The Professional Resilience Program


Reprinted with permission from Professional Case Management, Vol.14. No. 6, copyright Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2009.

Why define Professional Resilience now? There are numerous articles about the impact of case management’s daily dose of challenges on its workforce: mergers and acquisitions, clients and their support systems with a diversity of needs; regulatory changes, risk, and liability; fiscal implications; and providing more with less, to name a few. However, a new challenge has emerged, cutting across the spectrum of our practice environments, while touching many of us personally—the economic crisis. Living with this added aspect of stress reinforces the value of fostering a resilient self and workplace (Fink-Samnick, 2008b). Although strategies to cope have been provided, a firmer foundation is mandated. More significantly, professional resilience must be operational zed with defined principles to ensure case managers are triumphant.

Professional response

Detailed in a March 31, 2009, Washington Post article titled “A Sick Economy Is Hazardous to Your Health,” the following statistics provide a glimpse how these macro- societal trends influence our micro- practice patterns:

• In September 2008, 80% of Americans said the economy was a significant source of stress— up from 66% in April 2008.
• There was a more than 20% increase in calls to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline from January 2008 to January 2009.

Add an increasing unemployment rate, 9.5% at the time of this writing (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2009), plus those routine life challenges, and it is evident that both consumers of case management services and its valued workforce are feeling the tension more in- tensely. With case management’s strong emphasis on attending to the needs of others, most professionals wrestle with finding time and energy for life beyond the workplace.

The professional community is recognizing the value of self-care with a plethora of publications. The National Association of Social Workers (NASW) has taken this to the next level by developing a Professional Self-Care Policy for the latest edition of Social Work Speaks, their official policy statements defining the parameters of professional social work practice. “NASW supports the practice of professional self-care … as a means of maintaining their competence, strengthening the professional and preserving the integrity of their work with clients” (NASW, 2009, p. 270).Bulleted recommendations address educating everyone from students to the most clinically seasoned practitioner. Transcending organizational and individual practitioner accountability, the policy emphasizes the importance of establishment and enforcement of both policies and practices to promote, support, and model self-care and development of policies to address safety in the workplace. Equally critical are professional trainings on related themes of burnout and com- passion fatigue, plus availability of support resources for professionals including, but not limited to, support groups, retreats, Web sites, online support, and chat groups. This is a powerful document that has set the tone for an urgent need to ensure the professional viability of the health and human services workforce.

The Professional Resilience Paradigm

While nobody would argue that the concept of professional self-care is a key element to minimizing burnout, it is far from the only element. One’s ability to take ownership for reexamining, redefining, prioritizing, and then committing to achieving their life goals is as essential. Although there are numerous theories of resilience in the literature, health and human service professionals warrant a unique perspective. The diversity of individual practice frameworks, strengths, and professional roles means that there is no single lens with which to view this paradigm through. The Professional Resilience Paradigm sets the cornerstone for what case managers must consider to assimilate this focus into practice, including the following:

• A definition of professional resilience,
• Action-oriented building blocks, and
• Integration of individualized strategies.

The definition: Professional resilience

Professional resilience is a health and human service professional’s commitment to achieve balance between occupational stressors and life challenges, while fostering professional values and career sustainability. This is accomplished through a set of defined building blocks and individualized strategies.

The building blocks

These building blocks establish the foundation principles:

• Promote physical and psycho- logical self-care;
• Maintain a foundation of inner strength;
• Define personal and professional values;
• Be motivated to identify, then achieve, personal and professional goals and aspirations; and
• Believe in self-advocacy; and • Know that the energy of these concepts enhances career satisfaction and longevity.

The strategies

The strategies listed below foster the ability to transition from theory to practice by providing pragmatic examples. As you read each strategy, think of at least one realistic way to individualize the concept.

1. Value, do not devalue, your “professional self.” You are in a team meeting with a colleague of a higher position. In communicating a point, you say, I know I am just the case man- ager, but … STOP! Instead try, “As the case manager I bring a unique perspective to this process. Let me share how this impacts this situation.” A little self-advocacy goes a long way to educate others about your expertise.

2. Present with a presence. If you think you are burned out, you probably are. Consider how you present to everyone you interface with. It may be seen in how you dress, the tone of your speech, or how you engage with consumers. If you are sensing apathy, or even a lack of interest in being at work, so do others.

3. Have positive contacts with colleagues and peers. Know who motivates versus depletes you. How many times do you avoid a certain interaction with someone who drains you of any positive emotion? Although we do not always have control over the duration and frequency of those interactions, being mindful of them enhances our ability to see how they impact our energy and focus.

4. Achieve validation. Identify and name your goals and aspirations. Then, go to that next level by engaging in dialogues with those who will empower you to achieve them. If you do not have someone who you trust to be able to engage in these dialogues, make it a priority to develop a relationship for this purpose. It may be a mentor, partner, or peer, but clearly someone you respect.

5. Use the power of professional networking. Engage with professional associations and professional networking sites to keep from falling behind new trends. Both have their own unique power to expand your horizons, plus your opportunities.

6. Stop saying you cannot take a break. How many times last week did you say, I cannot afford to take lunch or a break? The truth is you cannot afford not to. Even the briefest break helps to reenergize and reframe a situation.

7. Use creative visualization. In 30 seconds you can imagine yourself in a better place, whether the comfort of your favorite space in your home or lying at the beach. Your mood and energy level will benefit.

8. Take control and shift activities. Focusing too long and hard on a specific activity is draining. We can become enmeshed in what we are working on and can lose objectivity. It is the same premise as forget- ting what you want to say. The more you think about it at that point in time, the more anxiety you develop and the less likely you are to remember. Then you say, ENOUGH and move on. Then suddenly, out of nowhere, clarity happens! Give yourself that permission to walk away and shift gears.

9. Laugh at least once a day! Along with releasing those endorphins, laughter reduces stress and promotes a sense of camaraderie among the staff. The ability to share the more humorous experiences in the work- place goes a long way to engage even the most distant colleagues. It also makes for a happier work environment

10. Stop to take that long deep breath. We use the same muscles to be tense as to calmly breathe. Quite the perspective.

11. Develop a grounding list. Keep accessible this 3- to 5-item list of individualized actions that center or “ground” you. A favorite song, picture, aroma, or even a call to someone who provides unconditional support are ways to restore a foundation of inner strength.

12. Exercise. Release those endorphins to boost your spirit! It can be a 5-min sprint up and down the steps, to a scheduled activity of some type. We all know the merits of a healthy physical self.

13. Release frustration with a silent meow. Primal screams are effective but tough in the workplace! Ever watched a kitten attempt to meow? They tense their body, open their mouth as if the fiercest of felines, and let loose! Afterward, a sense of calm emanates from them. TRY IT!

14. Revision honestly and regularly. Hopefully you began your revisioning journey when you read about the tool in this journal (Fink-Samnick 2008a, 2006). For those unfamiliar with this concept, or perhaps for those who need reminding, the revisioning tool provides a template to

a. revise previously defined life’s goals and priorities,
b. define an individualized schedule
c. identify realistic obstacles to the schedule’s implementation, and
d. progress with a plan to reflect your current perspective.

When was the last time you took an honest look at how you spend your time? Remember those aspirations you had? How do they reflect who you are now? Refining your personal and professional goals, whether monthly, quarterly, or annually reinforces commitment to the most critical resource … YOU!

Be proactive in taking accountability for YOU!

Life is an unpredictable journey! Whoweareat25isnotwhoweare at 50. How we define success and what we want to achieve are subject to more influences than any crystal ball can foretell. Coping with the dynamics that weaken the resolve of today’s health and human service professional mandates a unique and strategic focus. With the guiding principles of professional resilience defined, health and human service professionals can be proactive in managing life’s realities. Given the unpredictable pressures we all face, can you afford to wait longer to seize control and become the professional you envision?

Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2009). Labor force statistics from the current population survey. Retrieved June 30, 2009, from http://www.
National Association of Social Workers. (2009). Professional self-care policy. In Social work speaks: National Association of Social Workers policy
statements 2009–2012 (8th ed., pp. 268–272). Washington, DC: National Association of Social Workers Press.
Fink-Samnick, E. (2006). Self and balance amid chaos. The Case Manager Magazine, 17(1), 69–71.
Fink-Samnick, E. (2008a). Developing a resilience accountability continuum, I: Self-resilience. Professional Case Management, 13(3), 175–178.
Fink-Samnick, E. (2008b). Developing a resilience accountability continuum, II:
Workplace resilience. Professional Case Management, 13 (6), 338–343.
A sick economy is hazardous to your health. (March 31, 2009). Washington Post, HE05.
About the Author: Ellen Fink-Samnick, LCSW, CCM, CRC, is principal of EFS Supervision Strategies, LLC , which empowers the health
and human services workforce via training, consultation, and supervision. Receiving global recognition for her work on The Professional
Resilience Paradigm & Transidisciplinary Ethics, Ellen is a respected author and presenter, Commissioner for The Commission
for Case Manager Certification, lead Clinical Supervision Trainer for the National Association of Social Workers of Virginia, an Item
Writer for the Association of Social Work Boards, and adjunct faculty for George Mason University’s College of Health and Human
Services. Comments may be directed to Ellen at