Question: Are there any online MSW programs with a trauma concentration?

Answer: Yes. Most online MSW programs that focus on trauma are actually online clinical social work programs that have a sub-specialization in trauma.

Clinical social workers work with individuals who have experienced varying types and levels of trauma in their lives. For example, they may work with children whose parents have undergone divorce, or help clients who have experienced a death in the family. Other forms of trauma include poverty, domestic violence, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), discrimination, and child neglect. Clinical social workers generally help clients cope with traumatic events in their lives through a combination of psychotherapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, and motivational interviewing.

The majority of accredited online MSW programs offer either an advanced generalist concentration or a clinical social work practice concentration (although others do exist). While both clinical social work and advanced generalist social work programs include courses in individual and group counseling (which often incorporate information about helping clients deal with traumatic life events), clinical social work programs typically offer more in-depth classes in different types of trauma, and generally place a stronger emphasis on training social workers to help clients cope with traumatic experiences and their mental, emotional, and physical effects.

Clinical social work programs with a specialization in trauma have more focused and advanced coursework in identifying, understanding, and addressing different kinds of trauma in clients from childhood on through old age. Currently, three accredited online clinical social work programs offer specializations in trauma:

  • Simmons School of Social Work’s Online MSW in Trauma and Interpersonal Violence: This program trains students to work with clients to help them address a wide range of physical, psychological, emotional, and/or social trauma. Students learn how to help clients manage such experiences as neglect, emotional and physical abuse, sexual violence, and the death of loved ones. Through field education and class-based instruction, students can become familiar with numerous work settings, including community agencies, hospitals, and prisons.
  • Widener University’s Online MSW with a Focus on Trauma: This program holds the philosophy that trauma is often a root cause of many mental, emotional, and social challenges that clients face, and as a result it incorporates discussions of trauma and its impact on human health and well-being into all of its courses. In addition, it includes courses specifically in working with individuals and communities who have experienced trauma.
  • University at Buffalo’s Online MSW Program in Evidence-Based Practice with a Trauma-Informed and Human Rights Perspective: This program focuses on how traumatic events and experiences affect people and their emotional health and well-being. Such a focus steers away from pathologizing client issues; rather, it trains social workers to examine how clients’ past experiences have shaped their current situation, behaviors, thoughts, and emotions. Students in this program also explore the role of human rights violations on mental and physical health, and investigate the traumatic nature of these violations from an individual and community perspective

Coursework for Clinical Social Work Programs with a Specialization in Trauma

Accredited online MSW programs with a concentration in trauma train students in such areas as individual and group counseling, human behavior in the social environment, social work policy, cognitive behavioral intervention, and the treatment of individual and community trauma.

As with other accredited MSW programs, online clinical social work programs with a specialization in trauma are comprised of core courses that cover fundamental concepts and principles of advanced social work practice, as well as concentration courses that specifically cover individual and communal trauma and how social workers can help clients cope with such experiences.

While course content and titles vary across programs, clinical social work programs with a concentration in trauma may feature some of the following classes:

  • Trauma in Individuals and Communities: This course discusses the different types of trauma that people may experience throughout their lives, such as illness, violence, deaths in the family, natural disasters, and emotional abuse. Students explore and discuss the mental, emotional, and physical effects of such traumatic events, and learn how to incorporate crisis interventions and longer term care strategies into their work with people coping with trauma.
  • Principles and Methods of Treating Trauma: How traumatic events contribute to the development of different types of emotional, physical, and mental disorders, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, acute stress disorder, eating disorders, and borderline personality disorder. How social workers can assess and address these disorders and the other general effects of traumatic experiences.
  • Cognitive Behavioral Intervention: The theory and practical application of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and other similar therapeutic interventions when working with different clients across the lifespan. Topics discussed include creating an effective treatment plan for clients, different CBT techniques and their relevance in certain client situations, and integrating CBT with other treatment methods.
  • Loss and Bereavement Across the Lifespan: Identifying, understanding, and appropriately treating the effects of loss and bereavement in clients from childhood on through old age. Situations discussed include miscarriages, the loss of a child or infant, and the loss of a spouse or other family member. Students learn how to support clients through individual therapy and by connecting them to resources within their community. Social and cultural contexts for treatment of loss and bereavement are also covered.

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