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steph-chongBelow is a reflection from Stephanie Chong, social work Masters student on placement with us.

Hi my name is Stephanie and I’m a Masters of Social Work student on my final placement at Meaningful Ageing Australia. I was drawn to this placement because of the gaps in social work education in both ageing and spirituality and thought this would be a great way to fast track my knowledge in both of these areas! A particular area of work I am interested in is grief and bereavement counselling. Addressing a person’s spiritual needs at this time is a necessity in holistic practice. However, there are many caring professions who not explicitly address spirituality and social work falls into this category.

Although spirituality is mentioned 13 times in Australian Social Work Code of Ethics (2010), it has been vague in addressing meaning and how to practice with respect and sensitivity.  While the code states that we must recognise spirituality and religion as integral to the people we are working with, it also states that we are not to impose our own beliefs on our clients and colleagues or allow our values to impact professional conduct. For many non-faith based professions, it is still hard to separate religion from spirituality – so it is avoided all together.

There have been quite a few debates in literature about how compatible spirituality is to social work practice. There are a few key reasons for this. While social work cannot deny their roots in religious and charitable organisations, the shift in social work practice can be traced to philosophers like Karl Marx and the rejection of religion. Marx saw the hierarchal powers religion as the cause of suffering and oppression of the people. It’s from this teaching that social work focuses on the external factors beyond one’s control that cause distress and disruption. This is not to say that we do not look at the individual coping strategies, we call this “strengths-based” counselling and ask quite similar questions to what you would ask in a spiritual assessment and follow with affirming their strengths in adversity.

Another factor is this modern world we live in that values scientific knowledge as the ultimate truth. Social work has adapted by incorporating the language and evidence of history, sociology, law, psychology, economics and social theory into education and practice. Distinction between social work and faith-based organisations was necessary for social work to rise in status as a profession that cares and has legitimised the role of social workers as advocates for human rights and social justice.

Social work intervenes in lives where people are struggling the most. While spirituality has been discarded in the social work profession, the spiritual needs of the people we work with are still there. Social work is also profession that is encourages critical thinking and constant reflection on how we define best practice. Spirituality and social work both deal with the messiness of life and I hope that one day, this can be done hand in hand.

Comments or questions? Contact Stephanie via admin@meaningfulage.org.au