Social Work & Spirituality Encounters with students in a safe space Rev Cassandra Howes & Nicolette Wade Structure • • • • 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 equivalent? Links to Social Work Early thinking What is it to be human? Is faith a source of strength & well-being? Personal. 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 outset • 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 leader • 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 space • 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 spirituality 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 Meditation 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?