Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Reducing Social Work Exam Anxiety

Here's a vignette: A social worker is seeing a new client who says she has a huge exam to take that will help advance her career. Since the client has never taken an exam like this one, she finds herself anxious and worried. She's been procrastinating and ruminating about the possibility of failing the exam. What is the BEST course of action for the social worker to take with the client?

Without an ABCD to choose from, how would you answer?

And what if that client were you?

On the exam, the best answer would probably be something about using CBT to challenge client's negative thoughts and reduce symptoms of anxiety. In real life--your life--that very well may work. Have you tried it? If not, here's a different kind of ABCD to consider--an REBT-based thought log. Here, ABCD is a handy way to remember thought log steps. Looks like this:

A is the activating event--what's stressing you out (in this case, the looming social work licensing exam).

B are your beliefs about the exam (e.g., "I don't have enough time to study." "I'm terrible at multiple choice tests." "I'm going to fail").

C are the consequences these thoughts lead to--emotional, physical, and behavioral (e.g, worried (emo), rapid heartbeat (phys), procrastinating (bx)).

D is for disputes--thoughts you can use to challenge the beliefs from B. Usually you can just say the opposite, and give some supporting evidence. CBT is about facts on the ground (not in your head). For the thoughts mentioned above, that might look like this:
"I do have enough time to study--I just have to wake up earlier or study during lunch."
"I'm not terrible at multiple choice tests. They make me anxious, but I've passed a bunch of them in the past. If I was so terrible with school stuff, I wouldn't have an MSW and wouldn't be preparing for this exam in the first place."
"I can't tell the future; I don't know if I'm going to fail or not. If I get focused, study, manage my anxiety, and all that other good stuff, I have a good shot at passing the exam. Thousands of people pass this exam every year. They're no smarter than me. They're not better social workers than me. Even if I don't pass this time, I can retake the test. Eventually, I will be licensed. Then I'll look back and laugh."
Try using this ABCD to get ready for the onslaught of ABCD answers you'll face on the exam. Maybe it'll help some. Write it out or think it through--either way. But you know what works best to keep you steadied and serene. You've seen what works for clients. Usually increased self-care is part of the package--more exercise, better food, progressive muscle relaxation, meditation... Decreasing anxiety isn't one size fits all. But you're a social worker. You know it's doable. Like social workers tell clients all the time, anxiety is very treatable. That goes for yours too.

Good luck!

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