The purpose of this study was to describe and analyze narratives gathered from MSW program students, course and field educators, and staff about situations during training they perceived as retraumatizing in order to better understand the complex problem of retraumatization during MSW training.
Methods: A web-based qualitative survey was used to collect responses. Participants were recruited from a large MSW program in the northeastern US. In addition to demographic information, participants were asked if they had a trauma history and if they had experienced or witnessed an event during their time in the program they found significantly distressing. Participants who indicated they had experienced a distressing event were invited to write a narrative by responding to open-ended critical incident debriefing questions. They were also asked to respond to closed questions about severity and symptoms related to the experience they narrated. Demographic, symptom, and severity data from the full sample (n=186) and narrative subsample (n=43) were analyzed using descriptive statistics. After an initial round of open coding, structural analysis of written narratives was completed using a modified version of Labov’s story components. Narratives were then analyzed using a modified version of Slocum-Bradley’s Positioning Diamond framework.
Results: Data analysis yielded several important findings: 1) Retraumatization during training is not uncommon: 32% of all participants reported experiencing or witnessing an event or situation during their time in the MSW program they found significantly distressing. 2) Not all experiences would be considered retraumatization: 18.33% of participants who reported a significantly distressing event reported no trauma history. 3) Retraumatization is very distressing: on a scale of 1-100 (1 meaning very little distress and 10 meaning extreme distress), participants reported a mean level of distress of 86.00 (range 61-100) at the time of the experience and of 46.60 (range 20-100) when recounting the experience. 4) Retraumatization negatively impacts learning and identity development. 5) Content is not the only source of retraumatization: Course policies and pedagogical practices were the largest source of distress, followed by field work. 6) Retraumatization is often about conflict between educators and students: Four main storylines were revealed that suggest conflict between students and educators was the most common source of distress.
Conclusions/Implications: These findings help to improve our understanding of retraumatization during training and help to further development of trauma-informed educational principles, practices, and policies which can be used to inform curriculum delivery and to prevent retraumatization of students, educators, and staff involved in MSW training programs.