Nicolette-Wade-and-R.. - University of Bradford

Social Work & Spirituality
Encounters with students in a safe
Rev Cassandra Howes & Nicolette Wade
How did the group come about
How does the group work
What have we found out
What does there remain to do
Some back ground
A group has been running, every year, since 2005
for first year undergraduate SW students called
Social Work & Spirituality
Membership has varied from 2 to 20 students
Personal journey – NW
Concerns about the mechanistic nature of
contemporary social work practice
How the group came about linked to the above
Finding out that the Chaplain was interested
Examples of student issues arising in
the taught component
• Student 1 – member of an evangelical Christian
church who was experiencing a tension between
her faith based beliefs and professional/legal
requirements in relation to her views on sexuality
• Student 2 – arrived on the course having
experienced Catholicism very negatively as a child
and young person. Expressed the view, quite
angrily, that faith based beliefs were a private
matter and that it was inappropriate for her to
explore her views in this realm further. To do so
was wasting her time.
Working together – the current
Chaplain and the social work lecturer
• What do we each bring?
• How do we view the relationship?
The Chaplain
Chaplain’s background;
Social work assistant/occupational therapy assistant in psychiatric hospital
Student nurse - psychiatric leading to Registered Mental Nurse (RMN)
Student nurse – General nursing leading to State Registered Nurse (SRN)
Operating Theatre Sister – general and specialist (Diploma in Nursing)
Theological student – leading to ordination in the British Methodist Church
Ecumenical Youth Chaplain in new town – helped develop accommodation
projects with young adults and single mothers
University Chaplain: Aston University and Birmingham Polytechnic. Sheffield
Hallam University, University of the West of England, University of Bedfordshire
Pioneer in developing multifaith university chaplaincy
Co- founder Sheffield Interfaith, Bristol Multi Faith Forum
Chair: Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement, Conference of European University
Chaplains, International Committee of Higher Education Chaplains, Sheffield
Interfaith, Bristol Inter Faith Group, Bristol Multi-Faith Forum, Bedford Council of
Faiths, Bristol City Of Sanctuary Steering Group
A Gospel of Radical Inclusivity
Is love for all of God’s creation
Is intentional in its loving and celebrating of the Creators diversity
Is welcoming to all regardless of race, ethnicity, age, gender, disability, sexual orientation.
creates communities of openness and extravagant grace, where all are included fully.
models and demonstrates the radically inclusive love of Jesus Christ.
recognizes, values, loves and celebrates people on the margin.
demands hospitality.
requires awareness, information and understanding.
“Marginalized people experience hospitality where they have neither to defend nor to deny
their place or their humanness.” Rehoboth Temple, New York
“Hospitality…means primarily the creation of a free space where the stranger can enter
and become a friend instead of an enemy. Hospitality is not to change people, but to
offer them space where change can take place.” Henri Nouwen, ,
The Lecturer’s view
• Lecturer’s view: good to work with someone
who brings the dimension of faith to their
work; expert subject knowledge, contacts with
a variety of faith communities, the physical
space, someone to share to journey and
reflections about, with. Jesus is concerned
with the excluded and dispossessed. A
Chaplain can say things I can’t.
Further student issues
• How are your experiences informing your
values and beliefs and then in turn how does
this inform practice
• Our cultural context of increased
secularization makes it ok to make negative
statements about faith based beliefs which
people wouldn’t dream of in other areas of
diversity e.g. Dawkins – a modern eugenicist
Links to Social Work
Early thinking What is it to be human?
Is faith a source of strength & well-being?
How can SW respond to diversity in a
predominantly secular context?
ADP/AOP issues?
Potential conflicts between personal and
professional values that students were bringing –
can this be resolved?
Initial steps
• A ‘safe space’ was a central goal from the
• What are the characteristics of a safe space?
• Is the classroom safe?
• Student directed in terms of setting an agenda
for the meetings – attempted to be nonhierarchical
Practical issues
• Offered to L1 students
• Meetings occurred three times over the first
term of study
• Each meeting lasted for about an hour
• Jointly led by the Chaplain and the course
• Often difficult to find space both in terms of
time tabling and workload
Developing Safe Spaces
• We have come to define a safe space as ‘being
able to ask questions and share experiences
without fear of being judged’
• Non hierarchical
• Modelling
• Use of Chaplaincy space rather than teaching
• Informal atmosphere which includes providing
drinks and eating lunch together
Links to the literature
• Furman et al 2005 Sampled members of BASW in 2000 regarding
beliefs, views and practice tools. 789 responses included in the
study representing a response rate of nearly 20%
• 41% of the respondents reported that private religious & spiritual
practices played a role in their lives
• Some evidence to show that workers preferred ‘non-sectarian’
spirituality over religion when applying then to practice issues
• 76% reported that they did not receive content on religion or
spirituality in their training
• 57% thought that social workers in general do not possess the skill
to address religious or spiritual issues
• 57% thought that social workers should increase their knowledge of
Links to the literature
• Gilligan & Furness 2005 Survey undertaken in 2003 – 43 responses
returned from 200 invitations to qualified social workers, a further
22 QSW’s responded in 2004, 63 Bradford SW students provided
responses in 2003 and 2004
• Over 70% of the students surveyed thought they should be offered
a specialized course in religion & spirituality as part of their training
• Of the qualified workers 65% agreed that more attention should be
paid to these matters in the new degree
• The authors conclude that ‘many practitioners continue to equate a
‘religion-blind’ and ‘spirituality blind’ approach with what they see
as ‘anti-oppressive practice’. As a result, they frequently risk
imposing culturally incompetent ‘secular’ and ‘rationalist’
interventions on service users, who may have very different actual
needs and wishes.’
Common themes in the literature
• Religion v. Spirituality debate
• Growing secularization but the picture is
mixed when we look beyond Christianity
• Support exists for including religion and/or
spirituality in the SW curriculum
• It is less clear, in the UK context, what this
might look like
• The goals of developing the SW curriculum
link to cultural competence, AOP and ADP.
Activities which students who came to
the group have requested
How does one know how to show respect?
Invite a Muslim, a gay Christian to expand understanding.
Demon possession – Nigeria
How and why do people change faith?
Victoria Climbie case study
Diversity within a single religion
Case studies
What is the difference between spirituality and religion
Interfaith marriage
More information about various religious traditions
What does there remain to do?
• Develop and evaluate the social work curriculum?
• Recognise and help students to recognise that such
development can be counter cultural as has been the case
in other areas of discriminatory practice e.g. Ethnicity
• Recognise that religion is often perceived negatively and
that many people have strong feelings about it
• Recognise that religion as basis for community and
relationship is often ill considered & understood
• Engage with the empirical evidence surrounding health,
well-being and religion
• Understand more fully the contemporary emphasis on
spirituality as distinct from religion
Thinking about the previous question on a more
individual level – what do we want a social worker to
be able to do?
Seek to understand and engage with me?
To show me respect?
To not make assumptions about me?
To help me in my time of difficulty?
To not impose their views on me?
To develop an understanding of the forces of
oppression and the potential that each of us
can play in perpetuating those forces?
Returning to the student examples
given earlier
• Student 1 – came to the group and shared the tension/difficulty she was
experiencing. She found some resolution when the Chaplain asked her
where the authority for her beliefs came from. As she considered this she
came to realise that there are a wide range of beliefs and teachings within
Christianity. In particular she recognised that her understanding of the
need for perfection had been neither helpful nor realistic. She reported
that since this discussion she no longer experienced the conflict.
• Student 2 did not attend the group. Would it have helped if she had? Is
her response an argument for developing this aspect of the curriculum? Is
there a need?

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