In this episode, we talk about burn out and why self-care is crucial to prevent burnout. Helen shares her personal journey in the social work profession and how she experienced burnout while managing a team. This led Helen to develop her own burnout course and resources to support social workers. 

Originally from the UK Helen studied Social Policy and Politics at The University of Newcastle Upon Tyne and has a Masters of Social Work from Queens University Belfast, in Northern Ireland. Helen’s career has mainly been in the Family and childcare arena including Statutory child protection in the heart of Belfast, work with youth at risk of homelessness in Northern Ireland and Sydney and managerial role in an NGO family support and risk prevention program with families that had ROSH reports made.

In 2015 Helen experienced a psychological breakdown as a result of burnout and the impact of vicarious trauma and left her practicing social work career in mid 2016. Helen now has an emerging startup business with a focus on supporting practicing social workers to gain awareness, knowledge and skills to reduce the impact of vicarious trauma and burnout on their health and profession.

Helen has a growing interest in the role of Moral Resiliency, Moral Distress and Moral residue play in a Social Worker’s career and wellbeing.

Helen is launching a pilot of her specialised program, Because You Care – SOS (stands for save our social workers) in August providing online training and support to enable social workers to explore their wellbeing and the impact of their work.

Burn out is such a popular phrase at the moment. 

Now considered and occupational phenomenon – changing what it means and how it impacts people’s working lives 

Sometimes we don’t understand the signs and symptoms of burn out, often thinking its something wrong with us and some kind of deficits we have.

Syndrome from chronic workplace stress that hasn’t been successfully managed. Easy to start associating blame, it’s not being managed by the individual, or by the organisation. 

We need to neutralise the idea of where the challenges have come, and not assign blame. We need to work together to prevent outcomes of burnout. 

Signs and symptoms of burn out

Physical signs

  • Feeling tired, lacking energy, lethargic
  • Changes in sleep – too little or too much
  • Changes in appetite

Emotional signs  

  • Increasing irritability
  • Self doubt
  • Feeling unable to do the things you normally do
  • Sense of failure
  • Feeling helpless and hopeless
  • Feeling detached 
  • Loss of motivation 
  • Being cynical and negative 
  • Decreased satisfaction 


  • Withdrawing from responsibilities
  • Isolating yourself
  • Coping with alcohol or other drugs
  • Being late to work
  • Missing work all together 
  • Worker harder than normal
  • Not taking leave
  • Working additional hours

Vicarious trauma

Impact on ourselves from the repeated exposure of the traumatic material shared with us from our clients. Being alongside them as they handle/ go through those traumatic experiences. It starts to have an impact on the internal psyche and the external world view, the cognitive schema of the social worker.  As a professional, your self of self, your identity, worldviews and norms starts to shift. Very subtle, your sense of reality may be vastly different from that of others. 

Moral distress

We train ourselves to look at situations from different angles and assess what’s happening. 

Where you know what the right thing is to do, but you’re prevented from taking that action due to constraints – organisation, budget, time etc. Then there is a consequence to that. You then have a physical or physiological response to that. 

It’s vitally important to take responsibility to do what is needed. 

You need to be given the time or you need to take the time. 

We need to look at our self-care as a seatbelt, we need to have them there as our daily support. 

The Because You Care – SOS (stands for save our social workers) program. 

8 week program broken up into 4 Modules to support you through the process of understanding Moral Distress,  Vicarious Trauma and Burnout and strategies to prevent it.

Module 1 – Reset your moral compass

Module 2 -mindset and context

Module 3 -mind body connection

Module 4 -professional sustainability

Interested in the At What Cost? Webinar.. Check it out here

Tips for a new social worker

Put self-care in the same bracket as other principals.  It’s not an afterthought. Like a seatbelt, You don’t put it on after a car crash

Be the caretaker of your own well-being. 


Helen Grays website

Because you care program