Book Review: Conscious Service—Ten Ways To Reclaim Your Calling, Move Beyond Burnout, and Make a Difference Without Sacrificing Yourself

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     As a social work educator, I feel charged to find a way to assist students and supervisees in building the muscle that is self-preservation and resilience in what can be an emotionally challenging and demanding profession. Self-care is more than bubble baths, deep breathing, and reading for pleasure. After all, those things (which are wonderful) do not protect against the vicarious trauma and compassion fatigue our profession experiences. When the opportunity to review Conscious Service was offered me, I was intrigued—could this be a text that would offer a perspective that included concrete examples and skills to strengthen this muscle and protect students and supervisees against vicarious trauma and burnout?

     Beginning with recommendations on how to read and apply the knowledge shared in her book, Elizabeth Bishop gently targets an area that tends to be overlooked or under-addressed in social work education—the practicality of protecting ourselves against the hardships of helping and healing professions. Describing her explorative work to attain this skill as The Conscious Service Approach, the author has developed what could be described as a blueprint with the inclusion of metaphors, introspective questioning, self-guided exercises, and case examples to guide the reader toward the practice of this approach. Additionally, she highlights a perspective that there is value in understanding the “relationship of who you are at your core and what you can offer your world.” By engaging in thoughtful introspection and the activities included, it is suggested that a balance of awareness and self-connection can be obtained that will allow for a practice of conscious service, and consequently supporting professional well-being.

     Viewing this blueprint as an interconnected invitation, the author divides these 10 domains of conscious service as follows: Purpose, Wholeness, Freedom, Discovery, Enlightenment, Vision, Leadership, Compassion, Openness, and Presence. Throughout the text, Elizabeth Bishop offers readers to be intuitively led as they read, paying attention to areas of “resonance and resistance” (p. 9). Each section is organized into smaller subsections that serve as touchpoints of explanation and practicality to assist the reader in establishing strength in these domains. It would benefit those considering reading this text to understand that this is a lens of perspective, and to consider this approach as an option when exploring real strategies to introduce into their professional practice.

     To answer the question of whether this text will add value for my students and supervisees, and be a tool I will refer to them, the answer is a resounding yes. I do find that this text holds value for those new or experienced in any of the helping professions. The text is written with a conversational style that enhances readability and supports the reader’s connection with the material, offering insight and practical application for social workers, new and experienced. I look forward to recommending and integrating thoughts from this lens of conscious service for students and supervisees.

Reviewed by Allison Mason, MSW, LCSW, Director of MSW Field Education and Clinical Assistant Professor, Northeastern State University.





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