Spirituality Matters in Social Work
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Spirituality Matters in Social Work

Connecting Spirituality, Religion, and Practice

James Dudley

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eBook - ePub

Spirituality Matters in Social Work

Connecting Spirituality, Religion, and Practice

James Dudley

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About This Book

Offering a focus that is lacking (or not clearly evident) in most spirituality books, Dudley addresses specific ways of incorporating spirituality into practice and integrates many of the contributions of other writers into an overall eclectic practice approach. His approach revolves around many of the core competencies of the EPAS accreditation (CSWE, 2008). Most of the core competencies are addressed with an emphasis on professional identity, ethical practice, critical thinking, diversity, practice contexts, and, a major practice framework of the book, the practice stages of engagement, assessment, intervention, and evaluation.

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1 Introducing Spirituality and Religion

DOI: 10.4324/9781315797144-1
Listen to your life. See it for the fathomless mystery that it is. In the boredom and pain of it no less than in the excitement and gladness; touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it because in the last analysis all moments are key moments, and life itself is grace.
(Buechner, 1992, p. 2)
What is my gift to the world?
(Walsh, 1999, p. 122)
A spiritually sensitive practice approach is the primary focus of the book. Being spiritually sensitive means being prepared to effectively engage spiritual and religious issues in the helping process whenever they are important to helping clients. The purpose of the book is to help you develop this approach. It involves multiple ways of preparing as well as some challenges you will have to face. Spiritually sensitive practice is not something easy to implement. It requires a commitment to being sensitive to and compassionate about our clients' spiritual and religious needs. Also having extensive knowledge about these two concepts and how they are relevant and important to many of our clients. In addition, you will need skills in knowing if, when, and how to address the spiritual issues of your clients.
Before delving in to discuss this approach, it is important to begin with the two key concepts, spirituality and religion. They are different and yet related to each other in many ways. Spirituality is an inner personal quality. Everyone has a spirituality and has the potential of developing it whether they are religious or not. Religion, in contrast, exists as an external entity. Religion refers to institutional groups like the Southern Baptist Church, the Roman Catholic Church, and Islam; these and other institutional groups promulgate doctrine, beliefs, and practices important to many people. Religion is important to spirituality because it is a major source for how many people express their spirituality. In the United States, the vast majority of the clients of social work services are likely to be religious in some way (Ellor, Netting, & Thibault, 1999; Hodge, 2003; Pew Research Center, Religion and Public Life, 2015). It is also important to note that many of our clients are non-religious and their spirituality is equally important and finds expression in other ways.
These two concepts are abstract, not easily understood, and sometimes controversial. So the first step is to explore what they mean. Religion is easier to describe even though most of us know surprisingly little about religious groups different from our own. Spirituality, in contrast, is more difficult to define as it is broader, more elusive, and could possibly be expressed in as many forms and variations as there are people to express it.

Discovering Spirituality

Defining Spirituality

Let's begin with some of the definitions of spirituality in the literature. Canda and Furman (2010, pp. 59, 74–75) refer to spirituality as a complex concept that has both shared aspects of the human experience and unique aspects that fit some people and not others. They go on to say that spirituality refers to a universal and fundamental human quality involving the search for a sense of meaning, purpose, morality, well-being, and profundity in relationships with ourselves, others, and ultimate reality. They point out that while some aspects of a person's spirituality can be observed and measured, other aspects like the mystical and sacred may be beyond the limits of language and reason to express. They may also be beyond scientific efforts to prove. Canda and Furman add that spirituality can be expressed in religious or non-religious forms. They describe attributes of spirituality to include being inherently sacred, and being connected to such virtues as compassion, love, a sense of justice, forgiveness, and humility. Canda conducted his own research on how people in the United States, United Kingdom, Norway, Australia, and New Zealand defined spirituality and found six descriptors most associated with spirituality in all of these countries. They include meaning, personal, purpose, values, belief, and ethics. People in the United States, unlike the other countries, also selected personal relationship with a Higher Power and meditation among their most frequent selections.
Caroll (2001) suggests that spirituality can be viewed and expressed in three different ways. It can be a reflection of the whole person, the central core of a person, or in a more limited way, one aspect of the person. Rothman (2009) offers a slightly different definition that emphasized transcendence. She defines spirituality as an awareness of transcendence or a connection beyond self to something greater. This greater entity could be understood as a Higher Power, such as Yahweh, God, Allah, or another entity depending on who defines it. Spirituality is a source of meaning and purpose in life and a guide for action and choice. Spirituality helps us by providing the ground for connectedness among people and communities.
Gardner (2011, p. 77) introduces the concept of “critical spirituality.” According to her, critical spirituality suggests a “new way” of thinking about spirituality that is beyond any specific traditions or expression; it affirms that there is no one true path but a diversity of spiritual and religious expressions. She refers to the use of this term from a perspective of viewing people holistically, seeking to understand where they are coming from and what matters to them at a fundamental level. Her concept aims to move beyond a spirituality that is linked to a particular religious tradition, but can include those who have such traditions. Life is lived from a place of values of openness, acceptance of pluralism, the ability to live with contradictions and uncertainty, and not to be coercive. She describes three groups of people: those with no affiliation with a religious group, those who have an affiliation with a religious group to varying degrees, and those who choose to express their spirituality within a religious group.

What Spirituality Means to a Group of BSW Students

  • Spirituality is the feeling of wholeness and total peace with oneself.
  • Spirituality is who we really are on the inside. It is what we believe to be true and therefore live by.
  • Spirituality is the essence of life where your spirit of good, bad, right or wrong flow. It is where you know who you are.
  • Spirituality is the essence of myself and finding out the meaning of my life. It gives me personal comfort and support.
  • I define it as who God created me to be. It's the foundation of who I am as a person and how I reflect on others.
  • Spirituality means to me my beliefs and what I as a person may do.
  • To me my spirituality is like a magical child inside my heart that is the child of God/Jesus who he loves. The most important part of my spirituality is LOVE. To me it is the highest of all powers.
  • Spirituality to me is that inner strength and comfort of knowing that I'm not alone. I'm trying to figure out exactly what I believe in but I do believe in a Higher Power that gives me strength and an inner peace.
  • Spirituality means motivation, hope, and future. It stands for a dream that will one day become real because of spirits within you.
Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) students in a class on spirituality and social work illustrate how varied and personal this term can be. Examples of some of their comments are evident in the above box. Some of their comments center on wholeness, peace, and comfort. Others allude to it as a direction for their future. Many of them reflect on it as their essence, what is most meaningful, or a foundation for them. Some mention a Higher Power and other religious notions while others do not. Some also reflect on spirituality as involving morality and what is right and wrong.
In addition, quotes from colleagues of the author share their perspective on what spirituality means. They are a Latina, an American Indian, and a Hindu, all of whom live in the United States.
  • A Latina who is a humanist: Spirituality is the path towards your inner thoughts and feelings. It is when you wonder about life and the meaning of it. It is different from religion because it does not adhere to anyone else but me. I don't follow any rites, practices, schedules, doctrines, etc. It is when you are finally open to all possibilities and you shed off any prior beliefs. You relinquish your fears and embrace your own words. Spirituality means to me to be open to the unknown or to the known that was silent inside of you…. I am you and you are I. In others I can witness the expression of myself as I can witness it in all creation.
  • American Indian: Spirituality is the way we live. We live spirituality every day. It is everywhere … in trees, the ground, animals, people, and all around us. The Spirit is freeing me to do my best for each day. It's knowing how to do something without training.
  • A Hindu: By Nature my identity is spiritual but being affected by material modes of the Earthly planet my spiritual Identity is not visible. A central belief (of mine) is that because of our actions and reactions (karma) we are affected by happiness and distress. So by our humble efforts we should try to create good karma to improve our spiritual welfare. Hindus describe the Higher Power as the supreme controller, full of knowledge, full of Joy and eternal. We can realize GOD based on individual sincerity and faith in the existence of GOD. Hindus also believe in reincarnation. All of these beliefs are based on the Vedas, the original Hindu scriptures written approximately 5000 years ago.
As these definitions and numerous others suggest, spirituality is defined in many ways and each definition seems to be somewhat unique and personal. Several authors in the human services field have offered operational definitions of spirituality. A consensus on a definition is a search for purpose and meaning in life; a sense of being connected with self, others, and the universe; and an ability to transcend one's immediate experience to something larger known by many to be a Higher Power beyond human power (Canda & Furman, 2010; Chandler, Holden, & Kolander, 1992; Hill & Pargament, 2003; Kvarfordt & Sheridan, 2007; Lindgren & Coursey, 1995; Pargament, 2007). These authors add that spirituality may or may not be expressed through religion. If it is, there is likely to be an adherence to specific creeds, doctrines, and beliefs associated with particular religious denominations, sects, or groups. In light of all of these definitions and expressions, the book adopts the following definition of spirituality as its definition as well.
A search for purpose and meaning in life, a sense of being connected with self, others, and the universe, and an ability to transcend our immediate experience to something larger known by many to be a Higher Power beyond human power.

Manifestations of Spirituality

Spirituality is a broad, multifaceted concept much like the terms psychology and sociology. Because of this, spirituality may be easier to understand as an umbrella term under which many subareas can be explored, studied, and practiced. In other words, a definition of spirituality can only be a broad, general statement and a starting point from which most of its particu...

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