Spirituality and Social Work

“We are not human beings having spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience. (Teilhard de Chardin-French | |Geologist, Priest, Philosopher and Mystic). | |These words that I first read in 1972 while I was writing a term paper on this great philosopher Teilhard de Chardin during my philosophy | |studies at the Institute of Philosophy and Religion in Pune remained in memory and found a new meaning in 1978 while pursuing my studies in| |Social Work at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences in Mumbai. |Introduction: | |All of us are aware that all persons including the care givers, those cared and their families have a spiritual dimension. One cannot give | |what one does not have. Unless one is spiritual it is difficult for him/her to touch the other person spiritually and contribute to his/her| |overall development and empowerment. Only the one who is healed from within can heal others and spirituality helps us to be complete | |persons from within so that we could help others in need.

Victor Frankl has said “The spiritual dimension cannot be ignored, for it is | |what makes us human. ” Actually this spiritual dimension can serve as a missing link in our practice of social work. | |Human beings could be compared to a 4 wheel vehicle. Each wheel represents an aspect of human nature. We have physical, emotional, | |intellectual and spiritual dimensions. When there is an imbalance in anyone of these dimensions, a need for intervention arises.

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While a | |Doctor deals with the physical dimension, a friend or a family with the emotional, a teacher with the intellectual and the religious people| |with the spiritual dimension, Social Work deals with the whole person keeping in mind all the dimensions. | |Definitions of Social Work and Spirituality: | |The Department of Social Work at the Wright State University (US) defines Social work “A professional ctivity of helping individuals, | |groups, or communities enhance or restore their capacity for social functioning and creating societal conditions favorable to this goal. | |Social Work practice consists of the professional application of Social Work values, principles, and techniques to one or more of the | |following ends: helping people obtain tangible services; counseling and psychotherapy with individuals, families, and groups; helping | |communities or groups provide or improve processes. | |The practice of Social Work requires knowledge of human development and behavior; of social, economic, and cultural institutions; and of | |the interactions of all these factors. | |According to the International Association of Schools of Social Work: “The social work profession promotes social change, problem solving| |in human relationships and the empowerment and liberation of people to enhance well-being. Utilizing theories of human behaviour and social| |systems, social work intervenes at the points where people interact with their environments.

Principles of human rights and social justice | |are fundamental to social work. ” | | | |On the other hand while speaking on spirituality Burkhardt M says “Spirituality is that which gives meaning to one’s life and draws one | |to transcend oneself. Spirituality is a broader concept than religion, although that is one expression of spirituality.

Other expressions | |include prayer, meditation, interactions with others or nature, and relationship with God or a higher power. ” (Burkhardt, M. “Spirituality:| |An Analysis of The Concept,” Holistic Nursing Practice, May 1989:60-77). | |Spirituality has the ability to nurture thoughts, emotions, words and actions that are in harmony with a belief that everything in the | |universe is mutually dependent. A modern definition of spirituality says: “Spirituality exists wherever we struggle with the issues of how | |our lives fit into the greater scheme of things.

This is true when our questions never give way to specific answers or give rise to | |specific practices such as prayer or meditation. We encounter spiritual issues every time we wonder where the universe comes from, why we | |are here, or what happens when we die. We also become spiritual when we become moved by values such as beauty, love, or creativity that | |seem to reveal a meaning or power beyond our visible world. An idea or practice is “spiritual” when it reveals our personal desire to | |establish a felt-relationship with the deepest meanings or powers governing life. (Wikipedia). | |Spirituality and Religion: | |Many mistake spirituality with religion. Spirituality is connecting oneself with the divine or a higher supreme power and religion is only | |a means to experience that divine connect. Religion is “an organized, structured set of beliefs and practices shared by a community | |related to spirituality”. On the other hand spirituality is “the search for meaning, purpose and morality fulfilling relations with self, | |other people, the encompassing universe and the ultimate reality, however a person understands it”. |Spirituality as essence is ‘the core nature which provides a sense of personal wholeness and an energy that motivates people to actualize | |their potential for self development and self-transformation’. Spirituality as a dimension refers to the behaviours and experiences | |involved in developing meaning and a relationship with the divine, the transcendent or the ultimate reality. In every one of us it is | |manifested in the inter-connectedness of the self with the universe and the transcendent. | |Both concepts on spirituality refer to wholeness.

The goal of reducing dysfunction is achieved as people activate spirituality as essence | |and become more connected with self, others, the creation and the transcendent. If spirituality is divorced from the wholeness of the | |person social work can miss a critical link in providing holistic service to the people. . | |While the connection between the human spirit and the divine is beyond the physical body or even the organized the religion, most problems | |of hatred and disharmony among many religions of the world are the result of making religion an end rather than just a means.

Like | |spirituality Social work has no boundaries of caste, creed, colour or belief and when Social work and spirituality come together to lift up| |the spirit of the ‘fallen’ person and lead him/her for affirmative action, one can expect people’s action for transformation so as to make| |this world a better place. | |Spirituality and Social Work: | |Both spirituality and social work have had their share of skeptics.

For long Social work was dismissed as a vocation rather than a | |profession. To many, social workers seemed to lack a clear purpose or vision. At best they were seen as well-meaning do-gooders and at | |worst inept meddlers. Though Social work grew out of humanitarian and democratic ideals, and its values are based on respect for the | |equality, worth, and dignity of all people, since its beginnings over a century ago; social work practice has focused on meeting human | |needs and developing human potential. |On the other hand for many the aspect of spirituality got mixed up with religion and therefore did not get its due as one that enriches | |human lives. It was forgotten that while religions had people bound by rules, roles and traditions, the human spirit was basically free and| |to put in the words of St. Augustine it can not rest until it rests in the divine. Basically every human and for that matter every | |creation is a magnificent reflection of that supreme divine power. |Incidentally spirituality is a relative newcomer to the social work scene. In some countries there is a degree of scepticism, even | |hostility towards the mix of both due to fears of bringing religion through the backdoor. Social Work educators and professionals have | |fought hard for its professional academic integrity and under no circumstances it should be lost. | |In 2004 International Federation of Social Workers affirmed that social workers should uphold each person’s ‘spiritual integrity and | |well-being’ (IFSW, 2004).

In their jointly formulated global standards, both IFSW and IFSSW (International Federation of Schools of Social | |Work) insisted that spiritual issues are part of the knowledge base needed by social workers to understand human behaviour and development | |(IASSW & IFSW 2004). | |In any social work upliftment programme the Social Worker has to deal with the person and the family on all the four human dimensions | |namely, physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual. A fall on any of the dimensions needs a healing touch and the Social Worker has to| |deal with the whole person.

Irrespective of the set of beliefs of the person if he or she is lead to connect himself/herself to the divine | |the human spirit triumphs over matter and the transformational process begins. | |Need for Harmony: | |While dealing with the persons on the spiritual plane it is critical to bring them back to the lost imbalance. They need to be in harmony | |with self, others, nature and the higher being. It is a challenging yet a worthwhile task. Social work with its case work and group work | |deals with the whole person and the people around the person. |To be in harmony with oneself the person has to work on self-identity, self worth, self gifts, wholeness and inner peace. With others it is| |critical to relate to the family and the community in a spirit of love, reconciliation and belongings. With the nature the person has to | |realize that humans are not the owners but custodians of this great creation and every effort must be made to conserve and protect nature | |in all its beauty, glory and splendour. To be in harmony with the Divine being one has imbibe qualities of hope, faith love and gratitude | |which also extends to the whole creation. |We the people with our external and internal images can be compared to a typical iceberg. While our physical body is what is seen above the| |water and the psychological behaviour is seen to a certain extent, our spiritual self is deep within like the giant iceberg deep inside the| |ocean. Our roots are deep down there and what is seen on the surface is not the full image of the person. | |In a healthy working person’s world work gets top priority with the cost to company benefits like housing, car and travel. Next in the line| |is health and family and the last could be spirituality.

As age goes up and sickness overtakes the person, the priorities change. While | |health and family are a top priority the spirituality goes up the ladder and right at the bottom is the work and its benefits. | |Now when the same person is on death bed the top-most slot is occupied by spirituality followed by the family. Health is a second last | |priority and the least priority is work. It is interesting to note that of the 30,000 odd days that we live on this earth about 15,000 days| |spent on our childhood and old age and have spirituality as a greater priority.

However it is during the working life of about 15,000 days| |that it takes a back seat for many. | |Ironically it is during this stressful work life that one needs spirituality more than ever to face the various challenges of life. If a | |person is filled with inner strength it is much easier to handle life with its ups and downs. In the absence of an enlightened inner | |self this world is a witness to many sufferings including breakdown of families, psychosomatic diseases, suicides, violence etc. |Universal Brotherhood and Inter-connectedness: | |Social work endevours to deal with the whole person to heal him/her in mind and body. Healing is a rational process involving movement | |towards an experience of integrity and wholeness which may be facilitated by the Social Worker but is largely dependent on the innate | |potential within each person. | |In some sense the divine power without religion could be termed as spirituality and all of us are endowed with that streak of divine power | |within us.

Satya Sai Baba an Indian Guru had said “All of us are divine and it is up to us how much we realize our divinity”. In short | |spirituality is essentially a part of human nature and we need to nurture it well for our wellbeing and development. It is said we have two| |wolves within us. One that represents the physical world with greed, avarice and selfishness at its core and the other that represents the | |spiritual world with kindness, compassion and selfless service. It is up to us which wolf we feed as we go through the journey of life. |While the whole creation is gifted with intelligence of different levels, the humans with the gift of the ‘will’ which is above the | |intellect have the power of choice, experience divinity through spirituality and connect to the supreme being that is divinity itself. In | |this consumerist world, few invest their time to nurture their spirituality which has the potential to yield rich dividends in the long | |run. | |There are over 21 major organized religions in the world. When it comes to the core of every religion, all preach the same thing though the| |individual interpretations may vary.

Love, faith, hope, kindness, compassion, gratitude etc. permeates all religions. These common elements| |or the core could be seen as spirituality. Mahatma Gandhi the father of our nation had believed that God had no religion and if one | |fervently practiced ones beliefs he/she will find God there. It is said- the paths to the mountain top are many but the view from the top | |is same. | |He also believed in universal brotherhood of all creation. He had maintained that the Universal Brotherhood means not only the brotherhood | |of all human beings, but also of all living beings.

We cannot hold as ours, anything that belongs to God and all those who believe in this | |principle have to live a life of perfect dedication and of continual service of our fellow creatures. | |Spiritually rooted value based Social Work: | |Social work finds its roots in this spirit of service and it is important for Social workers to lead a value based life. It is only when | |they lead a value based life that they can lead others into it for a meaningful life of contentment and empowerment.

The values and ethics | |that a person holds can have deeper roots in spirituality and they can help the social worker to provide a self-less service to the | |needy. The values and ethics provide the much needed framework for a life of service. | |As members of Social Work profession, the social workers have a special responsibility to gain and maintain the trust that their clients | |have placed and also have an additional responsibility to place the interest of the client before oneself at all times.

While the values | |and the world views that the Social worker holds will provide a firm base for a life of service, they should not cloud the judgment or | |outlook when it comes to the welfare or empowerment of the clients whom they serve. Over here ethics and spirituality plays an important | |role and putting others before self will always be a challenge for a social worker. | |Social work without spirituality can be compared to a body without a soul. For a meaningful existence both have to play their complimentary| |roles.

While spirituality provides the base, the practice of social work stems from this base to serve and empower people. By identifying | |and developing strengths of the people, the Social workers should focus on the strengths of all individuals, groups and communities and | |thus promote their empowerment. This self-less and professional outlook comes with ease when one has a spiritual base. | |Swami Vivekananda has said “You have to grow from the inside out. None can teach you, none can make you spiritual. There is no other | |teacher but your own soul”.

Hence we need to look into our inner selves and grow spiritually so that our words, thoughts and actions | |reflect our inner spiritual values and ethics. | |Dilemmas and conflict resolution are common to any profession and social work is no exception to it. In such situations the firm | |spiritual base helps the social work professional to approach the problem more objectively and rise to the occasion with greater | |professionalism due to the strong ethical values and the inner power that draws its strength from the supreme power. |Like in any profession, corruption and scams and are not uncommon in social work. For some it is a business proposition and for some it is | |nothing but a means to their selfish ends. If only all those who come into the field of social work by default or by design had strong | |spiritual and ethical values the dark side of social work would have been brighter and with many more role models in the field social work,| |it could have attracted increasing number of people into its fold to make a difference in people’s lives. |Nevertheless we do have many role models in Social work whose life is based on spirituality and moral values. We have Vinoba Bhaves, | |Mother Teresas, Baba Amtes and many more living legends. The unsung heroes of our times come from all walks of life. They have dedicated | |their lives to the needy and have spent their lives like a candle by burning themselves to give light to others. These are the people who | |have chosen to reach out despite many odds.

They have been able to do so since their motivation is powered by spiritual and moral values. | |Even amongst this audience there could some such unsung heroes who can make the Social Work profession proud. | |The Action Plan: | |Spirituality which plays a critical role in a meaningful and fruitful life needs to be cultivated and nurtured in the formative years of a | |person.

Since spirituality can serve as the soul of social work, there is a need to include it as a subject in the social work curriculum | |with an in-depth study of spirituality, ethics and social work and their inter-relatedness. | |Also during the admission process for the degree in Social Work while a lot of emphasis is given on IQ and EQ the Social Work educators | |need to look into the aspect of SQ as well. This spiritual quotient can be a self-motivator and can filter out the non-serious students who| |may get into the profession as a matter of last and not the first choice. |Our Social Work Institutions have to become crucibles of value based spiritually strong staff and students who burn with a desire to reach | |out and serve. The faculty will have to take the first step in being role models. The famous Henry Louis Mencken who was an American | |journalist, essayist, magazine editor, satirist, critic of American life and culture, and a scholar of American English had said, “The | |best teacher is not the one who knows most but the one who is most capable of reducing knowledge to that simple compound of the obvious and| |wonderful. A teacher of Social Work should impart knowledge in a manner that appeals to the young ignited minds and he/she should do so by| |inspiring them to reach their cherished goal and by awakening the spiritual dimension of their personality. Most of all each and every | |one of the social work educators and practitioners should strive to be value based spiritual persons and role models who like the | |proverbial river can provide life all those who come to its banks. |

Conclusion: | |While landing on the moon the late Neil Armstrong had said “That’s one small step for a man, a giant leap for mankind”. So far spirituality| |has taken only baby steps in Social work and it needs to take that giant leap so as to enrich the field of Social work. A spiritually | |enlightened generation which is willing to lead a value based life of kindness and compassion with a spirit of service can in every sense | |make his planet a better place for them as well as for the generations to come. | |We need spiritually rooted dedicated leaders in the field of social work –be it be in social work education or in its practice. Dr. Deepak | |Chopra the well-known motivational speaker has said “Enlightened leadership is spiritual if we understand spirituality not as some kind of | |religious dogma or ideology but as the domain of awareness where we experience values like truth, goodness, beauty, love and compassion and| |also intuition, creativity, insight and focused attention. The mentoring of leadership has to begin in our classrooms and should be | |nurtured by the dedicated educators. | |The need of the hour is to begin the journey of inner transformation within each one of us who are in the field of social work and all | |those who would be there in the years to come. In the New Testament Jesus says” For behold the kingdom of God is within you” (Luke17:21). |The spiritual path is simply the journey of living our lives as we ought to live and it is important for all of us to realize this fact. | |The day we realize that we have a purpose in life and we are here to serve and not to be served, our outlook towards life, our relationship| |with our inner self and fellow human beings will change for the better. This conviction will reflect itself in our personal as well as | |professional life and will enrich the field of social work in the years to come. |To conclude I would like to quote our own Lord Gautama Buddha who had said “Just as a candle cannot burn without fire, men cannot live | |without a spiritual life. ” Let us burn brightly and dispel the darkness of poverty, hunger, illiteracy, oppression, discrimination, abuse, | |neglect, hatred, jealousy, selfishness and make this world a better place than what we found it at our birth. | | | | |