“Does it matter if your therapist is a Christian?”: An interview with Robert Vore on CXMH!

Hi, friends! I recently had the opportunity to talk with Robert Vore on his podcast CXMH: Christianity and Mental Health, and the episode just launched this week! We had a great conversation about the role of religion and spirituality in mental health treatment, some of my recent research findings regarding a national sample of mental health clients’ preferences for integrating their religion/spirituality in mental health treatment, the role of the therapist’s beliefs (related: see Namaste Theory), and bridging the gap between mental health care providers and religious leaders. As you can quickly tell in this episode, I was over-the-moon excited to get to talk with Robert about these topics I wholeheartedly love!

If you have not heard of CXMH before, please take a moment to check it out! I’m honored that Robert invited me to the show, and am grateful for all of the work he is doing to highlight the intersection of faith and mental health!

Enjoy!

CXMH: Episode 31 (Does It Matter If Your Therapist Is A Christian?,
feat. Dr. Holly Oxhandler)

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Kindly,

holly3

 

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.

Kindly,

holly3

Motivation

As a researcher and social worker, I love hearing others’ stories about what motivates and excites them, what they love, and why they do what they do. At some point along our journeys, even academics have a moment of “oh my goodness, I am FASCINATED by this topic… so much so, that I am willing to devote the rest of my life to studying it, unpacking it, and telling others about it.” Whatever that thing is, I often hear researchers say “I was MADE to study [insert topic].” 

That is exactly how I feel when I think about the work I do.

Religion and spirituality have been topics I’ve always been interested in. Balancing respect while questioning my religious beliefs by the age of 9, being in a family with rich diversity in religious beliefs, experiencing a religious culture shock by moving from NY to TX, and having a deep hunger to learn what people believe, why they believe it, and how their beliefs are infused in their daily lives… each of these positioned me to explore religion and spirituality in mental health. One by one, doors began to open up as I moved from being an undergrad psychology research assistant, to offering cognitive-behavioral therapy for older adults with anxiety and depression, to interviewing older adults on their preferences for talking about their faith in mental health treatment, and then being accepted into an MSW program.

And then in spring 2009, it all came into focus when Dr. Ken Pargament, a psychologist from Bowling Green State University and author of Spiritually-Integrated Psychotherapy gave a grand rounds lecture at Baylor College of Medicine. Time stood still as I heard him share that a majority of the general US population was very religious and believed in a God/Higher Power…. but few psychologists held the same beliefs, and most struggled to talk about it with clients.

What about social work?”

Being months away from my MSW program, I scribbled this question down, circled it about 20 or 30 times, and suddenly felt like every bit of me had to know the answer. Five months later, I was sitting in an auditorium with my MSW colleagues, listening to incredible faculty talk about having a strengths-based perspective, recognizing the person within his/her environment (including social support), and being aware of clients’ culture, while dancing around the role of clients’ religion/spirituality.

So that year, I dove into a year-long independent study literature review, and decided to apply for a dual MSW/PhD at the University of Houston. My fantastic mentors brought to life this idea of working in higher education and gifted me with some of the most uplifting, challenging, transformational years of my life. They provided the structure, setting, and questions I needed to deeply discover the work I was made to do, while unpacking this desire to conduct research on a topic I was so passionate about.

I wholeheartedly love the work I do. Working alongside such incredible colleagues, serving those who serve others through my research, seeking to understand complex topics, empowering others in research, and passing along the mentoring I’ve received is an true joy. Meanwhile, recognizing this deep, intrinsic motivation to do this work has been a gift along this journey, as I’ve also recognized all of the little adjustments, opportunities, and open doors I’ve been offered along the way.

So the next time you hear an academic or researcher talk about the work they do, ask them why they do what they do. Not only might it help you think about and interpret their work, but I guarantee you’ll be surprised by the answer… and by how it inspires you to reflect on your own reasons for why you do what you do.


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May 2014: standing beside 3/4 of my dissertation committee at graduation.
From left to right: Dr. Danielle Parrish, myself, Dr. W. Andy Achenbaum, and Dr. Luis Torres. (Not pictured was my external committee member, Dr. Ken Pargament).


 

Kindly,

holly3