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Social workers experience tremendous work-related stress - particularly among those providing direct services in healthcare settings. A review of related literature summarized several critical challenges faced by social workers who work with highly difficult clients in these settings, including (a) clients who engage in manipulative high-risk behaviors; (b) clients with serious illness who have multiple relapses; (c) clients who attempt or commit suicide; and (d) those who perpetrate violent or aggressive acts against themselves or others. This paper described and evaluated three sets of experiential learning activities with graduate level social work students, designed to increase their self-awareness and understanding of work-related stress, establish professional boundaries with difficult clients, and practice professional self-care. Major themes covered in these activities include: (a) increasing self-awareness and therapeutic competence; (b) becoming emotionally present and accepting limits; and (c) assessing traumatic stress and self-care. Selected journals from 26 students who took a clinical social work practice in health care elective course and the instructor’s blogs were content analyzed. An evaluation survey was administered with 43 students to gather their overall feedback about the course activities. Results indicated that students felt that course activities increased the amount and quality of interaction they had with other students and the instructor. Many students showed an increase of self-awareness and their own abilities in managing work-related stress. Overall, the findings support the use of experiential learning activities and self- reflective journals, as an innovative pedagogical approach, to enhance students’ self-awareness and abilities to manage work-related stress.

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Originally published in the International Journal of Higher Education, 5(4), 41-51. Licensed under CC BY 3.0. doi:10.5430/ijhe.v5n4p41



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