Namaste Theory

One of the (many!) things I love about research is when I have an unexpected “ah ha!!” moment that no amount of planning or hope or best intentions could have created – only  a little breathing room to think. Last year, I had such a moment reflecting on my dissertation findings and some more recent surveys of various helping professionals.

In my national sample of clinical social workers, I noticed that their intrinsic religiosity (or the degree to which they’re deeply motivated to carry out their religion/spirituality into all areas of their lives) was the top predictor of their attitudes, confidence, perceived feasibility, and behaviors related to assessing and discussing clients’ religion/spirituality. Yes, their intrinsic religiosity. Not training… though, that was the second and only other predictor. Not gender, race, ethnicity, age, region of the country, years in practice, age of clients served, type of clinical issue most often treated, religious affiliation, etc… it was their own intrinsic religiosity first, and then whether or not they received training. This finding echoed in the qualitative responses I wrote about here.

One morning last year while I was getting ready, without really even thinking much about work, it dawned on me…


Namaste…
The divine in me sees the divine in you…
The light in me sees the light in you…
That’s IT!!!


Practitioners who have higher levels of intrinsic religiosity – those who deeply recognize the sacred within, or that which they consider sacred, such as their spirituality – tend to recognize the sacred within their clients more. The Hindi term, Namaste, which literally translates to “I bow to you” and acknowledges the divine/sacred within both individuals, helped to bring order and understanding to what I saw emerging in the data regarding the role of the therapist’s spirituality in considering the clients’ spirituality. This wasn’t just in my research, but this pattern echoed across helping professions with elements of practitioners’ religion/spirituality influencing whether they considered their clients’ religion/spirituality. And, as I mention in the original article, published in Religions, I’m also curious if this theory could be extended beyond one’s religion/spirituality to include other areas of intersectionality (e.g., the more practitioners are deeply aware of their race/ethnicity/gender/sexual orientation/age/ability/culture/etc., the more likely they are to recognize this layer if diversity in clients.)

Baylor University’s Garland School of Social Work put together a great video about this theory, which you can find here, and even wrote an article describing Namaste Theory in more detail here. (A special thanks to Baylor graduate Connor Watkins for putting together the video and article!) Also, if you’re interested in hearing more about this theory, check out my podcast episode with Steve Austin here!

While I strongly recommend receiving training on integrating clients’ religion/spirituality, particularly if you did not receive such training in your graduate program, Namaste Theory suggests it is also critical that you take time to become deeply aware of your religious/spiritual beliefs. Not only will this awareness help you become more comfortable and grounded with your own beliefs, allowing you to hold space to discuss others’ diverse beliefs, but it can also allow you to be mindful of biases, reduce the risk of imposing your beliefs (whether intentionally or unintentionally), and recognize the complexities of others’ spiritual journeys.

As always, I hope this serves you well in your work, particularly as you seek to serve your clients to the best of your ability, both ethically and effectively! Namaste, friends! 😉

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

Translating research – intro

Something I boldly remember asking myself as an undergraduate psychology student was, “why is research SO hard to understand?!” (I doubt I was alone.) For all of the money being poured into studies with the goal to truly help others, I also wondered why so few results seemed to make it to the mainstream. Certainly, there are some common barriers we all know of… the academic writing style (which is never how we would talk in everyday conversation), the writing outlets (well-respected academic journals, which unfortunately, can be difficult to access due to time and cost), and then understanding the analyses enough to even interpret them… these barriers failed to help move our research into others’ hands that we spent so much time and energy on.

I’ll admit, I’m no exception. Most of my writing has been for academic audiences. While I know there are researchers and teams and institutes working exceptionally hard to study translational research and help move research to practice (and inform research with practice), I came to realize I could do just a little bit more to help make my findings accessible to others. I want to help this process of translating my research into practice. As researchers, we work hard to dream up and carry out the studies, to analyze the data, and to write the findings (in my case, all alongside amazing colleagues!). Submitting the paper to a peer-reviewed journal, turning to the next project, and expecting anyone outside of academia to read or understand it seems silly. But honestly, after hearing this episode of the Good Life Project podcast interview with Simon Sinek, I realized I needed to help explain and translate my own research.


As Simon said:
“[Academics] have amazing concepts and I’m sure they could change the world, if only anybody understood them…”
(Thanks for the idea, Simon and Jonathan!)


So stay tuned… these little translational research updates will be a step to help take the research I’ve done and mold the articles into deliciously meaningful, applicable bite-sized pieces. The only thing I ask is for grace – learning to write for a non-academic audience is something I’ll need practice with, but as I’ve learned to write tight research papers for peer-reviewed journals, I hope to also learn to translate and communicate them in a way that’s interesting, meaningful, and accessible to all 🙂

Kindly,

holly3