Date of Award




Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


School of Social Welfare

Content Description

1 online resource (xi, 165 pages) : 1 illustration.

Dissertation/Thesis Chair

Dr. Loretta Pyles

Committee Members

Dr. Salome Raheim, Dr. Christopher Fernando


Black Women, Coping, Imposter Syndrome, John Henryism, Social Workers, Stress, African American women in the professions, African American social workers, Stress management, Discrimination in employment

Subject Categories

Social Work


Black women social workers (BWSW) represent essential workforce members. They are burdened by overlapping expectations associated with their multiple marginalized and unique identities. Their definitions of stress and creation of strategies to deal with highly stressful situations have been absent from the research literature, leaving intervention strategies to support highly stressed BWSW unknown. This study was developed to explore stress perceptions and holistic manifestations of stress. A primary focus was to highlight the coping responses used by BWSW to decrease stress levels. In addition, the researcher sought to investigate various ways organizations have created stressful situations for BWSW and identify additional strategies organizations can implement to improve health and well-being. A qualitative study was conducted using hermeneutical phenomenology to shed light on the stress experiences of BWSW. The five research questions that guided this study were: (1) How do BWSW define stress, and what factors contribute to their stress perceptions? (2) How do BWSW describe their physical, mental, spiritual, and emotional manifestations of stress? (3) What coping strategies do BWSW use to decrease the impacts of daily stressors? (4) What workplace stressors contribute to an increase in stress levels within social work institutions? (5) Regarding the stress of Black women working within the social work field, what are workplace supports provided to promote positive health and decrease stress levels? Atlas. ti. 9 was used to analyze transcripts verbatim from 17 semi-structured qualitative interviews with BWSW across the United States. The convenience sample was drawn from professional organizations where BWSW claimed membership. Participants volunteered to be interviewed virtually for two hours, sharing their experiences with stress in their daily lives and the workplace. Interviews generated themes associated with stress perceptions, coping strategies, workplace stressors and efficient work productivity. BWSW reported high-stress work environments in the past year. Some believed that their physical and mental health declined because of the inability to find a work-home life balance. BWSW were exposed to racism and sexism in the workplace to the point of high stress levels and imposter syndrome feelings. Allostatic load representations were also present in descriptions of their work duties. Coping strategies point to increased holistic coping practices and John Henryism or a propensity to working in excess in ways that can lead to physical harm. Findings suggested BWSW persevere regardless of high levels of stress and feeling unsupported in the workplace. There were also research data to support the crucial role BWSW play in the lives of vulnerable populations. Accordingly, in support of the important contributions of BWSW, organizations should invest in structural and cultural change with an emphasis on physical well-being and psychological health interventions. Still, the social work profession needs to attend to ways to preserve health given the polarization associated with racism, classism, and sexism.

Included in

Social Work Commons