Date of Award

Fall 2011

Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Social Work (MSW)


Social Work







Committee Member



Social workers interact with clients, colleagues, policies and organizational structures regularly in their practice. There are times throughout a social worker’s field experience that she or he may encounter a difficult or challenging practice moment. Although there is an existing literature about ‘critical incidents’ in practice, there is minimal exploration of how social workers describe, experience, reflect upon and understand these difficult practice moments. What happens when we encounter difficult moments? Do we feel prepared and confident in our abilities? Do we experience it as a learning opportunity? How do these moments impact our practice moving forward? This study is based on six one-to-one, narrative-based interviews with social workers from various fields of practice and seeks to better understand how social workers experience difficult practice moments. I explore the personal ways in which the social workers chose to share their stories to demonstrate the significance of the moment to them individually. I also explore themes identified by the social workers including: emotional journeys, working through the moment, discomfort with uncertainty and theoretical versus practice wisdom. The themes identified by this particular group of social workers reveal the complexities and impacts of experiences with difficult practice moments. Furthermore, the social workers’ narratives revealed that a shift in language from ‘critical incident’ to ‘moment of tension’ would better conceptualize the fluidity of these experiences. Because social workers will continue to experience challenging moments in practice, it is essential that we enhance our understanding of these experiences. We must also appreciate the significance of these moments to social workers and promote the inclusion of their voices in further exploration of moments of tension in practice.

McMaster University Library

Included in

Social Work Commons