Trauma Social Work Degrees and Career – Becoming a Trauma Social Worker [2024]

Last Updated: June 23, 2024

More and more social workers are beginning to understand the importance of trauma. Society at large has begun to recognize that trauma is not restricted to experiences like war. In fact, a wide range of events can trigger trauma. The world is filled with people that are struggling with all sorts of trauma, ranging from illness to divorce and hurricanes to rape.

The regular training given to a social worker does not prepare them adequately to deal with these types of individuals. Many social workers are responding to this demand by getting trained in trauma-informed care.

What is Trauma Social Work?

Trauma social work tries to avoid re-traumatizing clients that have already gone through terrible events. Instead, it aims to offer a safe, trustworthy environment in which clients can heal. This is based on a collaboration between the patient and the social worker and aims to empower clients instead of victimizing them.

Trauma social work aims to give choices to the clients because they were robbed of decision-making abilities during their traumatic events. Trauma social worker aims to heal clients mentally, and inform them of the resources that the community or society has to help them.

What is a Trauma Social Worker?

Trauma social workers are highly trained in helping victims of traumatic situations get the social, emotional, medical, and psychological assistance they need to recover from their experience.

Social workers in this field work closely with medical staff, emergency personnel, counselors or therapists, the client and the client’s family, and other stakeholders to develop goals for recovery and ensure the client’s needs are being met.

This often includes assessing the client, working with team members to develop a treatment plan, and helping the client and their family to develop appropriate coping skills that facilitate recovery and increase the individual’s ability to cope with future traumas.

What Does a Trauma Social Worker Do?

Trauma social workers who have a Masters in social work can diagnose and treat trauma-related mental disorders such as post-traumatic stress disorders or major depressive disorders. They use evidence-based treatment methods such as cognitive behavioral therapy to ease various trauma-related mental health symptoms.

Trauma social workers typically work as members of a large team of experts. This team may include psychologist, medical doctors, teachers, speech therapists, etc. These social workers must become familiar with all the limitations and strengths of their clients in order to help them. That is why trauma social workers are expected to communicate closely with the other professionals in their team while planning for the care and treatment of their client.

Trauma social workers also tell the clients about the various resources that the community offers for them and their children. Such resources might be related to things like finances, physical or mental health, child care, and housing.

Related: How to Become a Family Social Worker

Trauma social workers may help clients get over addiction, and inform them about the group therapy programs for people with addictions and the housing options that might be available to them.

Trauma social workers may assist clients in finding ways to train themselves for a new profession after an accident or illness has made it impossible for them to continue in their old profession. They may also be in touch with schools and help teachers to accommodate a student with disabilities into their classroom.

Trauma social workers may also work with people who have just been released from prison. They help these individuals adjust to living outside of prison. These individuals might need help looking for work or finding housing.

Most people understand that trauma social workers are there for the victims of crimes, natural catastrophes, etc. However, trauma social workers must also be there for professionals such as police officers or fire fighters who have gone through deeply traumatic experience.

Trauma social workers must also offer support to the family members of a person who has experienced a traumatic situation.

Why Do We Need Trauma Social Workers?

Natural catastrophes, wars, accidents, and crimes exist in every corner of society. Those who have faced these deeply traumatic situations are typically unable to help themselves.

Despite of the fact that they might need financial or mental help, they might suffer from such a severe case of post-traumatic stress disorder, for example, that they are unable to look for help. These people need trauma social workers to carry them through the worst time of their life.

Where Do Trauma Social Workers Work?

Trauma social workers can work in the same sites as regular social workers do. This means they may work in schools, nursing homes, mental health or substance abuse clinics, as well as hospitals.

In addition, trauma social workers may also be sent to areas ravaged by natural catastrophes or accidents to help people right after a traumatic event.

What are the Requirements to Become a Social Worker?

Educational Requirements

General social workers must have a Bachelor of social work (BSW). Even so, many choose to get a Masters in Social Work (MSW).

If one is interested in working with trauma patients, a MSW is typically required because it allows a person to work with clients that have severe mental problems. This is mainly due to the fact that possessing a MSW allows a person to diagnose and treat mental problems.

If a person wants to get a MSW degree, they are required to complete two years of post-master’s work experience under the supervision of a licensed social worker. Make sure that any school you apply to is accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE).

Trauma Social Work Training

After becoming a social worker, it’s possible to get a certification from a trauma program. Alternatively, a student can also get this certification while studying to become a social worker.

This certificate may include such mandatory classes as: Foundations for Social Work Practice in Trauma, Trauma-Informed Clinical Practice with Children and Adolescents, and Trauma-Informed Clinical Practice with Adults.

In addition, students may take electives in such topics as: Social Welfare Policy and Programs on Children, Urban Poverty, Cognitive and Behavioral Therapy, Social Work with Refugees and Immigrants, and Human Neuropsychology.

Students must also get field experience in trauma-related work while studying. It is also possible for students to specialize in treating children and adolescents who have experienced trauma.

Some schools offer either general trauma programs or programs that are specialized in children. Examples include the following:

  • Fordham University Graduate School of Social Service
  • Michigan State University School of Social Work
  • Rhode Island College School of Social Work
  • Silberman School of Social Work at Hunter College
  • University of Maryland School of Social Work
  • University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work
  • Washington University in St. Louis George Warren Brown School of Social Work
  • Western Michigan University School of Social Work.

Trauma response and crisis intervention is another certification that is available, for example, at the Rutgers School of Social Work. This training is designed more for people that are not social workers but who would like work in the field of trauma social work. A mental health professional would be an example.

In order to get this certificate, a student must complete a number of two-day workshops. Nine of them are required and four are electives. Topics such as the effects of trauma across the developmental spectrum, self-care in trauma work, responding to disaster, and the application of multi-sensory mindfulness practices in trauma treatment will be covered.

Licensing Requirements

Social workers of any kind need to be licensed if they are conducting clinical work. Licenses for non-clinical social workers are typically optional.

The licensing requirement vary slightly in different states. In addition to training, some states require that candidates must pass a test called the ASWB Masters or another such exam while also completing supervised post-masters work experience.

What Does it Take to be a Trauma Social Worker?

High Stress Tolerance

Trauma social workers deal with people and situations that are highly stressful. Even if you have not experienced a hurricane or a car accident yourself, listening to other people talking about such events is simply too much for most people.

Trauma social workers must take care of their own mental health on a regular basis in order to be able to help others. Although they must be able to be fully there when working with their clients, these professionals must also learn to leave the pain and suffering of their clients at work, instead of bringing it home with them.

Empathetic Personality

When clients are pouring all their stress and sorrow on you, it might feel tempting for you to simply build some walls around you. Yet, in order to truly help clients, trauma social workers must remain empathetic and fully present to be able to comfort their clients.

If you are cut out for this profession, you have probably noticed that when your friends call you in distress, you are able to listen to their problems without wanting to run away. Their sorrows become yours, and you do all that you can to help them. If this describes you, then you have the empathetic nature which serves trauma social workers well.

Money Is Not Everything

The clients of trauma social workers are usually deeply grateful for the help that they receive. However, the financial compensation offered for this profession is not at the level where it should be when one takes into account the demands of this profession. If money is at top of your list of priorities, this line of work may not fit you well.

Tolerance towards Different People

Trauma social workers frequently work with people from all walks of life. They deal with homeless people, refugees, criminals, addicts, and so on.

If you have a hard time accepting people whose sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, etc. differ from your own, you may not find this line of work appealing. If, on the other hand, you enjoy learning about different cultures and people, you might enjoy working as a trauma social worker.

Team Member

As stated before, trauma social workers must be able to work with professionals from vastly different backgrounds when they are a part of a dynamic team tasked with caring for an individual. They must have an understanding of these different fields even if they are not intrigued by them.

Trauma social workers must be able to, for example, be able to understand what a physical therapist tells them and how this information affects the treatment of their client.

What are the Disadvantages of Being a Trauma Social Worker?

  • Stressful Work: Working with deeply traumatized people is not easy. It is not uncommon for people to burn-out in this profession.
  • Long Hours: Some trauma social workers, especially the ones that work at accident or catastrophe sites, are forced to work long hours.
  • May need to travel: Many trauma social workers see clients in their own homes to be able to evaluate what kind of help they might need. Trauma social workers may also travel to catastrophe areas. Thus, short- or long-distance traveling may be a part of your work if you choose to become a trauma social worker.

What Careers are Similar to Trauma Social Work?


If you are interested in trauma work but wish to focus on the mental health aspect alone, becoming a psychologist might be a good option for you. You can choose to get a Masters- or a Doctorate-level education in clinical psychology.

Both require post-degree supervised work experience in the field, and those with a Ph.D. in Psychology also need to take the EPPP exam before they can get the required license in clinical psychology. This career path is significantly longer, but also offers better financial compensation than working as a trauma social worker.

Police-Officer Specialized in Trauma work

Members of law enforcement can get special training in such trauma-related areas as sexual abuse or domestic violence. They may concentrate on working with the victims or suspects of such crimes. If you are more interested in the legal aspects of trauma, this might be the perfect field for you.

Police officers are often the first professionals that trauma victims meet after their traumatic event. People in this profession can make a big difference in how well victims of crimes recover from ordeals.

In order to get into this profession, you must first go through the police academy. Afterwards, you may pursue certification training.

Some states require that a police department has hired a candidate before they can apply to a police academy. After training that last about 6 months, the candidates must pass an exam and get licensed. The salary in this field is higher than in the field of social work.

Trauma Nurse

Working as a trauma nurse means that one is trained and equipped to respond to emergency health situations. Trauma nurses often work in emergency rooms and urgent care centers, where patients have suffered a critical injury or are suffering from a life-threatening condition.

Trauma nurses work as part of a team, working closely with EMTs, doctors, other nurses, and family members of the patient to ensure that the patient gets the care they need to recover. It is a high-stress, fast-paced, yet extremely rewarding career.

To become a trauma nurse, one must complete several steps. First is to get an associate’s degree or bachelor’s degree in nursing and pass the National Council Licensure Exam to obtain an RN.

Once a nurse has at least two years of experience at the RN level in an emergency room or similar setting, application can be made to take the test for the Emergency Nursing Certification. From there, nurses can elect to train in many different trauma specialties, including pediatric, flight, and critical ground transport nursing, each of which requires further studies and certifications.

Trauma Therapist

Similar to trauma social workers, trauma therapists endeavor to assist victims of trauma. Trauma therapists are responsible for working directly with the client to assess their psychological condition, determine their needs, and develop and carry out a treatment plan that promotes positive mental health.

Primary to the trauma therapist’s role is working with clients in individual therapy sessions to help them process the feelings and emotions associated with having experienced a traumatic event.

The manner in which a trauma therapist carries out treatment depends in part on the type of trauma the client suffered, as well as the therapist’s theoretical orientation. For example, a therapist that subscribes to the behavioral therapy model might use cognitive-behavioral therapy techniques that seek to help the client change his or her thought patterns to bring about positive behavioral change.

To become a trauma therapist, one must complete undergraduate and graduate studies. Upon completing one’s studies, trauma therapists are generally required to obtain licensure to practice in their state of residence.

How Much Does a Trauma Social Worker Make?

As of May 2023, according to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average social worker makes $55,350 per year. This amounts to $24.26 per hour.

Luckily, people in this field of work are likely going to find getting hired after graduation to be quite easy since the projected grow rate of this field is estimated to be 7% between 2022 and 2032.

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