Behind the masks: a study of social work, trauma and the complex hospital organisation

Janis Hinson (2011). Behind the masks: a study of social work, trauma and the complex hospital organisation PhD Thesis, School of Social Work and Human Services, The University of Queensland.

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Author Janis Hinson
Thesis Title Behind the masks: a study of social work, trauma and the complex hospital organisation
School, Centre or Institute School of Social Work and Human Services
Institution The University of Queensland
Publication date 2011-07
Thesis type PhD Thesis
Total pages 387
Total colour pages 2
Total black and white pages 385
Language eng
Subjects 160701 Clinical Social Work Practice
160799 Social Work not elsewhere classified
Abstract/Summary The overarching purpose of this study is to explore the way in which hospital social workers, working with trauma, experience their work. Accordingly, the study aimed to explore the emotional experiences of social workers in trauma practice; to consider the interplay of this work with organisational factors; and to offer new ways of understanding the impact on social workers of emotional labour and emotion management in the hospital context. In approaching these issues, this thesis is predicated on two understandings: that considering the hospital as an organisation separate from the emotions of its members results in an inadequate analysis; and that if hospital organisations are to function as healthy places in which to work, the emotional life of employees must be understood from the viewpoint of its social relationships and the way in which the players interpret and understand them. There has long been recognition of the role emotion plays in our psychosocial and physical well-being, but it is only in the last decade that it has been understood in a broader framework of organisational behaviour. Hospitals are complex, turbulent environments encompassing the co-existence of emotion and rationality as well as public and private feelings, and where emotion spans the boundaries between the work, the worker and the organisation. This is a particularly pertinent issue for those who work in hospital organisations where social workers can struggle with the rationality of the dominant scientific medical discourse. Just as emotional distress in patients is seen as clinical malfunction, so too can the distressing emotional reactions of hospital social workers to the trauma of their work be seen pejoratively as an expression of personal inability to cope. The methodology of this exploratory study used taped semi-structured qualitative interviews of fifteen social workers from two major Australian tertiary hospitals, with fourteen tapes ultimately available for transcription. The study’s participants were recruited from social workers who volunteered for interview, following presentations to their departments and the distribution of an Information Form about the study. The social workers interviewed represented both clinical and management practice areas. The data was then thematically analysed. Findings from participants’ narratives identified a hitherto unrecognised reality that they found working organisationally more difficult than working clinically. These stories also revealed a previously unrecognised reality for social work managers of the impact on them of upwards bullying by more junior staff. The study highlights the significance of understanding both practice and the organisation in terms of workers’ emotions, using the concept of emotional labour as the lens to do so. Rather than privileging one lens in particular however, this study concludes that the construct of emotional labour alone offers an insufficient framework to understand the complexity of emotional demands on social workers in hospitals. A case is made that a new model of understanding is required, offering social workers a framework to understand workplace distress in terms of impact of their clinical work and their management of organisational stressors. The study ends with recommendations for further research, building on the complex conceptual potentials offered in this study.
Keyword emotion
emotional labour
social workers
Additional Notes Please print pages 94 and 278 in colour

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Created: Thu, 12 Apr 2012, 15:08:55 EST by Ms Janis Hinson on behalf of Library - Information Access Service