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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The challenge of coping well : a Critical Incident Study of social workers' experiences of working with multi-barriered clients Joyce, Roxanne Jennifer


Social workers have been identified as being at risk for a number of different negative work-related outcomes, most prominently stress and burnout (Acker, 2008; Bride, 2007; Gilbar, 1998; Kim & Lee, 2009; Newall & MacNeil, 2010; Padyab, Ghazinour, & Richter, 2013; Um & Harrison, 1998). Further research is warranted to examine a wider range of potential stressors and the development of strategies for combating such stress and burnout. Guided by a positive psychology perspective, the main focus of this qualitative study was to 1) explore the experiences of social workers working with multi-barriered clients and 2) investigate strategies, incidents, and factors that helped and hindered social workers who self-identified as coping well in their profession. Open-ended interviews were conducted with 15 social workers who worked with multi-barriered clients and who resided in the Vancouver Lower Mainland. Only individuals who felt they were coping well were spoken to. The Enhanced Critical Incident Technique was used to collect, identify, extract and analyze helping and hindering incidents, as well as a list of what participants wished they had or could have in the future in order to cope well. A total of 171 helping incidents, 138 hindering incidents and 46 wish list categories were extracted. Nine helping categories, 11 hindering categories, and 12 wish list categories emerged. These results show how social workers are able to cope well and have resiliency when working in this line of work. Discussion includes participants’ stories as living exemplars of approaches that social workers take to coping well and also strategies that employers can use to facilitate these social workers’ well-beings. Study limitations are mentioned along with suggestions for future research. Finally, implications and recommendations for counselling and social work practice are presented.

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