The anonymous woman in the crowd has attended multiple memorials for children in Albuquerque, knowing that more are in her future. She is there as a parent, a grandparent and a concerned citizen, standing in alliance and a sense of merged consciousness with someone else in the crowd she may or may not know. Munguia Munguia Wellman is a clinical counselor and social worker in outpatient services at the University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center Children’s Psychiatric Center.
When asked why anyone would be drawn to such a challenging profession, she said, “Personally, I went into it to understand myself, my family dynamics and my community. I went from an undergraduate degree in psychology, to a master’s degree in social work and a Ph.D. in American studies. Psychology looked at individual space; social work expanded out to the community; and American studies opened the door to history and scholarship related not just to community and country, but global issues as well.”
Social workers tend to work with the most marginalized and vulnerable people in society, distinguishing them from other human service providers such as doctors and teachers who work with more diverse social groups. The public doesn’t fully understand the scope of their work and the media generally gives them a bad rap when something goes wrong.
“I know many social workers personally,” Munguia Wellman said. “I work with them; I teach some of them; I am friends with others, and what is common among all of us is our commitment to our clients and to social justice. We have a code of ethics that we work under that we’re committed to.”
Munguia Wellman and her colleagues are on the front lines working together with children and families and helping them find ways to keep safe. But who takes care of social workers when they feel overburdened with high caseloads and mounting administrative duties, and concerned that there is never enough time to complete all the necessary tasks the job requires? These issues, plus the complexity of family dynamics and the impact of social factors on these dynamics, cause them to often experience feeling overwhelmed and/or stressed.
In response to the stress, and in order to maintain a balance between mental and physical health, many social workers seek out coping strategies which include time management training, relaxation techniques, exercise, meditation and utilize clinical supervision to process any given stressful situation.
One of the ways Munguia Wellman self-cares is by practicing Qigong, (pronounced chee-gong) an ancient Chinese practice of aligning movements, breath and awareness for exercise and meditation that she said helps calm the mind and relax the body. She also gardens and includes morning prayer into her daily routine, a practice she finds essential to her work as a clinical social worker. “When we don’t get the clinical supervision we feel we need, we must seek it out,” she said. “Self-care is important generally, but in our profession it is essential.”