Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Social Work


School of Social Work

First Reader/Committee Chair

Morris, Teresa


The focus of this qualitative exploratory study was to examine barriers online graduate social work (MSW) students encountered in obtaining mental health services. To obtain relevant data, the researcher interviewed online MSW students at a public university in southern California. This project employed bottom-up data analysis techniques by using open and axial coding to categorize and synthesize varied participant experiences. Relationships between axial codes were identified and analysis provided a window into the student experience for these online graduate social work students.

This study uncovered a phenomenon that this author calls the participants’ “student experience” as they pursue their online graduate social work education. First, students experience at least one mental health stressor as a product of being online students in a graduate program. Then, students confront some form of internal or external stigma as they consider whether they will seek care. Next, participants sought mental health services through on and off campus providers. And lastly, students navigated the barriers to access they encountered during the care seeking phase. As a result, universities and social work program administrators are obligated to provide their students with equitable access to the mental health care their students require.

This study contributes to the social work profession and builds on current research by taking a closer look at the online MSW student experience. The synthesis of this experience into an observable cycle of student stressors, barriers of stigma, attempting to seek services, and confronting limited access to mental health care describes how study participants encountered barriers to obtaining care.

This study directly benefits the social work profession. First, administrators armed with a better understanding of student experiences can provide benefits to individual students at a micro level. However, this understanding can also provide a path for administrators to reimagine educational programs, supports, and services at the mezzo and macro level. Ultimately, programs providing online MSW students access to relevant resources and supports is consistent with the values of the social work profession.

Included in

Social Work Commons