March 7, 2022

Faculty of Social Work graduate certificate changes the way you think about your practice

Trauma-informed practice course provides fundamental skills of assessment and intervention with clients who have trauma histories
Dr. Angelique Jenney
Dr. Angelique Jenney is a professor in the Faculty of Social Work at the University of Calgary. Kloie Picot

Our students often feel that they know what trauma looks like, but they do not know what to do about it or know how to effectively intervene, says Dr. Angelique Jenney, PhD. This certificate fills those practice gaps.

Jenney, the Wood’s Homes Research Chair in Children’s Mental Health at UCalgary, is referring to the Faculty of Social Work Graduate Certificate in Trauma-Informed Practice.

“Understanding trauma is absolutely fundamental,” says Jenney. “Over the years I’ve found that even people who have been in practice a long time might know what trauma looks like, but they don’t always know what to do about it or feel comfortable intervening. As a profession we still have quite a bit of work to do. I think graduate certificates have an important role to play in that.”

Jenney is one of the instructors for Trauma Impacts and Interventions Across the Lifespan course, part of the certificate, which is offered primarily online with scheduled residencies. Jenney says trauma certificate students will benefit from innovative teaching methods including opportunities to practice what they’ve learned with trained actors in client simulation exercises.

Trained actors enhance the learning experience

“The actor will present symptoms and issues so you can try out some of the some of the skills that you're learning,” explains Jenney. “In my part of this integrated class I ensure students have the opportunity to learn fundamental skills of assessment and intervention with clients who have trauma histories. ”

Jenney’s course starts with intergenerational transmission, moving from historical trauma, through pregnancy — and the epigenetics of trauma — all the way to dealing with gerontological populations, essentially “hitting every client type” across a continuum of practice.

“In many ways I would say most social workers should have the ability to work with whichever population presents themselves,” says Jenney. “People will often say to me, ‘Well, I only work with adults.’ I say, ‘Well, all adults were children once, and what we know is that often trauma that presents itself as problematic in adulthood, had its beginnings in early childhood traumatic experiences.

Without a good understanding of how trauma impacts early child development and how trauma impacts the developmental trajectory from childhood, all the way to adulthood and into the later years — we can't be offering the best kind of service possible.

So, this is a very holistic, integrated approach to understanding trauma with individuals across the lifespan.”

She points out that using a social justice lens, social workers strive to create a world where everyone has equal opportunities to experience the world in the same way. “

“Trauma fundamentally disrupts that,” she says, “So, there is a growing understanding and acknowledgement that trauma-informed practice is imperative to good service delivery. We need trauma-informed institutions and organizations. In order for that to occur, we really have to be training ourselves in what trauma-informed practice looks like.”

In a nutshell, this is why Jenney is excited to teach the course, and she hopes that even very experienced practitioners will consider taking this certificate to learn more about trauma

“We often don’t know what we don’t know,” she says. “Without critical skills — not just in theory but in reflective practice — we might be inadvertently harming clients along the way. Especially when it comes to our use of language, even social workers can be responsible for micro-aggressions through the way they write assessments and case notes.

Fundamentally, this certificate should change the way you think about your practice. About your personal life and your own experiences. About what you bring to the table and how you're going to interpret behaviours and actions and interact with others in your practice to provide the best care we can, which is what we all want to do.

Graduate certificates provide master's-level education and training in areas most requested by practicing social workers and employers. Learn more at a free, online info session on Monday, April 4 at 6 p.m.