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Doctor of Social Work (DSW)


Despite nearly 40 years of research regarding the effects of psychological distress among the social services workforce, there remains a lack of congruity among scholars and experts regarding the definition and epidemiology of the distinct constructs, including secondary traumatic stress, vicarious trauma, compassion fatigue, and burnout. Current literature on these phenomena indicates that a lack of empirical methods for scientifically studying outcomes regarding effective prevention and intervention strategies have stalled efforts to advance the field of secondary trauma and create practical approaches to protecting the workforce serving trauma-exposed clients. This capstone project is focused on understanding the current literature regarding psychological distress phenomena among social service practitioners and proposing an integrated, holistic approach, rooted in research-based strategies at all levels of the system (individual, organizational, and systemic) for supporting the well-being of the contemporary workforce.

Product one was a systematic literature review of scientific studies conducted between 2012-2021 that examined the efficacy of prevention or intervention strategies targeting psychological distress among social service workers resultant from the direct or indirect exposure to trauma. The purpose of this review was to determine if any additional empirical studies have been conducted since Bercier & Maynard’s 2015 systematic review in the development of evidence-based prevention or intervention strategies for treating secondary traumatic stress and like phenomena among the social service workforce.

Product two is a conceptual paper that examined key strategies found within the current literature regarding psychological distress and the proposal of a conceptual model to guide an integrated approach with practical tools that social service leaders and administrators can implement at all levels of the system to mitigate and buffer against the effects of psychological distress among the workforce.

Product three is a practice-based case study exploring the current state of the social service workforce given the complexity of behavioral healthcare and child welfare services amidst the COVID 19 pandemic. The complexity of the current workforce climate and increasingly complex client needs resultant from the ongoing pandemic creates unique challenges for social service leaders in understanding how to buffer against the development of both personal and professional psychological distress among the workforce treating trauma-exposed clients. A human Centered Design process was used to engage employees in developing a better understanding of their workplace wellbeing priorities.

KEYWORDS: Psychological distress, secondary trauma, compassion fatigue, vicarious trauma, burnout, prevention, treatment, social service

Available for download on Thursday, May 02, 2024

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