Clinician Need and COVID Fatigue

After nearly 24 months of life turned upside down by the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic, how are you doing? I’m certain you regularly ask others a similar question, but when was the last time someone asked you, or you even asked yourself? As clinicians, we pivoted from in-person to telehealth multiple times as the numbers grew or diminished. We altered policies and practices, learned new modalities, and experienced uncertainties personally and professionally. As social workers, we have been challenged with personal health and financial concerns, feelings of loss, guilt, and have at times felt ill equipped by our training to navigate the unprecedented changes which have been required. Social workers struggled to meet the needs of clients through virtual settings and to address complicated social justice issues which have been exacerbated by the pandemic. The many challenges associated with the pandemic require us as social workers to recognize the personal and professional toll this has taken. 

As clinical social workers we were trained about the importance of self-assessment, self-awareness, and the ethical obligation to refrain from practice when experiencing impairment. So, what is your level of fatigue? How have you been impacted by personal losses? Are you experiencing vicarious trauma? Have you been so busy helping those around you to navigate this life altering virus that you haven’t stopped long enough to fully assess yourself? Possibly you, like many other social workers I have met with over the last 18-24 months, have questioned how you can grieve when much of the population is similarly experiencing grief and loss. Maybe you have struggled with feelings of guilt about setting limits when you are emotionally exhausted because the needs of others around you are so great. Perhaps you have been tempted to ignore, minimize, or compare your difficulties with the suffering that surrounds you. If so, you are certainly not alone. It is essential that as social workers we strengthen our supports and enlist the assistance of our professional community. We need supported both informally and formally to manage the overwhelming challenges we are experiencing. 

The first step is to assess our level of need. Honestly assess the toll that the pandemic and all its accompanying challenges have taken.  Commit to creating space in terms of time, resources, and emotional capital to regularly evaluate level of fatigue. Determine to stop comparing your challenges to those of others and don’t minimize your needs.

Next, develop a plan for how you will obtain support and resources required to sustain you through the uncertainties and challenges ahead.  Choose to connect to formal and informal supports in a preventative rather than reactive manner. Make regular use of self-care strategies and prioritize the time needed to act upon them.

Finally, be willing to continue to raise the issue of vicarious trauma, compassion fatigue and personal self-care within the larger professional community. As clinical social workers, continue the dialogue about the need to expand and strengthen supports to fellow social workers and more effectively collaborate with sharing resources. 

Michelle Dixon George MSW, LCSW, BCD
Associate Professor of Social Work, 
Field Coordinator
Messiah University Department of Social Work
 [email protected] 


Ashcroft et al. (2021). The impact of the covid-19 pandemic on social workers on the frontline: a survey of canadian social workers. The British Journal of Social Work, bcab 158.

Banks et al (2020). Practicing ethically during covid-19: social work challenges and responses, International Social Work, 63(5), pp 569-83.

Dekel, B., Baum, N. (2010). Intervention in a shared traumatic reality: a new challenge to social workers. British Journal of Social Work, 40(6), pp.1927-44.

NASW Coronavirus (COVID-19)

International Federation of Social Workers. Ethical challenges for social workers during COVID-19: a global perspective.

Steele. W. (2020). Reducing compassion fatigue, secondary traumatic stress and burnout: a trauma sensitive workbook, 1st ed. Routledge Publications.

Williamson V., Murphy, D., Greenberg, N. (2020) Covid-19 and experiences of moral injury in front-line key workers. Occupational Medicine, 70(5), pp. 317-9. 

Share this post: