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Navigating “That Other Part” of the Social Services Field

By Molly Bourg

Explaining my relationship with my job is complicated.  My placement is at Women’s Lunch Place within the social services field. The organization is a day shelter-serving women experiencing poverty, homelessness and abuse in the Boston area.  On one hand, I love my job in social services. I find the service engaging and meaningful, I adore my coworkers, and I love my clients (whom we affectionately call “the ladies”). But while it’s undeniably good work, it’s also incredibly difficult. Beneath volunteerism’s cheery veneer lies the stark reality of vicarious trauma and compassion fatigue.


We’ve all felt the haunting gloom that comes with binging on a constant stream of online news stories. Social services is akin to that, only now you’re the reporter in the field. It’s your job to encounter complex problems 7 or 8 hours a day, 5 days a week.


How do you take care of yourself when this is your job?

The most proactive step is to establish boundaries. It is ok to say no, to unplug, to stop. I’ve found that avoiding crowded places helps. It’s alright to wait extra minutes for the next train because the first one is full. It’s alright to tell your friends and family: “I’m going to be by myself and have a break. I’m not upset with anyone, I just need forty-five minutes without having to talk to another human.” Incorporating blocks of alone time into my schedule has definitely helped.


Remember that it’s not personal. My boss reminded me that our work in social services is to be helpers, not saviors. All we can do is offer services to the best of our ability with the resources at our disposal.


A change in physical space can help. In the moments when I’m panicking, or upset, or can’t sleep, I try to change my physical space. Sometimes something as simple as getting up and rotating my mattress helps me sleep better. Clutching something cold like ice cubes helps as well. Blood draws away from your brain to warm your hands, slowing your train of thought slightly.


Others turn to exercise. My housemates run and do yoga. As Elle Woods once said, “Exercise gives you endorphins. Endorphins makes you happy.”

A goal is to turn it into a continuous practice. I’m still learning how to process my thoughts long term. Writing things out has helped. As well as positive affirmations about my daily actions. Verbally processing with a counselor has also helped.

My last tip? Check out Ru Paul’s Drag Race. Trust me on this one!


Molly Bourg is from New Orleans, Louisiana. She graduated from Louisiana State University (obligatory ‘Geaux Tigers’), and is currently working at Women’s Lunch Place in Boston, Massachusetts. Molly enjoys chicken wings, anime re-runs, gardening, and the scent of clean laundry. She would like to someday write kids books for a living.