Debra Olson-Morrison, Ph.D., MSW, LCSW, RPT-S

Chair, School of Social Sciences; Program Director & Assistant Professor, Social Work

Debra Olson-Morrison, Ph.D., MSW, LCSW, RPT-S is an Assistant Professor of Social Work at Avila University and has been teaching as an adjunct since 2007 and as a full-time faculty member since 2015. Debra’s research interests vary, and she has publications on field education in social work, Universal Design for Learning, play therapy, attachment, trauma-informed care, and treatment of complex developmental trauma. She is committed to accessibility in secondary education for students, and her most recent work centers on teaching resiliency to new college students. Along with her colleague, they received a grant to develop a resiliency course that can be integrated into liberal education introduction courses. With the same colleague, she was contracted through Park University to create a Massively Open Online Course to help adults develop resiliency skills.

Debra’s interest in accessibility in education led her to discover the power of VR in social work education. She received a grant to purchase VR equipment, and recently published a book chapter on integrating VR in social work education.

While working at Park University, she helped develop, wrote grants, and oversaw daily operations and volunteer efforts for the Pirate Food Pantry. As faculty advisor for Phi Alpha Social Work Honors Society, she led the chapter into receiving several service awards on campus and one national award.

Since 2013 Debra has served as an editorial review board member for the International Journal of Play Therapy. She is a board member for two non-profits and serves as an area coordinator for Missouri Play Therapy Association.

Debra has worked as a clinical social worker and psychotherapist, and is a licensed supervisor in clinical social work and play therapy. She is also trained in EMDR and is certified in telehealth. Debra developed a non-profit organization in New Zealand that focuses on research and education on trauma treatment and trauma-informed care, and has trained groups of clinicians and worked with organizations all over New Zealand. She has also trained law enforcement, clinicians, and organizations on trauma-informed care and recently worked at Synergy Services in Kansas City’s Northland as the Trauma-Informed Training Manager.

SW 397 Research Methods, SW 350 Human Behavior in the Social Environment
Ph.D. -- University of Utah (2009)
MSW -- University of Utah (2001)


Phi Alpha National Award – Faculty Advisor of the Year, Park University. 2019

Phi Alpha National Award- Chapter Service Award, Park University - 2019

Faculty Academic Excellence Award, Park University, 2018.

Faculty Fellow Award, Park University, 2017-2018. Universal Design of Instruction.


Book Chapter:

Olson-Morrison, D. (2020). Virtual reality in social work education: Models, meaning and purpose for enhanced learning. In D. H. Choi, A. Dailey-Herbert, & J. S. Estes (Eds.) Emerging tools and applications of virtual reality in education. IGI Global.

Peer-Reviewed Publications:

Olson-Morrison, D., Radohl, T., & Dickey, G. (2019). Strengthening field education: An integrated model for signature pedagogy in social work. Insight: The Journal of Scholarly Teaching and Learning, (14), 55-73.

Olson-Morrison (2018). Auspicious accessibility and chance innovation. Journal for Research and Practice in College Teaching, 3, 157-159.

Bettmann, J.E, & Olson-Morrison, D. (2018). The relationship between adolescent refugees’ attachment patterns and their experiences of trauma. Journal of Ethnic and Cultural Diversity in Social Work. DOI: 10.1080/15313204.2018.1555499.

Olson-Morrison (2017). Trauma-informed care: Upholding the core principles in individual and organizational practice. Journal of the New Zealand College of Clinical Psychologists, 27(1), 8-12.

Olson-Morrison, D. (2017). Adult integrative play therapy: A developmentally informed approach to treatment of complex trauma. International Journal of Play Therapy. Accepted for publication August 8, 2016.

Bettman, J., Wright, R., Olson-Morrison, D., & Sinkamba, R. P. (2016). A Qualitative exploration of African adolescents’ attachment relationships. Journal of Comparative Family Studies, 47, 501-525.

Olson-Morrison, D. (2014). Play Therapy versus therapy with play: What it means to be a play therapist. Journal of the New Zealand College of Clinical Psychologists, 24(2),67-70.

Bettmann, J.E., Olson-Morrison, D., & Wright, R. (2011). Attachment as a protective factor in adolescent refugees’ experiences of trauma. Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 59 (3), 571 - 576. doi: 10.1177/0003065111414054

Bettmann, J.E, Olson-Morrison, D., & Jasperson, R.A. (2011). Adolescents in wilderness treatment: A qualitative study of attachment relationships. Journal of Experiential Education, 34 (2), 176-194.

Book Contributor/National Task Force Member:

Council on Social Work Education (2018). Specialized practice curricular guide for trauma-informed social work practice. Alexandria, Virginia: CSWE .

Clinical Magazine Publication:

Olson-Morrison, D. (2013) Incorporating music and movement into play therapy groups for traumatized children. Play Therapy Magazine, 8(4), 24-27.

Go back to the top