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Dr. Lisa Henshaw on Responding to Students’ Indirect Trauma

Dr. Lisa Henshaw

Dr. Lisa Henshaw, assistant professor at the Wurzweiler School of Social Work, has published “Trauma-informed group work in social work academia: responding to students’ indirect trauma” in Social Work with Groups (Nov. 25, 2021).

Here is the abstract:

Indirect trauma and its effects on helping professionals present a unique challenge for social work educators and institutions whose students may be indirectly exposed to trauma in field placements, communities, and social media. In times of trauma, political and social unrest, group work offers the opportunity for connection among social isolation, empowerment through voice, and mutual aid to support coping. Social workers in academia have an ethical commitment to competence and cultural awareness, prompting further investigation into how to best meet the needs of students who may be impacted by indirect trauma exposure. This paper demonstrates the application of trauma-informed principles to group practice in the aftermath of a hate crime among a diverse group of graduate students, offering an innovative approach for responding to students’ needs, while modeling group work practice in social work, trauma-informed organizational practices, culturally grounded social work practice, and effective practices for self-care.

“Group work is a hallmark of Wurzweiler School of Social Work, and the educational setting offers a natural group,” explained Dr. Henshaw. “After this tragic, traumatic event [the hate crime referenced in the abstract], faculty and administrators observed the impact among our school community and felt it was important to offer a space for safe dialogue, mutual aid and support among our students.” Not only was this done for compassionate reasons but also because “research indicates individual learning may be impacted by post-traumatic stress reactions.”

Her research is prompted by “my ethical commitment to ensure we are meeting students’ learning needs and preparing students to be competent professionals for the field of social work. This requires normalizing reactions to trauma, facilitating self-awareness among students and arming students with knowledge about self-care, which research demonstrates facilitates adaptive coping.”

The work done as part of the study is also crucial to the entire social work discipline. “Being trauma-informed means that we recognize the prevalence of traumatic event exposure and its potentially deleterious effects. It requires social workers at all levels to develop practices, policies and programming that ensure safety and resist re-traumatization.” Because social work is committed to working with the most vulnerable populations and because “research indicates that marginalized groups report higher rates of trauma exposure,” to fulfill the profession’s ethical commitment, “it is essential to be trauma-informed in all aspects of our work. Now, more than ever, due to COVID-19 and ongoing racial violence, applying trauma-informed approaches is critical to best meet the needs of the individuals and communities we serve across all settings, including our own school community.”