Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

D.S.W. Social work


Social Work

First Advisor

Stephen W. Stoeffler, Ph.D., LSW

Second Advisor

Juliana Svistova, MSW, Ph.D.

Third Advisor

Heather L. Girvin, Ph.D.


Since the inception of the profession, social workers have struggled to identify a common understanding of social work, its fundamental activity, and the role of the worker. Utilizing a phenomenological approach, this qualitative study explored the following questions: 1) What is the participant’s lived experience of social work identity? and 2) How is this understanding of identity similar to or different from that of other helping professionals who perform similar activities? Semi-structured interviews, conducted with 22 social workers in the field, diverse in education, practice area, and experience, highlighted parallels among the various experiences, and advanced the exploration of the essence of social work identity. The interviews investigated the presence of role ambiguity and/or role conflict in the experience of each social work participant, as well as their response orientation to conflict (i.e., expedient, moral, and moral-expedient) and the possible effects of ambiguity (i.e., super and sub identities) on their understanding of their own social work identity. While saturation was not reached, the analysis indicated that the participant’s job description, workplace expectations, and their inability to adequately distinguish their role and activity from that of other helping professional preforming the same task or occupying the same role affected the understanding many had of their own social work identity. Themes included super and subordinate orientations, role or activity dominance, identity modifiers, and conflict resolution orientations. These findings may be used to inform future research of social work identity as well as the unifying element(s) of the profession.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.

Included in

Social Work Commons



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