Research sees 9/11 survivors help social work students in their understanding of trauma

A Queen’s University Belfast academic has launched his findings from an innovative research project which engaged 9/11 survivors to help social work students in their understanding of trauma.

Dr Joe Duffy, a Senior Lecturer in Social Work from the School of Social Sciences, Education and Social Work, recently held the launch at the Northern Ireland Bureau in New York to present the work.

Dr Duffy (pictured, second left), who is teaching at New York University’s (NYU) Silver School of Social Work, as part of his US-UK Fulbright Scholarship, spoke with individuals with lived experience as first responders and evacuees from the September 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Centre in 2001.

Over a three-week period in February 2019, they shared their personal and moving accounts in the classroom with students to help deepen their understanding of trauma through hearing first-hand personal experiences.

One of the students involved described this as “probably one of the most powerful learning experiences that I have had at NYU.”

The cohort of students in Dr Duffy’s Fulbright research findings all stated that hearing directly from 9/11 Survivors very significantly added to their understanding of trauma which in the future would have an important impact on their work as social workers, particularly in the field of trauma practice.

Another student commented “This learning experience has dramatically changed my perspective on trauma. It was the first time that I was able to hear a story of a traumatic experience directly from the person.”

Dr Duffy has undertaken similar work with victims and survivors of the Troubles in Northern Ireland. His Fulbright research was, therefore, a way of introducing this specialist model of teaching to New York, where he worked closely with members of the World Trade Centre Survivors Network and others, sharing his expertise in this area of pedagogy.

Reflecting on the experience, Dr Duffy commented: “I am grateful to the people I have worked with who so willingly gave of their time and personal experience to benefit social work students to more deeply understand the longer-term traumatic impact of 9/11 on so many levels.”

Dr Duffy’s research findings at NYU will also help assist other academic colleagues and institutions in the United States to consider similar ways of directly involving people with lived experience of trauma in the social work education context. As a further important development of his Fulbright Scholarship, Dr Duffy has been asked by the Council for Social Work Education, the sole accrediting agency for social work education in the United States, to lead on the development of a Curricular Guide on service user involvement in social work education.

During his year-long Fulbright Scholarship, Dr Duffy was also based at Belmont University (Nashville, USA) working with key community organisations in Nashville such as Open Table, a community organisation providing support to people affected by poverty and homelessness, and Thistle Farms, an organisation supporting women affected by domestic abuse and addictions.

Members of these groups have also been directly involved in sharing their experiences with third year Belmont social work students as part of their preparations for field practice.

Picture L-R: Aferdita Krasniqi, Dr Joe Duffy, Diane Semmling, William Raff, Rebecca Lazinger, Linda Lausell Bryant, Paige Harrison (c) Queen’s University Belfast.