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The authors integrate existentialist, transpersonal, and holistic systems theories with Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Islamic, Judaic, and Shamanistic traditions of helping. They provide the knowledge, ethical guidelines, and practical skills and techniques that all social workers can follow, regardless of their particular theoretical approach. Stories, practice examples, insights from a national survey of social workers, and learning exercises support the reader's professional and personal growth.
Strive constantly to serve the welfare of the world; by devotion to selfless work on attains the supreme goal of life.
-- The Bhagavad Gita 3:19, Hinduism
(trans. Easwaran, 1985).
Recently, much of the world mourned the deaths of two influential women: Diana, princess of Wales, and Mother Teresa of Calcutta. These two women were vastly different. Princess Diana came from a family of privilege and entered the royal corridors of wealth and prestige. She led a life mixed with personal confusion, triumphs, and finally tragic early demise. Mother Teresa came from an impoverished Albanian family, became a Catholic nun, and chose to live with the poorest in her adopted country of India. She died as an elder, among the poorest of the poor, as she wished. But what these two women shared, and what brought them together on occasion, was a commitment to service. Each used her different life circumstances as a medium to help those in need and to help the world see the beauty, strength, and dignity of those who too often are discounted: the homeless; people dying from AIDS, starvation, and neglect; victims of domestic abuse, disease, and land mines; the rejected of society.
Despite controversies and ambiguities surrounding these two women's beliefs and actions, millions of people around the world were moved deeply at their loss. These women's commitment to service and their compassion made them worthy of praise and idealization in the eyes of many. Something in each of us resonates with understanding and appreciation when we encountergenuine human compassion.
As we grow in a sense of connection and responsibility with other people, other beings, and the ground of being, we search for ways to help and heal ourselves and the world. All religious traditions and all people struggle with experiences of suffering, mortality, and death. And all seek means of remedy and transcendence. Compassion literally means "passion with others." It is commiseration in empathy with others. It is solidarity of response to suffering.
Spiritually sensitive social work is an expression of compassion. Dass and Gorman (1985) said that when we let this natural compassion express in our work, there is a benefit to ourselves and to others: "The reward, the real grace, of conscious service, then, is the opportunity not only to help relieve suffering but to grow in wisdom, experience greater unity, and have a good time while we're doing it" (p. 16).
Princess Diana and Mother Teresa were helpers from the heart rather than professional social workers. Their lives remind us, as professionally trained social workers, to reflect back on the fundamental humanity and compassion that were within us before the imposition of our formal rules, roles, theories, eligibility requirements, diagnostic schemes, and professional boundaries. By returning to this, we can revitalize our service as professionals.
In this chapter, we explore spirituality more as a matter of heart -- the deepest motivations of people that lead us to a path of service and the symbols of compassion that inform service in religious traditions. Finally, we use these insights about compassion to elaborate upon ethical principles for spiritually sensitive social work practice.
The Virtue of Compassion in Professional Social Work The Profession's Historical Commitment to Compassion
Social work is a normative profession, guided by explicit values, morals, and a code of ethics (Reid & Popple, 1992). Insofar as moral and value systems constitute one of the main components of spirituality, we can say that social work is fundamentally a spiritual profession -- one that sets its reason for existence and its highest priorities on service (Siporin, 1982, 1986). Core professional morals, values, and ethics are stated in nonsectarian terms without reference to concepts of the sacred or divinity. However, some social workers link their personal religious values to these professional values (Brackney & Watkins, 1983; Coughlin, 1970). Further, Jewish and Christian values of love of neighbor, charitable service, and justice directly influenced the formation of the profession's values early in our history (Constable, 1983; Leiby, 1985; Siporin, 1983). Our value system is promulgated through professional education of students and enforced through procedures of professional certification, licensure, and ethical adjudication. This demonstrates a very high level of organizational commitment to moral reflection and action. Indeed, the social work profession can be considered to be a nonsectarian spiritual community.
The preamble to the current National Association of Social Workers' Code of Ethics* (1996, p. 1) states:
The primary mission of the social work profession is to enhance human well-being and help meet the basic human needs of all people, with particular attention to the needs and empowerment of people who are vulnerable, oppressed, and living in poverty....The mission of social work is rooted in a set of core values. These core values, embraced by social workers throughout the profession's history, are the foundation of social work's unique purpose and perspective:
- social justice
- dignity and worth of the person
- importance of human relationships
This sounds reminiscent of liberation theology, minus the Christian theological language. This mission, the core values, and the ethical standards that flow from them require social workers to move beyond the bounds of egoism, prejudice, and ethnocentrism (Siporin, 1983). They even require putting the needs and interests of clients and the general welfare of society above one's own needs, as in support for client self-determination. They mandate that people are regarded as having inherent dignity and worth. They call for professionals to place a priority on the interests of the oppressed and to enhance social justice. All of these commitments imply a stance of compassion with a transpersonal, that is, ego-transcending, orientation, a profound and challenging spiritual ideal.
Early in the history of the profession, under the influence of religious charitable organizations and the Charity Organization Society, the religious and spiritual implications of this were explicit (Reamer, 1992). Indeed, there was a struggle between different views of compassion or charity. Unfortunately, sometimes charity was (and is) associated with condescending pity, moralistic judgmentalism, and paternalistic control. How far this is from its biblical meaning as love (caritas, Latin): "Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes for all things, endures all things" (1 Cor. 13:4-7, Revised Standard Version).
Thirty years ago, Salomon (1967) cautioned that social workers should not abandon a moral view of life but also should not fall into moralistic prejudice and judgmentalism. Rather, she recommended that we relate with clients through a spiritual encounter of whole person to whole person, so that both worker and client experience change and healing. Siporin (1982) said that we need to regain moral vision and idealism, whether expressed in religious or secular terms, that combine concern for individual and social well-being. Constable (1983) summarized the ideal as reciprocity between values of social justice, freedom, and opportunity for choice by individuals, and unconditional love and mutual respect.
Reamer (1992) warned about the lures of prestige, wealth, and power or simply a survival-based defensive emphasis on interprofessional competition and turf protection. These lures have grown in the past forty years as the profession has gained in social acceptance and is pressured by federal and state policies, insurance reimbursement regulations, and economic incentives from private clinical practice. In a religious context, these might be called temptations. So Reamer said, "To reclaim its enlightened view of the public good, social work must once again resemble a (secular) calling. One serves -- primarily because one cares deeply about matters of social justice -- those who are disadvantaged and oppressed, and those who are at risk. Gratification is primarily derived from knowing that one has responded to one of life's principal duties to others"
Social Workers' Personal Commitments to Service
Although many reasons motivate service (Coles, 1993), those who make a commitment for a long time and are able to avoid the pitfalls of cynicism and self-promotion are likely to have a compassionate orientation. This makes sense not only because of the professional values social workers espouse formally, but also because of the personal reasons that many social workers share but seldom discuss openly. The personal reasons stem from why each of us has been motivated to join the profession of social work. Why should we commit ourselves to a profession often derided in media portrayals? Why are we often willing to work long hours in stressful conditions with caseloads beyond belief? What motivates us to a path of service when we live in a society driven largely by consumerism and glorification of economic or political power? We invite readers to reflect on your own experience and to consider how it matches this discussion of social work as a vocation expressing the virtue of compassion. Compare the following vignettes with your experience.
I grew up in a family whose love embraced not only each member, but extended also to the poor and the oppressed. My mother is a school social worker who works with urban youth, mostly immigrants and refugees, and my father is a physician who spends part of his time working at a free clinic. Their example inspired me to pursue a career in social work.
My older brother died from AIDS two years ago. He was a gay activist, well known in his community for championing the rights of gay and lesbian people. As he drew close to death, his courage and continued caring for others inspired me and many other people. Although he was severely ill physically, he had a remarkable sense of spiritual vitality. His family and friends offered much support, but it really seemed more like he was helping us. I decided that I would like to carry on his example by becoming a social worker, with a special interest in hospice programs.
As my meditation practice deepened, I found a quality of peace and clarity that soothed my griefs and pains and gave me the capacity to respond to life's challenges with greater energy and compassion. I realized that my own struggles are mirrored in the struggles of all people and all living beings. In my Buddhist tradition, we take a vow "to save all beings from suffering." In some small way, I hope that my practice as a social worker can help others to find their way from suffering to peace and joy.
When I was a teenager, my parents divorced. My father was abusive and alcoholic. Our family fractured under the strain. At the time, I felt my life was coming to an end. But support from members of my Christian church helped me get through it. Eventually, I found a source of inner strength and resilience that helped me to put the broken pieces of my life back together in a way that is healthier than I ever had as a child. There is something mysterious to me about this "resurrection" experience, but my religious teachings and community support made it possible. Now I would like to help other people find meaning and resiliency through difficult times.
These stories, though fictional, are similar to the accounts we have often heard from social workers in private conversations, class discussions, and autobiographical statements within applications to enter social work programs. Some surveys of social workers show not only that we are more likely than the general public to have experienced abuse, mental disorders, or substance abuse within our families of origin, but also that many of us have seen a way through this, a way toward personal recovery and service for others (Black, Jeffreys & Hartley, 1993). Sometimes a life event or situation wakes a person up to the prevalence of human suffering and generates a drive to help relieve it, not only in self but also in others. This may be something positive, like inspiration from loving parents who demonstrate a commitment to public service. It might be a situation that is painful at first, like a crisis that shatters the foundations of meaning and security but leads eventually to positive personal growth. Some people come to this awareness through a gentle inner stirring, a gradual heightening of awareness and empathy. A person may develop a spiritually sensitive approach to social work when a keen realization of suffering and the possibility of transformation awakens the motivation to help others.
Some of us use religious ideas and metaphors to explain this vocation; some do not. But we expect that this theme of being awakened from egocentrism and defeatism and then feeling called to a path of service and justice may not be uncommon among social workers. This is a spiritual developmental process that puts us in touch with our deepest insights into the meaning and purpose of life. Thus, we respond to a calling. In traditional Christian and Jewish terms, a vocation is a stirring of the heart by the divine to go beyond the limits of the little ego and ordinary social conventions in order to follow a more profound way of life. A vocation is a use of one's talents, abilities, and assets in a life's work that is consistent with God's will (Canda, 1990a).
Social work in its best sense can be considered a spiritual vocation. This does not mean that all social workers follow the beliefs of the Judeo-Christian tradition or that they are religious. Rather, it means that there is an awareness of suffering and the possibility of transformation. It means that there is a motive of compassion to work together with other people to help us overcome obstacles and achieve our aspirations. And it means that spiritually sensitive social workers practice unconditional positive regard for clients and hope in the possibilities of resiliency, reconciliation, and realization of social justice. Of course, it is difficult to "walk this talk."
In a qualitative study, eighteen social work scholars discussed the values that motivated their work in the profession (Canda, 1990c). The interviewees identified themselves as being influenced by seven spiritual perspectives, which were combined for some people: atheist, Christian, existentialist, Jewish, shamanic, theistic humanist, and Zen Buddhist. Three main motivations were expressed: a sense of a mandate to serve, a personal desire to promote social justice, and a quest for personal fulfillment.
Ten respondents said they had a feeling that they are mandated to serve. Some derived this sense of mandate from learned religious or cultural values, such as the Zen Buddhist commitment to help all beings attain enlightenment, Jewish community values for mutual support and social justice, Christian gospel values of love and service, and traditional First Nations Indigenous values of cooperation, sharing, and mutual helping. But some added that this mandate came from a transpersonal or divine source. For example, a Zen practitioner said that compassion and an imperative to help others arises naturally from meditative experiences of one's interconnectedness with other beings. Two Jewish respondents said that they felt mandated to serve out of the awareness that God appointed humanity as custodians of the earth. Four Christians said that they felt a sense of calling from God, sometimes from an early age. One respondent put it this way: "I am impelled not by my own volition, not on making a conscious choice, but that is the way the Lord wants, to use me" (Canda, 1990c, p. 12). Many respondents mentioned that they had a strong personal concern for people who are distressed and oppressed and that this impelled them to action.
All of the respondents said that their experience of personal fulfillment from service motivated them to persevere. Personal satisfactions derived from meeting religious and cultural expectations for service, viewing the beneficial changes in clients' lives as a result of service, and having a career that provides sustenance for their own families. In the experience of these social work scholars, compassionate service creates a situation of mutual benefit for themselves, their clients, and the larger society.
Mitsuko Nakashima (1995), a Japanese-American hospice social worker, gave a detailed account of how her life experiences in Japan and the United States and her family's incorporation of Buddhist, Shinto, and Confucian philosophies and rituals helped direct her into the path of social work:
I found myself being fascinated with the concept of death and dying in my late teens. My aunt died unexpectedly and soon afterward my grandmother suffered a fatal injury in a car accident. The idea of death, which had been a remote concept to me, rose up to face me. At that time, I already had a belief that a human soul survives the physical body and reincarnates. However, a big question arose: for what purpose do we reincarnate?...From my cross-cultural experiences and study in Japan and the United States, I saw that as people grew older and prepared themselves for death, they faced the same kind of challenges despite cultural differences. Many people died feeling that their lives were unfulfilled....Resolution of life issues requires a great deal of introspection in which an individual reviews life experiences and draws meanings from them. The degree of acceptance of one's life determines how peaceful one can feel. Approaching human development solely through consideration of physical, emotional, and social aspects (in most of my social work education) seemed incomplete to me. I believe that spirituality is a nucleus of human existence that directs our thoughts and actions to seek a sense of peace and power by connection to the supreme and holy source of existence, whatever it is called by individuals....Hospice work interested me immediately when I learned about its existence. Because of its regard for the crucial role of spirituality in facilitating the well-being of a person, I intuitively felt that my quest for deepening spiritual self-knowledge could be enriched through hospice social work....
...Through hospice work, I am not only helping clients. I am also preparing myself to die the death that will come someday. (pp. 18-19, 27) (Used with permission of publisher.)
Sarah Sloan Kreutziger (1995) told the story of how her journey in and out of and back into Christianity influenced her path into social work:
I am a "heart" more than a "head" person. I am a member of the United Methodist Church, a religious tradition which has historically been known for its "people of the warmed heart."...Faith was honed on the legacy of the Social Gospel, or what John Wesley had earlier called, "practical divinity." This is the call to act on behalf of others in response to God's unrelenting love and action in our lives....I had tried for a while to ignore "my Jesus thing." I went into social work because it allowed me "to save the world" as a secular missionary during a long period in early adulthood as I rotated among cycles of agnosticism/atheism/agnosticism....To this day, I'm not sure when my belief in this new found knowledge (Freudianism) began to falter and become hopelessly entangled with my older religious beliefs. I suspect it occurred when I had children. Having children made it more important for me to forge connections between my past and future. Probably a large part of it occurred, however, because I was a lousy atheist in one significant way: I couldn't quit going to church. Despite my best efforts to disengage, I still loved the feel of the church: the rituals, the symbolism, the music, the people, the fellowship, the shared values, "the going into perfection."...As a beginning social worker, I found myself relieved, for example, when I discovered my dialysis patients were heavily involved in their churches, especially those patients from rural communities.....My patients forced me to confront my own existential anxieties in order to help them face theirs. I had to move beyond my youth and inexperience and wobbly religious faith in order to fortify my practice and knowledge for their benefit....Most of all, I had to learn to support the courage that comes from staying the course minute by minute, day by day, just as the accumulated wisdom of my religion teaches me to do. (pp. 29, 34) (Used with permission of publisher.)
The stories of Nakashima and Kreutziger illustrate that the call to service is a call to a continuing spiritual journey of growth. As social workers help clients, we are also being helped. The expression of empathy and compassion makes us stretch ourselves into clients' worlds of suffering and meaning, and thereby our own worlds are changed. To the extent that we remain alert to this continuing call to service as a spiritual journey, we retain a sense of purpose, excitement, and vitality. This is a very personal and compelling reason to keep the connection between spirituality and social work alive and well within our practice as students, practitioners, educators, and researchers. Mother Teresa put this simply and directly: "The fruit of love is service. The fruit of service is peace" (Vardey, 1995, p. xxxix).
Next, we would like to tell you some stories about our own spiritual journeys into social work. In part, this is to give you additional examples of the routes people may take and the roles of religion and spirituality. But also we want you to be aware of the spiritual perspectives that shape us, because they also shape this book. You can then make better-informed analyses of how our perspectives aid or limit the inclusive approach to spiritual diversity that we promote. You will see that we have very different personal and professional backgrounds. In writing this book, we have continued a dialogue that engaged the contrasts and the commonalities of our spiritual perspectives. We hope that this exemplifies the ideals of respect and nonjudgmentalism that are so critical in spiritually sensitive social work.
A Call to Social Work
I (LF) became a social worker because of my religious upbringing and my personal faith. My Lutheran heritage provided clear messages to guide me. I feel I was put on earth to serve God and humanity and not to waste time about it. Whatever my profession, my vocation was to do the will of God and no excuses. ("And from every one who has been given much shall much be required" [Luke 12:48, New American Standard Bible].)
Although my family of origin in northern Minnesota did not have a great deal of material goods, I knew even when I was young that I was privileged simply because of having loving parents with a strong religious faith, along with a large extended family who were concerned about my spiritual, physical, and emotional well-being. I realized that there were many who did not have their childhood needs meet. I had been given much so I must return it...but how?
I saw my family's faith lived out every day unchanging, and each Sunday that same faith was emphasized by others. I remember as a little girl hearing my uncles or great-uncles and long-time family friends present sermons that spoke of heeding the call of God, even if it takes you "to the remotest part of the earth" (Acts 1:8, NASB). Indeed, many of these clergy had heeded the call of God that took them to remote places. A great-uncle and his wife were missionaries in mainland China, and after the communist revolution, in Taiwan. My mother's best friend from college was a missionary teacher in China, and an uncle and his nurse wife were missionaries and health care workers in Madagascar. These clergy friends and relatives wrote often, their letters bearing colorful stamps from around the world. They brought slides of these countries when they were home for visits and told of political upheavals and cultural aspects of the people they served. They provided a rich education regarding human diversity, common human needs, and cross-cultural religious awareness.
As a child, I would sit in the church pew in a little log church that my immigrant Norwegian grandparents helped to build on the Minnesota prairie. I kept wondering when my call from God would come and what it would be. Would I too be called to go to the ends of the earth, learn another language, eat strange food, say good-bye to Mother and Father, and come back to the United States only every seven years like these clergy? I shivered at the thought!
My call came while I was attending a summer Luther League Convention, a gathering of Lutheran Youth. There was a special session on careers. Social work was defined and explained in very simple terms: a profession that works with the poor, with people of color who are experiencing prejudice, with children having problems in schools, with adults having troubled marriages and job loss, and with those with physical or mental illnesses. What became clear to me then was Christ's teaching: "Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it [charity] to one of these brothers of Mine, even to the least of them, you did it to Me" (Matthew 25:40 NASB). I had seen the evidence of compassion in my family home and through the experiences of missionary relatives and friends. Social work provided a secular avenue for compassionate works. At twelve years old, my call came to become a social worker.
As I went on to college, I was overwhelmed by this call and wondered if I could accomplish this task as well as my heart and soul wanted. My family, my church, and my college showed me that the source of power to follow this call was not in myself ("Do not lean on your own understanding," Proverbs 3:5, NASB), but in my faith in God ("I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me," Philippians 4:13, and "Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the age," Matthew 28:20).
It was the experience of knowing people who lived by those words that empowered me and continues to empower me personally and professionally. Since that first awareness of a way I could show compassion to others in a vocation, I studied and trained to become a social worker. For a time, I worked in direct practice in school social work, psychiatric and medical social work, and family and marriage counseling. Then I felt a call that brought me to the academic world to teach and do research about social work, to try to instill in others the deep sense of compassion that I first felt so long ago.
An Awakening of Compassion
I (EC) was raised within a devout Roman Catholic family. My parents have attended daily mass and have been active workers, volunteers, and supporters in their parish as long as I can remember. In my family, being a Catholic meant a lifestyle and worldview much more than just performing a set of religious obligations or attending church on Sunday. I was raised to put spirituality as the first priority in life and to shape my decisions and relationships accordingly.
My family's spiritual perspective emphasized the importance of discerning a vocation through which I could use my talents for the benefit of others and for the glory of God. My parents modeled an ideal of service through their attentive child raising, their assistance for the parish, and in care for their own parents as they became ill. Through religious education from my parents and my Catholic elementary school, I also learned to respect the lives of Jesus and the saints, who gave of themselves selflessly.
I have a vivid memory of an event from the second grade of elementary school that awakened a keen sense of compassion. As a young boy, I played my share of games with violent content, from imitation war to contact competitive sports to killing bugs for fun. To that point, I had had little compunction about these things, except for occasional pangs of guilt or admonitions from my mother.
My second-grade teacher, a Catholic nun, had taken a special liking to me and made special efforts to draw me out of my shyness. What she said and did made a strong impression on me. One spring day, the classroom windows were open. Flies were buzzing around the room, providing distraction and entertainment. Some boys were trying to catch or swat the flies. Sister interrupted class not so much to complain about our misbehavior, but rather to give us a life lesson. She asked us not to harm the flies, because they were her friends. That quite surprised me -- that someone could regard these ugly, irritating bugs as friends and serve as their protector. Suddenly I realized that they were living things that merit caring treatment. Sister's friendly pleading woke me up to a sense of compassion that extended out beyond my family and friends to all creatures. The biblical teaching that God made the world and saw it was good suddenly struck home deep in my heart. From that day on, I began to look at things differently.
When I was nearly sixteen years old, I had another awakening to compassion. By this time, I had begun to explore the philosophical teachings of many religious traditions, hoping they would help me understand the nature of things and the purpose of life more broadly than my Catholic upbringing. I was also quite upset about the violence of the Vietnam War, the injustices exposed by the civil rights movement, and the materialistic consumerism I saw rampant around me. Readings of Western and Eastern mystics guided me to develop a personal meditation practice, which helped me to obtain some sense of peace in the midst of this.
My Catholic high school economics teacher assigned a paper based on current economic issues. I chose to read a book by the neo-Marxist psychoanalyst, Erich Fromm, Marx's Concept of Man (1966). This book contained Karl Marx's economic and philosophical manuscripts. Considering that Marx was avidly opposed to conventional religions, I was surprised to find a description of communism as an ideal that well fit my sense of Christian love applied to social justice. Marx described the ideal of communism as a society in which all forms of alienation and exploitation between human beings and humans and nature would be overcome. This sounded to me like heaven on earth, or the realization of Christ's beatitudes. Ironically, Marx's words spurred me in a direction that did not fit the conventional thinking of Marxists or capitalists.
One evening, I sat in meditation on my bed, facing a portrait of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, in which Jesus is portrayed with heart exposed, aflame with compassion. I posed the question to myself, "What would it be like for every form of alienation and exploitation to be transcended?" Suddenly my mind opened to a sense of profound communion with the universe in which all separations disappeared. There was a sense of all-pervasive love.
When I pondered this experience later, it was clear to me that my life and cultural conditioning were a far cry from this ideal. I ex
|A Note to the Reader|
|Pt. I||Central Values and Concepts for Spiritually Sensitive Social Work|
|Ch. 1||Compassion, the Call to Service and Ethical Principles for Social Work||3|
|Ch. 2||The Meaning and Significance of Spirituality||37|
|Pt. II||Exploring Spiritual Diversity for Social Work Practice|
|Ch. 3||Human Diversity, Spirituality, and Social Work Practice||79|
|Ch. 4||Religious Perspectives on Social Service and their Insights for Social Work Practice||119|
|Ch. 5||Nonsectarian Spiritual Perspectives, Comparisons, and Implications for an Inclusive Approach||155|
|Pt. III||Spiritually Sensitive Social Work in Action|
|Ch. 6||Creating a Spiritually Sensitive Context for Practice||183|
|Ch. 7||Understanding and Assessing Spiritual Development||214|
|Ch. 8||Understanding and Assessing Therapeutic Process, Spiritual Activities, and Ethical Issues||251|
|Ch. 9||Spiritually Sensitive Practice Skills and Techniques||282|
|App. A||Discussion Guide for Assessing Spiritual Propensity||313|
|App. B||Methodological Summary for National Survey of NASW Members on Spirituality in Practice||316|
|Further Information on Spiritual Diversity in Social Work||351|