As the New Year begins, many of us look to the hopeful possibilities of the future. The New Year can be a catalyst to start over and grasp the future that will serve us best. I am not a fan of New Year’s resolutions, but I was thinking about what I could focus on in my clinical practice, in order for me to be a better social work practitioner. I was looking not to be a better employee or business owner but a better social worker.
I decided to focus on doing a better job of bringing spirituality into my social work practice. Even though social workers are trained to look at the whole person, for some reason, it seems like a lot of social workers have difficulty including spirituality in their services. Clinicians do a great job with the mind and body part of a person but falter a bit at spirituality.
Social workers are often confident with working with a diverse population so why is religious or spiritual preference any different? Maybe a social worker is worried about offending their client. They may be comfortable asking personal questions about their client’s sex life but spiritual life – not so much. Sometimes social workers are so cognizant of not proselytizing or pushing their own beliefs on their client, that they just avoid asking the questions. One I’ve been guilty of in the past is to avoid the question because I don’t want the client to feel like I’m judging them if they say they don’t have any spiritual practices. Some social workers may just feel like they don’t have the knowledge of the individual’s religion or spirituality to provide guidance.
The field of social work has been getting better, overall, including spirituality. Virtually any assessment tool that you find today will have questions on people’s spirituality. Time and experience have taught social work that a person’s spiritual beliefs not only help them feel whole but can be a strength. A person’s spiritual beliefs may give them hope or confidence for the future. A person’s spiritual beliefs might give them a sense of belonging or connection to the community.
Conversely, sometimes there may be shame involved with religious beliefs or other barriers. A person’s identity and history is wrapped up in their spiritual beliefs. If we fail to ask about someone’s spirituality we are missing a part of them we may be able to help heal.