5 Self-Care Myths I Unlearned While Earning My MSW

Photo by Joel Muniz

By Lauren S. (MSW’22)

Self-care is talked about a lot in the field of social work. In 2021, self-care was added to our Social Work Code of Ethics and is a key component of ethical and professional practice.” Without practices of self-care, we may be more likely to make an unethical decision or act in a way that is not in the best interest of our clients or ourselves. 

When I first learned this fact, it stressed me out. With what time? With what money? Am I self-caring wrong because I’m still tired?

While I’ve made a lot of peace with self-care and discovered how to love it, I never perfectly captured the elusive school/work/life balance over these past two years. But that’s because self-care isn’t about perfection. 

During my MSW, I experienced shifting priorities of school, work, friends, and family. My priorities changed week-to-week and month-to-month for a year, until I realized that I could not wait to find the “perfect balance” and then add self-care to the list. I learned that I had to tailor self-care to fit my life and what I was going through. That’s why I’d like to talk about 4 self-care myths I unlearned while earning my MSW:

Myth #1: Self-care is something I must do alone.

Fun fact: the ability to self-regulate is first learned through co-regulation. In other words, “self-care” doesn’t have to be synonymous with “me time.” As social workers, we learn that our communities are essential to living our best life. Allowing other people to care for me and allowing me to care for them is a part of my self care routine now. I spend a large portion of my time being there for other people, and letting people care for me outside of the therapy room. 

As a social worker, you are surrounded by self-care jedi masters. Find people you are drawn to and see how they do it. For me, my courses at BUSSW were a good place to start, including Ethics, Ferguson is Everywhere (an elective I highly recommend), and my second year Clinical Practice classes. These courses incorporated self-care into the curriculum. For instance, one homework assignment for “Ferguson is Everywhere” was this video on self-care as a radical action:

Myth #2: Watching YouTube videos is not self-care.

Anything can be self-care, so long as we’re intentional about it. Whatever makes me feel alive, feels right, and will be good to me is self-care. And yes, sometimes self-care is going down the Youtube rabbit hole, so long as it’s rejuvenating my spirit.  

Even in the busiest times, I spotted little moments that could be self-compassionate. While doing dishes I’d tell my future self, “here you go!” and when I saw dishes on the drying rack in the morning I’d think, “thank you past self!” 

Myth #3: Self-care is about becoming a better person.

This may be a lucky side effect, but being a good person is not what my self-care is about. Obsessing about being a better person was deep in my subconscious, filed under “internalized marketing campaigns about self-care for appearance and likability,” and tricky to uproot. Doing something in order to be a “better” version of me, as if I’m not enough as is, is not caring. There are plenty of other opportunities for self-improvement in social work school. 

Myth #4: Self-care means I have to do something.

I urge all social work students to disentangle their self-care from productivity. Sometimes self-care is breathing, sitting in the sun, or taking a nap

Myth #5: Self-care is selfish

Self-care is a life-giving necessity for my work as a therapist. It helps me be present for myself and others. As Angela Davis said in the video above: self-care is a radical action, especially for people most affected by barriers of time, money, access, and inclusion. These barriers are real considerations and limitations when discussing self-care practices. 

I am naturally disorganized (or “spontaneous” as I’ve strength-based reframed it) and there are few things I do every single day besides brush my teeth. I try to make time in the morning before I start my day for a 30 minute deep dive of self-care, but I miss days. The game changer for me has been adopting a mindset of noticing what helps bring me alive, what refreshes me, what I’m in the mood for, and what soothes the parts of me that tend for others. 

Where are you with self-care? Do you roll your eyes or are you all in? 

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Lauren S. (MSW’22) is an Advanced Standing student in BUSSW’s On-Campus Program. She loves nerding out about all things therapy and social work. She also paints, rides her bicycle to get around town, and has a cat she adores.

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