Date of Completion


Embargo Period



critical phenomenology, political participation, clinical social work, gender socialization, professional socialization, professional identity

Major Advisor

Dr. Louise Simmons

Associate Advisor

Dr. Scott Harding

Associate Advisor

Dr. Shannon R. Lane

Field of Study

Social Work


Doctor of Philosophy

Open Access

Open Access


The social work profession is rooted in aiding vulnerable populations to overcome individual problems and the socio-political structures negatively impacting their lives. Firmly embedded in the NASW’s Code of Ethics (2008) are the concepts of social justice, social change, and political engagement, which should transpire in every form of professional practice. This is further evidenced by the CSWE’s (2015) dictum that social work students should engage in collaborative action within the profession and in tandem with clients to usher in equitable policies and forge social reform. Yet, macro-oriented scholars have accused the profession of neglecting its obligation to social change (Harding, 2004) and condemned clinical social workers for working in private practice (Specht & Courtney, 1992).

Helping professionals, like all members of society, have been influenced by broader social attitudes toward those that require aid and the provision of social programs (Carinol, 1979). This qualitative study examined the political participation of clinical social workers, identifying how socio-political forces impacted their levels of political activity. A critical phenomenological methodology assisted in understanding how the concept of power influenced the broader societal forces affecting individual's level of engagement or inclination toward the political process. A review of the social work literature revealed no studies assessing clinical social workers’ political participation.

Several major findings were discovered in this study: a gender gap existed between male and female clinical social workers’ political participation, with most female clinical social workers viewing themselves as unqualified and unknowledgeable and possessing low levels of political ambition and political confidence to engage in political participation; many of the female participants described the challenges of achieving a work-life balance between their professional careers and traditional gender-based roles; clinical social workers’ level of exposure to various forms of political participation during their early lives, social work education and post-MSW careers, influenced the development of their professional identity and integration of political activity in practice; and most participants found it unethical to intertwine any form of political participation into practice, but acknowledged how policies and laws directly impacted their personal and professional lives.