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.