“Without Compassion We Don’t Have a Social Work Field”: A Thematic Analysis Exploring Social Workers’ Experiences with Compassion

Shelby L. Clark, Francie Julien-Chinn, Aubrey Jones, Sarah Jen, Taylor Dowdy-Hazlett, Mary Kate Hunt

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Purpose: Evidence establishing the importance of compassion in the context of social work practice is emerging. Compassion, stemming from the Latin words com and pati, means to suffer with. Given the proximity social workers have to vast experiences of suffering, compassion may play a central role in providing meaningful care to individuals, communities, and systems. The purpose of this qualitative study was to explore social workers’ definitions of and experiences with compassion. Method: Participants included 12 social workers working across levels of practice in two Midwestern states in the United States. Data were collected via semi-structured interviews. Results: Thematic analysis demonstrated three themes present in the data. Consistent with previous conceptual scholarship, the findings illustrated that compassion is a central component of social work practice. Additionally, results from the study demonstrated that social workers find compassion to be an imperative component of ethical practice and suggested that both barriers to and facilitators of compassion are present across levels of social work practice. Discussion and Conclusion: This study adds to the growing body of social work scholarship exploring compassion and highlights implications for the social work discipline across levels of practice to more overtly center compassion in education, practice, and policy. Further research is needed to better understand multilevel barriers to compassion and develop strategies for overcoming them. Moreover, additional research is needed to holistically understand how to leverage and build upon the facilitators of compassion identified by participants in order to foster compassionate social workers, social work organizations, and systems.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)954-980
Number of pages27
JournalJournal of Evidence-Based Social Work (United States)
Issue number6
StatePublished - 2023

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023 Taylor & Francis.


  • Compassion
  • qualitative research
  • social work
  • social work administration
  • social work practice

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • Social Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science


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