Impact Makers

IM Mim Fox banner
IM Mim Fox mobile

Compassion fatigue

Dr Mim Fox
School of Health and Society

Drawing on personal experience to empower a fleet of skilled social work researchers

Dr Mim Fox wants to equip social workers with the skills and confidence to engage in social work research to impact change in their workplace.

Research is one channel through which social workers are trained to create social change for social justice, together with counselling, advocacy and policy development, but the daily demands of the job and organisational culture can prevent social workers from actively engaging in research projects.

Under pressure from heavy caseloads and in roles where they are constantly in contact with other people’s trauma, social workers don’t often have the capacity for research – in fact, social workers rarely see the change that they are creating with individuals, families and communities because of the pace of the work, says Dr Fox. This quickly leads to compassion fatigue and burnout.

“There’s no time to acknowledge how they’ve impacted on those people or reflect on the meaning of the work they’re doing.”

Over time, social workers engage less in their work as they build protective barriers. “People need to see success in their everyday work.”

Drawing on her clinical experience as a social worker in hospitals and community health, Dr Fox saw an opportunity to intervene.

In 2015, she established a partnership with South Eastern Sydney Local Health District (SESLHD) to deliver a range of research projects to investigate the compassion fatigue and vicarious trauma that social workers commonly experience. In doing so, Dr Fox is also mentoring a fleet of social workers to conduct their own research.

Across four major metropolitan hospitals, Dr Fox has united a research team of fellow social work practitioners to carry out the first project which will involve surveying and interviewing 100 social workers.

She anticipates that the project will build momentum for policy on occupational health and safety (OH&S) guidelines for social workers based in hospitals, arming them with strategies to manage their workload, and encourage a revision of supervision practices to ensure social workers are receiving quality and timely clinical supervision.

Beyond this, Dr Fox is driving a shift in workplace culture in SESLHD to allow social workers to actively engage in research projects for social change, which she hopes will be a beacon for other health districts and sectors.

“I want to improve the working conditions of this crucial profession who on a daily basis contribute to and support the lives of some of the most vulnerable in our society.”