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…

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! 😉



Sabbathing – June 2018

Last summer was the first time my family and I fully unplugged and rested for an extended period of time. We took off almost three entire weeks and had our first family vacation. After running full-speed ahead, working way too many hours for nearly a decade through my MSW/PhD/first few years of tenure-track, and having Callie & Oliver during that time, we finally chose to rest and play. Thankfully, we’re repeating this summer Sabbath practice again this year and already had plans to get out of town for a couple of weeks. As my friend, Steve Austin, recently posted his commitment to unplug for June, I found myself thinking of one of my favorite quotes by Marianne Williamson:

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.” 

The last two sentences are my favorite – when we decide what’s true for us, who we are, what we value, and share it in love, we give others permission to do the same. This leads me to wonder about our culture’s orientation toward busy and why we so often work without resting or pausing or playing? I know when I was in graduate school, I picked up on cultural messages that rest was often scoffed at as a luxury few could afford (both in time and finances) or for those who seemed to care less about their work. I was always nervous to admit if I took a day off over the weekend or got a full 8 hours of sleep, so either a) I wouldn’t, or b) would lie. It seemed “I’m so busy!” and “I’m so tired!” got more accolades than “I rested/played/relaxed this weekend”, and usually, the latter would be met with a sarcastic “must be nice!” and an eye roll. Quickly, I learned the ropes and bought the lie that busier meant better and perfection, productivity, and people-pleasing meant security.

Unfortunately, academia and social work (like many other fields) aren’t always friendly toward the idea of not working constantly. Thankfully, I’ve noticed since joining Baylor how many supportive colleagues I have who DO value rest and balance and self-care and celebrate when I choose to do any and all of that, knowing that I still get my work done. It has been in their choice to openly value rest that I’ve learned to unwind the narrative that busier is better and rewrite what I really believe about balance and rest, while trying to empower those around me to do the same.

I think Jonathan Singer‘s recent podcast episode on self-care explains this myth of burnout as a badge of honor so well and how damaging it is to our profession. The truth was, I could have made the time to rest, but my inner dialogue convinced me that I couldn’t. There was just too much to do. And while I couldn’t financially afford to not work, I’m sure I could have saved up and then taken off. For me, it went way deeper. My inability to prioritize rest was out of a deep fear that if I rested, if I slowed down, I couldn’t bear the crippling self-talk that I wasn’t being a good steward of the time I’m given to serve others, that my work would be less-than-perfect, and that eventually, when I reached some arbitrary goal, then I could rest. I have lived in the narrative of “if I can just get XYZ done, THEN I can rest” for as long as I can remember.

But XYZ gets done. And do you know what? The list circles back to ABC with more things to do. So then it becomes, “when I get ABC done, then I can rest.” Of course, you guessed it, DEF are the next items on the to-do list. And on and on it goes. There will always be work to be done. But my kids will not always be 2 & 5, I may not always have the abilities I currently have to play with them, and every single day with Cory, Callie, and Oliver is a gift. We never know which day will be our or a loved one’s last, and if I miss the moment because I’m so overwhelmingly worried about finishing the next item on my to do list so that I can later rest, I will regret it. That realization carried with it a hard lesson and heavy responsibility to make some changes – some quickly, and some over time.

Working without pause and a chance to be quiet, still, and listen does not offer healing or creativity or presence. Working without rest or play does not make manifest the glory of God. Truthfully, working without rest makes me less productive, less attentive to details, and less efficient. So for the next month, I’m unplugging. I’m offering two weeks of undivided attention to my family, followed by a couple of weeks of just focusing on my work projects and then coming home to play with the kids, go on a date with my husband, practice solitude with my journal/books/paints, or go grab coffee with a friend.

Why do I share this with y’all? Because though culture celebrates busy more than rest, I hope that openly sharing my struggle with a broken accelerator and the need to rest/practice sabbath empowers you to use the time you’re given to do the same. Maybe for an hour, a day or two, a week, or longer. But rest. Don’t numb, rest. (So sorry, but an 8-hour Netflix or 2-hour social media scrolling binge often aren’t resting – they’re numbing agents, and I’m guilty of using them, too). We need you to take care of you in order to care for others well. You can’t draw water from an empty well. If it helps, make a list of things to do that fill up your spirit so that you have options and aren’t tempted to numb. I also share this because I admit this is really hard for me and accountability often helps. Maybe disconnecting is easy for you, but it’s not for me. (See Adam Alter’s Irresistible: The rise of addictive technology and the business of keeping us hooked)

If you’ve been waiting for permission to rest, grab a piece of paper and write yourself the permission slip you need. Celebrate those around you who are choosing to rest as they’re able to. Remember to let your light shine, so that you can give others permission to shine as well. And have a restful, fun, memorable summer, friends!



“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!


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

CXMH - Main Episodes (11).jpg




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.


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.




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.


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).