Fulbright Scholar Dr. Joe Duffy and 9/11 Survivors Help MSW Students Understand Trauma

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MSW students in Dr. Carol Tosone's Evidence-Based Practice Models for the Treatment of Trauma course last spring were privileged to be taught by Dr. Joe Duffy of Queens University Belfast School of Social Sciences, Education and Social Work and seven survivors of the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center. Over the course of three class sessions, the 25 students watched and listened as Dr. Duffy conducted facilitated conversations with the survivors on the impact that trauma had on their lives and on the behaviors that social workers should engage in and avoid when helping individuals cope with trauma related issues.

Dr. Duffy led the sessions as part of his US-UK Fulbright Scholarship focused on introducing service user involvement to the Social Work curriculum in the US. He drew on his 16 years of research on integrating people with lived experience in Northern Ireland social work classrooms to prepare himself, the survivors, and students, thus cultivating a culture of trust, partnership, and shared commitment to learning. He gave the survivors choice and control in terms of what they discussed, using questions agreed upon in advance, and made clear to students that he would give his full attention during class sessions to the survivors.

In early September 2019, Dr. Duffy held a research launch at the Northern Ireland Bureau in New York at which he presented results of an a mixed methods evaluation he conducted on the impact of the teaching approach on the students' knowledge development. Among the findings were that hearing his facilitated conversations with people with lived experience of 9/11 had a significant impact on students' understanding of trauma and on their confidence in their knowledge of trauma. He also found that students consistently highlighted the importance of individualization, person-centeredness, being non-judgmental, having good communication skills, and listening when working with survivors of trauma.

After Dr. Duffy spoke about his research, he invited reflections from 9/11 survivors Paige Harrison, William Raff, and Rebecca Lazinger; students from the course Anna Deming, MSW '19; Kara Krauze, MSW '20; and Evelyn Solomon, MSW ‘19/DSW '22; and the course’s Teaching Assistant, Gillian O’Shea Brown, DSW ’21; as well as Dr. Tosone.

Survivors spoke about how powerful it was for them to share their personal stories in order to prepare students to better serve future trauma survivors. They also praised Dr. Duffy for his tremendous care, collaboration, and compassion. The students shared their appreciation for the survivors for their honesty and courage, and thanked Dr. Duffy for modeling careful, respectful listening, and teaching them how to process emotions when hearing trauma narratives so that they can be present for their clients.

Dr. Tosone observed that “Dr. Duffy modeled for students not just how to listen but real relational skills. There is such an emphasis now in social work on evidence-based practice,” she said, “that we have in some respects gotten away from our profession as a relational field. Dr. Duffy demonstrated the importance of the humanity and the person-to-person connections.” Dr. Tosone also thanked the survivors who participated. “You allowed our students to learn from you, to ask questions, to discover how to be sensitive, and how every journey is different and unique. It was a tremendously meaningful learning experience.”

Dr. Tosone will be continue to incorporate 9/11 survivors using Dr. Duffy’s model in future sections of Evidence-Based Practice Models for the Treatment of Trauma. Additional information about Dr. Duffy’s work at NYU Silver can be found on the Queens University Belfast website.