Top 5 MSW Programs for Working with Traumatized PopulationsFrom interpersonal violence to natural disasters, traumatic experiences are wide ranging. Trauma can impact any member of society and even be passed down through generations. While trauma is universal, some groups of people are more vulnerable to trauma’s effects than others. Traumatic experiences can have a serious impact on a person’s mental health, social functioning, and overall well-being, significantly interfering with her or his ability to lead a healthy and fulfilling life. Thus, social workers need advanced knowledge and training in the rapidly evolving field of trauma and trauma care in order to work with diverse groups of people who have experienced diverse forms of trauma, including interpersonal violence, natural disasters, identity-based violence, terrorism, combat trauma, and vicarious trauma. The following is a list of recommended programs that provide advanced level training in the field of trauma.

  1. Western Michigan University School of Social Work

Western Michigan University offers a trauma specialization called Trauma Across the Life Span, which focuses on many different types of trauma and is available to MSW students who select a concentration in Interpersonal Practice. The trauma specialization includes a number of trauma-focused course options, such as “Core Concepts of Child Trauma” and “Integrating Mindfulness with Treatment for Trauma.” To complement the trauma specialization, Western Michigan University has also designed a curriculum in Trauma-focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, one of the leading trauma treatment modalities, focusing on social work practice with children who have experienced trauma. Students in the trauma specialization are also assisted in securing field placements with a trauma focus.

2. Simmons College School of Social Work

The Simmons College Social Work program provides a clinically-focused curriculum with several curricular pathways within it, including a Trauma and Interpersonal Violence specialization option. This clinical specialization focuses on “evidence-based practice approaches to trauma-informed care, such as cognitive behavioral therapy and child-adolescent trauma.” The specialization aims to provide students with a comprehensive understanding of how trauma affects various aspects of human functioning and relationships across the life course. The specialization also provides students with the opportunity to gain advanced skills in effective trauma treatment approaches and common behavioral and mental health effects of trauma, like substance abuse and stress. Advanced clinical courses with a trauma focus are offered as part of the specialization, including “Child and Adolescent Trauma,” and “Advanced Group Work with Diverse, Vulnerable, and Resilient Populations.”


3. Boston University School of Social Work

Boston University School of Social Work offers MSW students the opportunity to specialize in Trauma and Violence, with a focus on both systemic and interpersonal forms of trauma and violence. Students in this specialization gain advanced training and knowledge in  trauma-informed practice from the micro to the macro level, as well as the skills needed to “apply this knowledge to prevention, intervention, and policy-making to mitigate the impact of violence and trauma on individuals, families, communities and societies.” Course offerings for the Trauma and Violence specialization include “Clinical Practice with Adult Trauma” and “Clinical Practice with Childhood Trauma.” An advanced field placement focused on Trauma and Violence is also required as part of the specialization.

4. University of Tennessee Knoxville College of Social Work

Offering a face-to-face or online option, the University of Tennessee-Knoxville offers a Trauma Treatment Graduate Certificate program to student enrolled in the Master of Science in Social Work program. The certificate program aims to equip students with trauma expertise that can be applied at the micro to macro level, from intervention implementing, to trauma-informed program design and policy development. Thus, students in either the Evidence Based Interpersonal Practice (micro) or the Organizational Leadership (macro) concentration can enroll in the certificate program. In addition to learning foundational-level knowledge of trauma, students in the certificate program dive into such topics as the neurobiology of trauma, the impacts of trauma, and the “larger social, cultural, and political forces at work which shape both exposure to and recovery from traumatic experiences.” The school provides many trauma-focused elective course options, as well as online webinars and field placements with a trauma focus.

5. Tulane University School of Social Work

The Tulane University School of Social Work is home to the Tulane Traumatology Institute, founded by renowned trauma scholar Dr. Charles Figley. The Traumatology Institute is made up of an interdisciplinary team of scholars who work together to “promote research, innovation, and interventions that help the traumatized thrive despite their challenges.” The Tulane Traumatology Institute uses participatory action research methodologies and provides research assistantship opportunities for MSW students. In addition, Tulane offers several trauma-focused courses, a dual-degree in Disaster Resilience Leadership Studies, and a graduate certificate program in Disaster Mental Health and Trauma Studies.

Runner-Up: Widener University School of Human Service Professions, Master of Social Work

Offering online, on-campus, and hybrid options of study, the Widener University School of Social Work “follows a trauma-informed clinical model that promotes a social justice lens.” Thus, knowledge of trauma and trauma care is integrated across the entire MSW curriculum. A specialization in Clinical Social Work and trauma-focused elective course options offer students the opportunity to gain advanced knowledge and skills in the field of trauma care. The MSW program at Widener “prepares its students to understand trauma as a root cause and the effect it can have on a client and community.”