Examining the Effects of Stress, Trauma History and Trauma Exposure on MSW Students in Training


This study seeks to examine the relationships among trauma history, training-related stress, exposure to trauma-related clinical material and self-care activities and their associations with compassion satisfaction and compassion fatigue (including burnout and secondary traumatic stress symptoms) outcomes among students in master’s-level social work (MSW) training.

Recent research has found high rates of exposure to traumatic client reports and secondary traumatic stress (STS) symptoms among practicing social workers, but these factors have yet to be evaluated in MSW students in training. Although it is well-established that social work education may be stressful for students, the historical and training-related factors that could influence experiences of stress and traumatic stress in this population have not been fully investigated.

The study sample comprises students enrolled in the University at Buffalo School of Social Work (UBSSW) master’s program in April 2013 that agreed to participate. Data will be collected through web-based assessment technology, with study instruments formatted for web-based use. Students will be contacted by email to complete the anonymous survey. To encourage participation and achieve an adequate sample size, participants were entered into a lottery with two draws. The survey includes assessments of: (1) demographic and training variables (e.g., current program status); (2) potential risk (adverse childhood events; trauma exposures during MSW training) and protective factors (self-care practices; utilization of SSW self-care resources); and (3) stress (training-related stress symptoms, perceived stress, burnout), secondary traumatic stress, compassion fatigue, and compassion satisfaction outcomes. Findings from this study should heighten awareness among SW educators of the need to educate students about the role of risk and protective factors in responses to training-related stress and may have implications for how future students are trained to work with traumatized populations.

Principal Investigator: Lisa Butler
Funding Source: Les Brun Research Endowment Fund Pilot Program
Funding Period: Dec. 1, 2012 - Nov. 30, 2013
Funding Amount: $8,280