What helps/hinders integrating clients’ spirituality?

I noticed the other day that the National Association of Social Workers wrote a blog post on a recent paper I published alongside Dr. Traber D Giardina.  (Thank you, NASW!!) Traber is a great qualitative researcher, and having a national data set of comments and essays about what helps and hinders licensed clinical social workers (LCSWs) to discuss clients’ religion/spirituality (RS) in practice, I knew she would be a great partner to tackle these nearly 600 pieces of data across 329 individuals.

You can read NASW’s blog about the study here: Social Workers’ Perceived Barriers to and Sources of Support for Integrating Clients’ Religion and Spirituality in Practice

The original article is here: Social Workers’ Perceived Barriers to and Sources of Support for Integrating Clients’ Religion and Spirituality in Practice

There are a LOT of interesting findings in this study. This national sample of clinical social workers did not have any prompts to describe what helps or hinders the assessment or discussion of clients’ religion/spirituality. And yet… they had a lot to say.

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When asked what helps them assess or discuss clients’ RS, here were the responses, with a few examples under each:

  • 67% said having a spiritually-sensitive practice
    • 31%: person-centered approach
    • 20%: recognizing religious/spiritual coping
  • 44% said their personal religiosity
    • 21%: their own RS journey
    • 18%: their own RS belief system
  • 25% said their educational experience
    • 10%: informal education
    • 9%: social work education

NOTE: Tonight, as I was prepping for a presentation next week, it jumped out at me all over again that 44% – almost half – of our LCSWs are freely describing that their personal RS is a source of support for considering clients’ RS, and only 9% find their social work education to be helpfulIt reminds me we have to be so intentional in SW education to ensure students are aware of their RS beliefs (whatever they may be), how to ethically consider clients’ beliefs, and for the therapist to not impose their beliefs onto clients. And upon reflecting on this data, I’m really curious about what “having a spiritually-sensitive practice” means to LCSWs and how they develop it.

 

When asked what prevents LCSWs from integrating clients’ RS, here were the responses, with a few examples under each:

  • 31% said “nothing”
  • 57% said something…
    • 15%: client-related limitations, such as client discouraged discussion or restrictive client beliefs
    • 35%: practitioner-related limitations, such as a lack of training or  fear/discomfort of how to discuss the topic
    • 13%: external limitations, such as agency or professional limitations, or a lack of time
  • 5% said it’s not relevant

 

And when asked what helps/hinders integration, 1 in 5 said they simply wait for clients to bring it up… which upon first glance seems appropriate from a “person-centered approach”, except clients have said in other studies that they prefer the therapist be the one to at least ask about this topic because it can be taboo.

I love that I get to do this work. There is much to do, but each study I do helps bring clarity on how to serve the social workers who are serving our communities.

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