Using art to illuminate social workers' stress

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This article aims to capture the self-defined holistic interaction between stressors, stress reactions and coping for social workers’ stress. We utilised an arts-based intervention in the form of a single drawing with 80 social workers, who were actively guided to explore their own stressors, stress reactions and coping.
Our findings suggest that whilst social workers define their stressors as being related to a lack of social work professional and managerial support (a macro problem), they experience this stress as lack of personal efficacy and self-worth and expect to cope by drawing on their inner strengths rather than by challenging the ‘system’ (micro solutions). Thus, they tend not to utilise available systemic ideas and theories in social work to address their own problems
These findings offer a way of exploring stress and coping as an interactive whole that helps to understand both systemic stressors and the gaps in social workers’ coping methods. It also explores the relationship between stressors, stress reactions and coping through the personal drawings and narratives of participating social workers. The findings are relevant for supervisors, and managers helping social workers to manage stress, and offer an example of how visual methods might be used as a pedagogic tool in social work education and practice.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)751-768
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Social Work
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 9 Aug 2018


  • social work
  • creativity
  • methodology
  • narrative approaches
  • stress
  • art


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