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

Answer: Yes, there are online MSW programs with specializations or sub-specializations/tracks in trauma. These programs, which typically have a foundation in clinical social work concepts, skills, and methodologies, prepare students to work with clients suffering from various forms of trauma to help them cope with their experiences and emotions.

Trauma and the different ways in which people cope with it are at the center of advanced clinical social work. There are different forms of trauma, and the ways in which people cope with trauma are highly individualized: in addition to being specific to the triggering event(s), trauma and how it is experienced is also specific to the sufferer’s personal background, values, and perspectives, and his or her existing support network(s). Clinical social workers specializing in trauma must understand and work with a wide range of trauma experiences to develop tailored and effective ongoing treatment plans for their clients, whether they are working with members of the military experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder, a couple experiencing the trauma of infidelity or divorce, or individuals who witnessed or experienced violence.

To prepare students for this area of clinical social work, there are online MSW programs with both specializations and sub-specializations in trauma. For example, the University of Denver offers an online MSW program with a concentration in Mental Health and Trauma, while Simmons University offers an online MSW program with a specialization in Trauma and Interpersonal Violence. In addition to online MSW programs with formal specializations and/or tracks in trauma, there are also online clinical MSW programs that prepare students to work with specific populations and the common forms of trauma they might encounter. For example, online MSW programs with a specialization in Child and Family Social Work, Violence and Domestic Abuse, Military Social Work, Substance Abuse, and other areas may have courses that cover topics in diagnosing and treating trauma using psychotherapy and other measures.

Curriculum Details for Online MSW Programs in Trauma

Online MSW programs in trauma prepare students to work with individuals across the lifespan and in different contexts. To achieve this, online MSW programs in Trauma typically include courses in mental health assessment and clinical diagnosis, identifying different forms and causes of trauma, implementing clinical therapeutic modalities into an ongoing treatment plan, and designing trauma-specific interventions. In addition, these programs might also include classes on specific topics in trauma such as domestic abuse, PTSD, substance abuse, marriage and family counseling, and more.

Below is a sample chart outlining the program requirements for an MSW program in trauma. Please note that these program requirements are for informational purposes only, and are not meant to exactly represent an existing MSW program.

Curriculum ComponentExample Courses and Field Education Requirements
Core Courses
  • Human Behavior and the Social Environment
  • Foundations of Social Work Practice
  • Social Work Policy and Advocacy
  • Social Work Research
  • Integrated Health Care: Systems and Models of Practice for Social Workers
Concentration Courses
  • Advanced Clinical Social Work Methodologies
  • Trauma-Specific Diagnostic Assessments and Interventions
  • Child and Adolescent Trauma
  • Domestic Abuse
  • Advanced Group Psychotherapy with Diverse and Vulnerable Populations
Elective Courses
  • Substance Abuse and Behavioral Addictions
  • Complex Social Work Cases
Field Education Requirements
  • Foundational Field Practicum and Integrative Field Seminar
  • Advanced Field Practicum and Integrative Field Seminar

The courses that students might expect to take as part of an online master’s in social work program in trauma may include but are not limited to:

  • Advanced Clinical Social Work Methodologies: The therapeutic modalities that form the foundation of advanced clinical social work, and how students can integrate these methods into tailored and effective treatment plans for clients experiencing a range of mental, emotional, behavioral, and situational challenges. Therapeutic modalities that students learn to incorporate into their work include cognitive behavioral therapy, dialectical behavioral therapy, experiential therapy, motivational interviewing, harm reduction techniques, and supportive therapy.
  • Integrated Health Care: Systems and Models of Practice for Social Workers: The essential knowledge and skills that social workers need to support patients optimally in primary care medical environments. The role of the behavioral health professional in an overall health care team, and how to incorporate evidence-based practices and models of care into a patient’s ongoing health care plan. Patient engagement, motivation, and advocacy are also taught through case studies and individual and group projects.
  • Trauma-Specific Diagnostic Assessments and Interventions: Students learn clinical assessment methods as well as advanced interviewing techniques to help connect with clients who are highly agitated, distressed, or resistant to treatment. Students also learn how to use clinical interviewing as a therapeutic intervention.
  • Child and Adolescent Trauma: Students examine and discuss numerous case studies concerning children, adolescents, and their families who were exposed to traumatic experiences, such as domestic abuse and neglect, natural disasters, displacement, and community violence. How social workers can use a combination of clinical therapeutic modalities, group work with clients’ families and support systems, and client advocacy within various social service systems to provide a holistic treatment plan for children.
  • Domestic Abuse: An in-depth examination of domestic abuse (both physical and verbal) in its many forms, including spousal abuse and intergenerational abuse. Students explore the causes and signs of domestic abuse, as well as the ways in which they can support victims in removing themselves from harmful situations and coping with the trauma of abuse.
  • Advanced Group Psychotherapy with Diverse and Vulnerable Populations: The methods for facilitating group therapy work with clients who have suffered from different forms of trauma and who are struggling with various harmful coping behaviors and thought pathways. How to incorporate mindfulness, supportive discussion and motivational interviewing, experiential therapy, and other therapeutic treatment modalities into group work contexts.

Field Education for Online MSW Programs in Trauma

Online clinical MSW programs with a specialization in Trauma typically require students to complete at least one of their field practicums in a setting that is related to trauma. Trauma—including its diagnosis and mitigation at the individual, group, and community levels—is a central concern of the social work discipline. As such, social work settings that work with people suffering from trauma are generally more plentiful than those in more niche areas, such as military social work or forensic social work. Social work practicum sites that may give students valuable experience in working with clients who have experienced trauma include, but are not limited to, child and family welfare agencies, substance abuse treatment centers, hospitals, domestic abuse help centers, women’s health and advocacy centers, psychiatric units of hospitals, and refugee assistance organizations.

Online MSW programs vary in terms of how they manage students’ field placements. While some programs interview students and then match them with organizations and supervisors in their region of residence, other programs require students to locate prospective practicum sites and conduct interviews with potential supervisors independently. Regardless of whether their program manages the practicum placement process or expects them to find their own practicum sites, students of online MSW programs in trauma should be proactive in working with their program’s field education director to identify practicum sites that match their goals. For more information on field education for MSW programs, including the steps to success in one’s practicum, please refer to our comprehensive Guide to Field Education.