknowledge, support, and be kind.  By doing so, I can move on and be better next time, without unnecessary guilt to hold me back.selfdoubt

Do you struggle with self-doubt in regards to your decision-making and/or work life in general?  How do you help to overcome it? Do you (like me) see this as a potential strength?  I’d love to hear from you so we can learn from one another!

Overcoming self-doubt in social work was originally posted on http://www.socialworkcommunity.com/2016/08/overcoming-self-doubt-in-social-work/ and was syndicated with permission from the author.


Rachel @ Social work community

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