Abstract: MSW Students' Awareness of Cognitive and Affective Processes in Simulated Interviews (Society for Social Work and Research 23rd Annual Conference - Ending Gender Based, Family and Community Violence)

MSW Students' Awareness of Cognitive and Affective Processes in Simulated Interviews

Saturday, January 19, 2019: 8:30 AM
Golden Gate 6, Lobby Level (Hilton San Francisco)
* noted as presenting author
Karen Sewell, PhD(c), MSW, PhD Candidate, University of Toronto, Toronto, ON, Canada
Toula Kourgiantakis, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Toronto, Toronto, ON, Canada
Marion Bogo, O.C., MSW, AdvDipl SW, Professor, University of Toronto, Toronto, ON, Canada
Jane Sanders, PhD(c), MSW, PhD Candidate, University of Toronto, Toronto, ON, Canada
Ellen Katz, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Toronto, Toronto, ON, Canada
Background and purpose:  Social work students are required to develop holistic competence while coping with their own emotional responses to complex client experiences. Dysregulation and emotional reactivity can impede the development and performance of practice behaviors across social work settings. In 2015, the Council for Social Work Education introduced holistic competence in social work practice, highlighting the importance of cognitive and affective processes in addition to knowledge, skills and values. This places greater responsibility on social work programs to integrate learning opportunities where practice behaviors can be observed and assessed in the classroom. While there is some emerging literature on affective processes and emotion regulation within social work education, calls have been made for educators to assist students in understanding and managing emotions in preparation for field education. The objective of our exploratory, qualitative study was to examine the role of affective and cognitive processes of MSW students in simulated client interviews. We examined the following questions: 1) How does emotion impact MSW students during simulated interviews? and 2) How do MSW students perceive their ability to cope with emotions during simulated interviews?

Methods:  Participants in this REB approved study were MSW students (n=60) attending a voluntary simulation-based learning enhancement known as Practice Fridays in preparation for a delayed entry field practicum. Students attending Practice Fridays interviewed a simulated client and received focused feedback from peers, a faculty member, and field instructor. Following the simulation activity, students completed a reflection questionnaire designed to guide reflections on emotional responses and coping during simulated interviews. Students’ reflection questionnaires were analyzed using Braun & Clarke’s (2006) six-step method of thematic analysis which includes: 1) familiarizing oneself with the data, 2) generating codes, 3) searching for themes, 4) reviewing themes, 5) defining and naming themes, and 6) interpreting/writing up the findings.  Trustworthiness was established through researcher triangulation, peer debriefings and team consensus. To increase dependability and reduce coder bias we maintained an audit trail and used memos. Credibility was enhanced through the provision of evidence supporting conclusions.

Results:  The results illuminated a range of emotional awareness and responses among students. Some students were clearly able to identify, describe, and analyze affective experiences, while others shared limited awareness of their emotional state. The following themes emerged:  1) an awareness of affect and emotions related to practice, with a specific dimension related to focus –  students who focused on the self (own emotions and performance), and another group of students who predominately focused on the client; 2) positive and negative impacts of these emotions on cognitive processes; and 3) endorsement of coping strategies.

Conclusions and implications:  Our study highlights the complexity and variation of students’ affective and cognitive processes involved in preparation for social work practice and field education. This underlines the importance of preparing students for practice through observed classroom practice activities. Simulated client experiences can increase emotional self-awareness and enhance emotion regulation. Future research is needed to develop instruments which accurately measure and support the development of holistic competence.