Discussion: Addressing Conflicts and Trauma
How do you deal with the aftermath of a tragedy? Working with staff to return to a sense of “normalcy” after a traumatic event can be difficult and challenging. In addition to providing support for staff, you must consider the event’s impact on clients as well. As an administrator, you can integrate your clinical and administrative social work skills for intervention at multiple levels within an organization when you address trauma, as well as conflicts in the workplace. As an administrator, you must also be able to develop a plan of action that will include conflict resolution and support for staff, clients, and other appropriate stakeholders to enable them to move forward after their traumatic experience.
For this Discussion, you focus on the Social Work Supervision Trauma Within Agencies case study.
Social Work Supervision: Trauma Within Agencies case study
I was a program coordinator of a multiservice agency providing mental health services to children, adolescents, teens, and older adults. I supervised five programs as well as a staff of 45.
I had been home sick for 2 days when I received a phone call reporting that one of my therapists, Carla, had not shown up for work the previous day and had not yet arrived that morning. There was a client in the waiting room who had an appointment with her. The receptionist said she had not called in sick, which was unusual because Carla was a hard working and reliable staff member. I asked the receptionist to look at Carla’s master schedule, which she reported was full that day. I told the receptionist that I would call Carla at home to see if maybe she was ill or had requested time off, and I apologized for a possible oversight on my part. There was no answer at Carla’s home, however, so I left a message. I then called the agency back and told the receptionist to wait another 15 minutes, after which she should apologize to the client, see if they would like to see someone else (if in crisis), and tell them that Carla would call to reschedule the appointment.
After an hour passed, I called the agency again and was told that Carla had not come in, and another client had shown up to see her. I again told the receptionist to see if the client needed to see someone that day, apologize for the inconvenience, and tell them that Carla would call to reschedule an appointment. Because this was unusual behavior for Carla, I contacted the local police to do a welfare check to ensure that she was okay. Carla was found dead in her home. The sheriff stated that her death was being investigated as a homicide, and he would contact me soon to gather information.
I immediately contacted my supervisor, the mental health director, to notify him of Carla’s tragedy and to plan how to address this issue with both the staff and, more important, her clients. I contacted a local organization that dealt with crisis situations, Centre for Living With Dying, and asked if its staff would come to the agency the next day to help notify our staff of Carla’s death. I contacted my receptionist to send out both a voice mail and an e-mail to all staff requesting that they come to the agency the next day at lunchtime for a mandatory meeting.
The next day, the majority of staff gathered at the agency, and I notified them of Carla’s death. Carla was well liked and each staff member was overwhelmed with this tragic news. The director and staff from the Centre for Living With Dying provided crisis and grief counseling. Staff were also given information related to the organization’s Employee Assistance Program (EAP) services in case they desired continued support to address their emotions and feelings of grief.
I then needed to decide how to notify each of Carla’s clients and how much to share about her death. The local newspaper had covered this tragedy, but I did not know if her clients had seen the article. Her clients were divided up among the staff, and a team of two (a social worker and psychiatrist) set up appointments to share the news with each client. We decided to tell the clients only that Carla had died suddenly and that in order to maintain confidentiality, we could not share details. Fortunately, each of the clients handled the news as well as possible, and no one decompensated as a result.
The local police reported that Carla was shot multiple times. They suspected her neighbor with whom it was reported she had an ongoing argument related to land rights. The police had to check out other possible leads and asked for the names of her clients to rule them out as possible suspects. I mentioned confidentiality and explained that Carla saw primarily women and children who, following ethical standards, did not know where she lived. The police, however, insisted on Carla’s clients’ information, so I told them I would consult with the agency’s lawyer. That consultation resulted in the decision not to give the information to the police, and I requested a subpoena for any information related to Carla and her clinical work. Fortunately, this was not needed; evidence was found in the neighbor’s home, including a gun and bullets matching Carla’s injuries, paperwork related to a lawsuit Carla planned to file against this neighbor, and a computer stolen from Carla’s home. Carla’s neighbor was arrested, charged, and ultimately convicted of her murder.
Three months after Carla’s death, the staff, her family, and her clients gathered for a memorial at the agency. A tree was placed at the center of the room, and each person made an ornament that represented what Carla meant to them and how she had helped them. The tree was eventually planted in the agency parking lot in memory of Carla.
Plummer, S.-B., Makris, S., & Brocksen, S. M. (Eds.). (2014b). Social work case studies: Concentration year. Baltimore, MD: Laureate International Universities Publishing [Vital Source e-reader].
“Social Work Supervision: Trauma Within Agencies” (pp. 7–9)
By Day 3
Post an explanation of the types of skills the social work administrator demonstrated as she addressed the problem of Carla’s absence at work and the trauma-related events that followed. Be sure to include an analysis of the administrator’s use of conflict resolution skills. Finally, identify one aspect of the case study that would be most challenging to you if you were the administrator, and explain why.
Support your post with specific references to the resources. Be sure to provide full APA citations for your references.
By Day 5
Read a selection of your colleagues’ posts.
Respond to at least two colleagues in one of the following ways:
- Expand upon your analysis of the skills the administrator demonstrated.
- Describe a strategy your colleague might use to address the aspect of the case study he or she identified as the most challenging.
Colleague 1: Sonya
Types of Leadership Skills
The murder of a mental health agency created a crisis in an agency. As a result, the program coordinator conducted the following actions: a welfare check on Carla, notified the director of Carla’s death, contracted the Centre for Living With Dying to provide crisis and grief counseling, gave the staff information on the organization’s Employee Assistance Program services for extra counseling, and the tree planting ceremony in Carl’s honor (Plummer, Makris, & Brocksen, 2014b). The program coordinator provided excellent administrative, interpersonal, and conceptual leadership skills. The program director used her administrative skill by managing her people. The director had her clerk send voice mail and e-mail messages to inform all personnel to attend a mandatory meeting concerning Carl’s death. Northhouse (2018) stated leaders show their administrative skills in three ways (i.e., technical competence, managing resources, managing people). The director showed her conceptual skills by planning to solve the office crisis and following the crisis plan. Northhouse (2018) stated leaders show their conceptual skills in three ways (i.e., problem-solving, strategic planning, creating a vision). The director showed her interpersonal skill by showing emotional intelligence; she composed herself and her thoughts and relayed the emotionally and time-sensitive nature of death to others. Northhouse (2018) stated leaders show their interpersonal skills in three ways (i.e., socially perceptive, showing emotional intelligence, managing interpersonal conflict). Additionally, the program director did not need conflict resolution skills since there were no relational or content conflicts due to regular operations or the crisis. Northouse (2018) stated disagreement is when two or more interdependent people disagree among content (beliefs, values, goals) or relational (esteem, control, affiliation).
The most challenging task for me is gathering my thoughts and coming up with what I need to say to the staff concerning Carla’s death. The reason why this would be difficult was that Carla’s death was unsettling and vicious. It would not be as difficult to explain if Carla’s death was due to natural causes or an accident. Another challenging aspect of this crisis is explaining why there was a service disruption. The staff informed the clients of Carla’s death and gave no details for privacy purposes. The challenging part of telling the clients of Carla’s death is that they will want to know the details that we cannot give them. The writers of the NASW 2017 Code of Conduct stated in paragraph 1.04 that clients have a right to privacy and confidentiality.
National Association of Social Workers. (2021). Code of ethics of the National Association of Social Workers.
Northouse, P. G. (2021). Introduction to leadership: Concepts and practice (5th ed.). Washington, DC: Sage, 101-126.
Plummer, S.-B., Makris, S., & Brocksen, S. M. (Eds.). (2014b). Social work case studies: Concentration year. Baltimore,
MD: Laureate International Universities Publishing [Vital Source e- reader]. “Social Work Supervision: Trauma Within
Colleague 2: Jennifer
Post an explanation of the types of skills the social work administrator demonstrated as she addressed the problem of Carla’s absence at work and the trauma-related events that followed. Be sure to include an analysis of the administrator’s use of conflict resolution skills.
After reading the case study, I felt that despite of the tragedy, the program coordinator and staff handled the situation ethically and maintained confidentially as it pertained to Carla as well as for Carla’s clients that were also affected.
I first identified that administrative skills were used, (Northouse, p. 101). The program coordinator assigned certain tasks of the receptionist and clerical staff that included having the receptionist to send out a voicemail and an email asking the staff to come to the agency the next day during lunch for a mandatory meeting.
The program coordinator as also managed resources. (Northouse, p. 103). The coordinator was out sick, and she still remained active and involved during the crisis with setting up additional resources for the staff at the agency by setting up involvement with the EAP program for crisis services for the staff.
The program coordinator also utilized her technical competence. (Northouse, p. 103). She showed that she is knowledgeable about how the agency works and the services that it provides to the community. She immediately called her supervisor and also consulted with the agency’s attorney to discuss sharing the client’s information regarding the shooting.
Northouse defines conflict as a struggle that is felt between two or more independent individuals over perceived differences in beliefs, values, and goals or over differences in desire for esteem, control, and connectedness. (Northouse, p. 278). The program coordinator had to interact with different entities including law enforcement, her own staff at the agency, the attorney for the agency, EAP, and the clients of Carla. Each person had a different concern and need during the crisis and the program coordinator had to accommodate each and every person while also dealing with her own personal thoughts and feelings. She ensured that the staff had support from EAP, that law enforcement had their information they needed as long as it followed the agencies policy and protocol, and she also ensured that the client’s had another mental health professional to see in their time of need with their original concerns and the new issue with losing their therapist that they had been working with. She was also open and upfront by protecting the client’s information legally while still being cooperative with the authorities during the process.
Finally, identify one aspect of the case study that would be most challenging to you if you were the administrator, and explain why.
One aspect that would be challenging to me in dealing with this situation would be handling a crisis when I am not physically in the office. I have not deal with a worker being killed however I have had to deal with emergencies when I have been sick at home. I am currently employed as a CPS supervisor at DSS and there has been times when I have been sick at home and my staff has called me for guidance. We always have a back up supervisor to handle things in emergencies when a supervisor is out but I am the type that wants to know what is going on in my cases and I feel that I have the most knowledge about my cases even when I am out. I find it very difficult to give the responsibility to others especially when decisions can be made the can change the placement of a child and if the covering supervisor does now know all of the history, then sometimes that nest decision will not be made at that time. Being sick and sometimes not feeling well enough to work on the computer to look up pertinent information or not being alert enough can be a struggle and can possess its own issues. As the administrator, I would have to trust that my co-workers can handle the crisis at hand when I am unavailable to the agency and that the place can function if I happen to be away from the office.
If I can share something personal, I recently had surgery to have an ICD (pacemaker and defibrillator) implanted in mid-December and this is what I am currently struggling with. I know that my peers are able to handle staffing with my workers that I supervise, but this also has given me some stress while I am trying to heal and rest at home knowing that I have overloaded my peers when they were already overwhelmed when I was at work to handle my own staff.