Feature: Social care workers’ wellbeing and arts-based techniques

Carly Annable-Coop, Programme Manager at Performing Medicine explains how arts-based techniques can help social workers deal with the increasing demand and stress of the role. 

Over the course of the pandemic, the social care workforce has experienced increased stress, exhaustion, and burnout all while coping with the pressures of working through Covid-19 and looking after patients and service users.

With teams pushed into highly extraordinary and stressful situations, it has had an enormous effect on physical and mental health. For many, putting the people they care for first, means there has not been the time nor energy to think about self-care. The knock-on effect of this is a rise in staff absences due to mental health issues.

This raises a very important question for the sector; in order for the workforce to deliver safe care, first and foremost, how do we ensure social care workers are supported and cared for?

To support a strong, healthy, and productive workforce, whilst also retaining staff and encouraging others to join the profession, there needs to be processes in place to help staff understand self-care and develop the ability to manage stress.

By equipping people with the strategies to help them look after themselves and improve their own wellbeing, we are supporting a sustainable health and social care workforce.

Powerful collaboration: arts & health

Arts-based initiatives have been successfully used across the sector for years, commonly patient and service user-focused, and have gained even greater prominence during the pandemic, recognised for their ability to encourage transformation, and change the way mental health and wellbeing are supported.

In recent times, this same level of focus has, quite rightly, been recognised for the benefits it brings to the workforce.

Sharing skills from the performing and visual arts, arts-based initiatives are incredibly unique approaches that empower staff with the practical skills to better look after both themselves and their colleagues; ultimately this helps support better outcomes for the people they care for.

These are highly engaging and interactive experiences that challenge existing mindsets and help people manage stress and practice self-care in a way that may be completely new to them; and introduces areas that impact both their wellbeing and the wellbeing of others, which they may not have considered before, such as non-verbal behaviour, pace, and posture.

person drawing on sketch book near white lantern

Self-care: fundamental to professional practice

Self-care must be considered as core to professional practice, not as a luxury as it is still sometimes viewed. When senior management adopt a broader way of thinking about workforce mental health and wellbeing, when they have an openness to alternative approaches, and champion arts-based techniques; the impact on individuals in the profession is exceptional.

There are various physical techniques that can be effectively used to cope with current challenges. For instance, Recovery Room, a free resource by Performing Medicine, guides people through a series of movements that can be completed individually to help refocus and reenergise, and only a chair is needed. Another free resource is ‘Coping with PPE’ , which provides advice on orientation and spatial awareness, and non-verbal communication, to breathing techniques and body-scans.

It also includes tips from professional actors and performers, including War Horse and Star Wars, who are used to wearing heavy restrictive that present a challenge to them also such as costumes, masks, puppets, animatronics, and prosthetics, and this is a fantastic example of sharing experiences and learnings across sectors.

Remember that aside from tailored training courses specifically designed to support practitioner mental health and wellbeing, self-care can be a number of things and different for everyone, from taking a walk outside or joining a gym, to work-based disciplines such as having a coffee break or ensuring good posture to reduce tension.

For individuals, teams, departments, and the sector to function effectively and efficiently in 2022, as we face the continued demands of another variant, mental health and wellbeing must be prioritised. There is already an established history of collaboration between the arts sector and the health and social care sector; and demand for this type of support will grow exponentially as the two sectors continue to successfully work together to create solutions to overcome the pressures faced.

Experts in the field of arts-based initiatives in health and social care, Performing Medicine, an initiative founded by charity Clod Ensemble, provides art-based training programmes to support the mental health and wellbeing of the health and social care workforce.

Visit, @PerformingMed1 or call 020 7749 0555


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