What research is being done to address spirituality in social work?
Systematic research provides information on the attitudes and activities of social workers related to assessing and addressing spiritual needs. A survey of 221 social workers in the southeastern United States revealed that religious-based interventions were judged appropriate by more than 50 percent of respondents and utilized by that percentage as well. High personal spirituality predicted positive attitudes and utilization.1 A survey of 299 gerontological social workers found that most respondents supported the inclusion of religion and spirituality in education and practice as part of diversity and holistic assessment.2 However, nearly 70 percent reported little or no preparation on spiritual issues during their social work education and less than 25 percent said they were satisfied by the preparation they received.
Sheridan surveyed a random sample of 204 licensed social workers, finding that there was considerable focus on religion and spirituality in both social work assessments and interventions.3 More then two-thirds of the sample reported they had utilized one of fourteen different spiritually derived techniques with clients. Again, however, practitioners' own personal beliefs and level of participation in religious or spiritual services predicted their use of spiritual techniques. Hodge describes an instrument called the "spiritual lifemap" that can be used in spiritual assessments by social workers. He indicates that it facilitates the transition from taking a spiritual history to planning interventions, and his article provides several cases to illustrate the instrument's use.4
Thus, there is considerable attention being paid by many social workers to spiritual issues, despite the fact that training on why, how, and when to assess and address spiritual issues has often been absent in social work education. Instead, as with physicians and nurses, it is the personal religiousness or spirituality of the practitioner that determines whether this topic is addressed. Again, HP activities in this area should be driven by training, importance of the subject to patients, and relationship to health and support, not by the personal beliefs of the practitioner.
- C. Stewart, G. F. Koeske, and R. D. Koeske, "Personal Religiosity and Spirituality Associated with Social Work Practitioners' Use of Religious-Based Intervention Practices," Journal of Religion & Spirituality in Social Work 25, no. 1 (2006): 69-85.
- V. Murdock, "Guided by Ethics: Religion and Spirituality in Gerontological Social Work Practice," Journal of Gerontological Social Work 45, no. 1/2 (2005): 131-54.
- M. J. Sheridan, "Predicting the Use of Spiritually-Derived Interventions in Social Work Practice: A Survey of Practitioners," Journal of Religion & Spirituality in Social Work 23, no. 4 (2004): 5-25.
- D. R. Hodge, "Spiritual Lifemaps: A Client-Centered Pictorial Instrument for Spiritual Assessment, Planning, and Intervention," Social Work 50, no. 1 (2005): 77-87.
From Harold G. Koenig, M.D., Spirituality in Patient Care: Why, How, When, and What, 2nd ed. (Philadelphia: Templeton Foundation Press, 2007), 148-49.