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Building Spiritual Competence

Dr. Michael Garbe, DSW, LCSW, discusses validating our own and our clients' spiritual beliefs, in order to bridge the gap between the helping professions and our clients' spiritual needs.

Why are clinicians avoiding the topic of spirituality in treatment?

1) Both the practitioner and the client are willing to talk about religion and spirituality but neither addresses it because they feel it is taboo.

2) Social work students are not being trained adequately to integrate religion and spirituality into treatment.

3) LCSWs don't know how to talk about their clients' beliefs, or fear that they might be seen as proselytizing.

"We always have to be mindful and aware of what our beliefs are, but we need to bracket them and focus on where the client is and what their beliefs are. This isn't about me. This isn't about my beliefs. This isn't about my religion. This is about the client and where they're coming from, their journey and how I can best identify areas of strength they can tap into and help them cope with the presenting issue, or areas of struggle that are tied to their belief system." 
- Holly Oxhandler, PhD

For Clinicians: 

SEE Spirituality - Michael Garbe, DSW, LCSW

Self assessment of one's own spiritual beliefs.

Explore with clients their spiritual beliefs.

Educate yourself on (client's) spirituality.

Self Assessment:

  1. Do I have any spiritual beliefs, and how do they inform my practice?

  2. If I do not have any spiritual beliefs, how does this inform my practice?

  3. If I have spiritual beliefs, have I ever imposed these beliefs onto my clients?

  4. If I do not have spiritual beliefs, has this ever implicitly or explicitly resulted in me denying my clients use of their own spirituality as a resource?

  5. Do I have the ability to bracket (put aside) my belief system, in order to honor the belief system of my client?

  6. What obstacles are stopping me from bracketing my beliefs, not allowing my client's spirituality in the room?

  • Fear of spirituality?

  • Lack of training in spirituality?

  • Lack of supervision or support in regard to spirituality?

  • Fear of proselytizing?

Explore with clients their spiritual beliefs:

  1. Do I conduct a bio-psycho-social-spiritual assessment?

  2. Being culturally competent, am I asking questions about spiritual and religious practices, that are often a part of many diverse cultural backgrounds?

  3. As a clinician, am I acknowledging my privilege, authority, and positionality in the room, in order to give implicit and explicit permission for my client to educate me regarding their spiritual and/or religious beliefs?

  4. Am I exploring with my clients how their spirituality can be used as a resource towards accomplishing treatment goals.

  5. Am I open to learning more about spirituality, and myself, through this type of engagement with my client?

Educate yourself on (client) spirituality:

  1. Am I aware that a large percentage of people have had spiritual experiences or incorporate spirituality in their lives?

  2. Am I aware of some of the spiritual beliefs within multi-cultural communities?

  3. Have I heard of the terms spiritual emergence, or spiritual emergency?

  4. I am aware that seeing or hearing things, that other people do not "normally" see or hear, does not necessarily imply pathology and that these phenomena are perceived as normal in many cultures?

  5. Am I aware of some of the phenomenological categories of spiritual emergence(y)?

  6. Do I have resources: where I can learn more about spirituality, receive trainings, be provided with supervision, and be connected to a community of like minded professionals?

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