Lessons from social work: self-care

Last fall, I took a class at the University of Chicago School of Social Service Administration, our university’s social work school. I was in a class of about 30 people. Besides myself and three Divinity School students, everyone else was a social work student.

The class was titled “Dying, Death and Loss.” The class was taught by a former hospice social worker. We focused on how to help individuals who are going through the dying process. Although we talked about bereavement and caring for those in grief, our primary focus was on how to care for the dying individual.

When I told people that I was taking a class on death, many responded by saying “wow, that sounds depressing.” But honestly, I didn’t feel that way. Once we acknowledge that death will happen and that it is sad, we can learn how to care for people. Sometimes, when someone is going through hard times, they don’t need the problem fixed or their emotions changed. They just need someone to sit with them for a while.

One thing I found noteworthy about the class was the focus on self-care. We had an entire session on how social workers need to take care of themselves. We talked about secondary trauma, in which a caregiver may experience emotional duress while listening to the trauma of someone else. We talked about how to avoid being burnt out. I wish lawyers talked about self-care more often.

On another note, when I told Amy, my instructor, that I was a law student, she said “Do you know Lior Strahilevitz?” Professor Strahilevitz is one of my favorite professors. It turns out that his wife, Joanna, was the medical director at the hospice where Amy used to work. I later brought this up with Professor Strahilevitz, and he said that having a wife who does hospice care has helped him feel more comfortable talking about death (my classmates in his 1L property class can attest to that). He also said “I tell people that my wife is a terrible doctor, because all her patients die.”

Also, I’m pretty sure that my anonymous crush was in that class, although I have no idea who it could be.

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