Date of Award

Summer 8-5-2022

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Social Work (DSW)

First Advisor

Dr. Allison Werner-Lin

Second Advisor

Dr. John L. Jackson, Jr.


Over the past decade, and especially within the last three years marked by the COVID-19 pandemic, increases in major mental health concerns among youth have been noted by many experts on adolescent health and well-being (Racine et al., 2021). When these trends are considered relative to specific subpopulations of youth (i.e., those with histories of complex trauma and engagement with the child welfare system) an even more concerning story begins to take shape. Young people who entered the pandemic in vulnerable spaces with regard to many aspects of their lives (academic, social, emotional, physical health) have, by in large, become even more vulnerable over its course (Goldberg et al., 2021; Herrenkohl et al., 2021; Murthy, 2022). The current trends around declining adolescent mental health and increasing awareness of the troubling impacts of complex trauma within the context of COVID-19 demand ever more sophisticated and creative approaches to mental health care access and interventions.

Today’s adolescents, across demographics, subsist in environments that offer 24-hour access to the news cycle, one another, and the curation of their own metanarratives (as well as both a worldwide audience and the means to construct and share their personal stories) but a finger swipe away. Some argue the immediate and inconsistently mitigated availability of information, media (social and otherwise), and related forms of interpersonal interaction reinforce the aforementioned trends around adolescent mental health, particularly with regard to rates of depression, anxiety, and suicidal as well as self-injurious behaviors (Primack et al., 2017; Schor, 2021; Twenge et al., 2019; Twenge 2020). While this perspective holds, a counter narrative exists. Incredible potential rests in harnessing available technologies, means of media production, and digital access, especially as they relate to societal shifts during the pandemic, within a more broadly defined therapeutic space to support youth reimagining stories, redirecting impulse, and resurrecting possibility.

This dissertation explores a theoretical framework and practical application related to one such clinical approach through two interrelated parts. The first consists of a conceptual paper that positions the history and conventions of documentary work (as a specific media arts form) as a potent mechanism to engage narrative constructs (as a particular clinical approach), orienting their intersections toward child welfare-involved youth. This conceptual paper is operationalized by a sample application, in the form of a discrete session that resides in a structured intervention protocol, that further explores and demonstrates the power of documentary arts methods within narrative-based clinical interventions to animate discourse and facilitate post-traumatic growth and healing.

Included in

Social Work Commons