PSCSW Coffee and Conversation Presents: Burnout and Self-Care in Social Work: Prolonged Despair is not an Option

PSCSW Coffee and Conversation

Burnout and Self-Care in Social Work:  Prolonged Despair is not an Option

Date: April 23, 2022
Time: 12-2 pm (EST)
Presenter: SaraKay Smullens


Burnout and Self-Care in Social Work:  Despair is Never an Option

Today the term burnout and its manifestations seem to be everywhere. --- as well as waiting in the wings for us all – if not already here.  Although burnout was identified by pscychologist Herbert Freudenberger in 1974, the concept  was relatively unknown when, in the early 1990s, the presenter began research into this syndrome and its differences from depression. Motivated by clinicians devoted to the field of social work, many her mentors, who were leaving because, in their words, they were “burned the hell out,” SaraKay learned that although published research that was devoted to burnout concentrated on professional burnout,  the syndrome also festered in personal, relational, and physical arenas, where the body signals warning signs  She also found a multitude of research and overlap devoted to psyco-social causation, and their warning signs, which SaraKay narrowed down to compassion fatigue, vicarious trauma (and its close cousin secondary trauma), and countertransference,  In edition 2 of the 2021 publication of Burnout and Self-Care in Social Work:  A Guidebook for Students and those in Mental Health and Related Professions, a 5th burnout arena is introduced, societal burnout, and a 4th cause – moral distress and injury.  Further,  Her research indicated that in each arena there were specific, evidence-based attitudes and strategies that both address and prevent burnout – many, such as the importance of  creativity and assertion, not in the public lexicon.  In this C & C, the above compilation will be presented, as well as what SaraKay learned meeting with students and newly minted social workers since the publication of edition 1 of Burnout in 2015.

Attendees may find these 2 Interviews to be a good intro:


This topic is relevant for those new to our field, as well as more seasoned clinicians.



  1. Define personal, professional, physical, relational and societal burnout
  2. Recognize the psycho-social causations and warning signs of burnout
  3. Describe personal and professional self and societal care strategies, activities, and attitudes to address and prevent burnout
  4. Identify the differences between burnout and depression from a social work perspective


SaraKay Smullens is a clinician, writer, and life activist whose passion has long been to bring social work knowledge from the treatment room to the public.  Her involvement in civil rights led to her first post college job at the DNC as a regional coordinator for the Young Democrats.  The late President Kennedy suggested a social work degree at Catholic U.  Raised in a Baltimore Orthodox Jewish family, rather than ask the president what he was smoking, she followed his lead, and had an extraordinary first year in grad school.  Not wanting to remain in DC after the president’s death, she married quickly; the U of P picked up her scholarship and stipend.  During a prolonged pre-no fault divorce process with 2 young daughters, she needed money for lawyers and continued therapy, and lobbied editors at The Philadelphia Inquirer for a column to address the horror of the PA’s brutal, archaic divorce laws (and other societal inequities) from a social work perspective.  She was given one.  Soon after she remarried in 1979, at a social gathering an inebriated psychiatrist called out loudly:  “Just what we need – the woman who destroyed psychiatric practice, and another welcomed “Mary Worth.”  ( MW was a 1950s comic strip – Mary, with a great deal of life experience to draw upon, visited her friends, offering lovely advice.) SaraKay submits captions weekly cartoon captions to The New Yorker, which are never selected, During the pandemic, she began performing nightly comedy routines for her husband.

Due to her advisory contributions to film maker Jennifer Fox’s award-winning drama, The Tale, in 2018 she received the organization's Social Worker of the Year award. In 2018, SaraKay was one of five graduates of the University of Pennsylvania School of Social Policy and Practice selected for the school’s inaugural Hall of Fame.  Last year the Society of Social Work Leadership in Health Care awarded her the Kermit D. Nash Award in recognition of a lifetime commitment to clinical practice, education, advocacy, and activism. SaraKay’s 4th book, published in 2021, is the second edition of Burnout and Self-Care in Social Work:  A Guide for Students and those in Mental Health and Related Profession.

This event is open to PSCSW members only. 

Participants who attend this program must be present for its entirety in order to get continuing education credits.

Cancellation Policy: There is a $5 non-refundable administrative fee for any cancellation up to 48 hours prior to this program. No refund will be issued if less than 48 hours’ notice is given for this program.

Continuing Education Credits:

FOR PENNSYLVANIA SOCIAL WORKERS, MARRIAGE AND FAMILY THERAPISTS, AND PROFESSIONAL COUNSELORS: This program is approved for credits for professional workshops sponsored by the Pennsylvania Society for Clinical Social Work, a state affiliate of the Clinical Social Work Association listed in Section 47.36 of Title 49, Chapter 47 of the PA Code, State Board of Social Work Examiners. This program is also approved for 3 credits for professional workshops for marriage & family therapists (Section 48.36) and professional counselors (Section 49.36).

FOR NEW JERSEY SOCIAL WORKERS: This program is approved for 3 clinical credits. Attendance at programs or courses given at state and national social work association conferences, where the criteria for membership is an academic degree in social work, are a valid source of continuing education clinical credit (N.J.A.C. 13:44G-6.4(c)4).

CEs will be e-mailed to participants within 30 days of program. 

PSCSW Members - Before you begin any registration, you must log in to the website to pay the member rate. If you register without logging in, you will pay at the nonmember rate. If you need assistance logging in, please contact the PSCSW office at:

  •  April 23, 2022
     12:00 pm - 2:00 pm
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