The lived experience of wounded helpers: A phenomenological study of social workers working with suicidal cases in mental health settings in Hong Kong

King Lun Hung, Hok Bun Ku, Sameul S.M. Leung

Research output: Journal article publicationJournal articleAcademic researchpeer-review


This study explores the grief of social workers who experience the death of clients in community mental health settings. “The ten participants represented three occupational categories: social work administrators, senior social workers team leaders and clinical leaders), and novice and frontline social workers.” A phenomenological research approach was adopted, and semi-structured interviews were conducted to explore the types of grief experienced by the participants. Researchers found that the grief of these “wounded helpers” took various forms: guilt, shock, panic, anger, shame, loss, sadness, helplessness, regret, fear, and anxiousness. In addition, some suffered from debilitating flashbacks. Their experiences produced psychological pain that took a long time to fade. Studies have shown that the grief and suffering of those in the helping professions are strongly connected to their perceived professional identity and their understanding of what constitutes professionalism. Based on our findings, we finally discuss the lessons that can be learned from this group of social workers who experienced recovery from traumatic situations in their career.

Original languageEnglish
JournalQualitative Social Work
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 2022


  • Hong Kong social workers
  • mental health
  • phenomenology
  • professional grief
  • subjective experiences
  • Suicide

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)

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