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Faith and Social Work Practice: A Dual Relationship

Holly O.

Driving in to work this morning, I heard the song, “I Refuse” by Josh Wilson come on and thought it was the perfect answer to NACSW’s question: “How does your faith interact with your social work?” Here’s the video:

These powerful lyrics always seem to be the perfect reminder for me regarding why I went into this field in the first place. The Persian poet, Rumi, perfectly describes this calling in his famous quote: “Everyone has been made for some particular work, and the desire for that work has been put in every heart.” This desire to engage in the particular work I do, to serve and advocate for others, has been so strong for me that I truly find it to be more sustaining than draining. Being in that “sweet spot” that Max Lucado talks about in Cure for the Common Life is precisely where I’ve found myself by allowing my faith to be a guiding light in learning what I was designed to do.

However, I’ve also found that faith has a whole other role in my social work practice.

While I’m passionate about following and connecting with what Josh Wilson sings about, I have found over the years that a delicate balance must be maintained between giving every last bit of myself to others, and remembering to practice self-care so that I may have the resources to continue to give.

Recently, I was asked to return to Sandra Lopez, LCSW, ACSW, DCSW’s Professional Self-Care class at the University of Houston to discuss Spirituality and Professional Self-Care. While I typically try to keep the lecture objective and focus on the research around spirituality, religion, and health, I was asked to step outside of my comfort zone and talk about how I integrate spirituality into my practice. The discussion that followed made me realize even more that while my faith interacts with my practice by fueling my drive to passionately do what I love and to be attentive and respectful towards clients’ unique religious/spiritual beliefs, I’ve found that my faith is also what helps me hit the brakes when I take on a little too much.

Depending on the situation and what’s going on in my life or practice, my faith keeps me engaged in a toolbox of spiritual practices which helps to center my focus, keep me grounded, remind me of the “big picture,” and offer the permission for me to take a deep breath and remember that “He is God and I am not.” Whether I’m meditating, praying, practicing gratitude, reading, painting, or just meeting with a spiritual mentor, it all is tied to my faith and practice and has a huge impact on my personal and professional self-care plan.

However you find that your faith interacts with your practice, I strongly encourage you to take the time (that I know is limited for all of us!) to reflect on its role in your personal and professional life, and to integrate it into your life in the way that was uniquely designed for you!

Holly has her MSW and is a current PhD student at the University of Houston’s Graduate College of Social Work and has been a member of NACSW since beginning her MSW program in 2009.

16 thoughts on “Faith and Social Work Practice: A Dual Relationship

  1. Thanks so much for your post, Holly. Your addressing the role our faith can play in support of our own "self-care" reminds me of several other NACSW members who have been speaking/writing on this topic recently as well:

    1. Lanny Endicott (Oral Roberts University) recently presented an audio conference for NACSW in November on “A Christian Perspective on Self Care for the Social Worker” (email me at rick@nacsw.org if you would like to receive a PowerPoint of this session)

    2. Karalee Rosburg and Rene Drumm presented on “Caring for Self to Care for Others" at a recent NACSW-Eastern TN chapter meeting (email me if you would like the email address of the lead presenter)

    3. David Pooler wrote an article in the winter, 2011 issue of Social Work and Christianity entitled, "Professional Flourishing: Re-visioning Professional Self-Care Using the Imago Dei" (you can download a copy of this article by going to: http://www.nacsw.org/Publications/SWC38_4Pooler.p

    Clearly this is a topic on a lot of hearts and minds – thanks for furthering the conversation, Holly!

  2. Holly, thanks for this post. I second Rick's suggestions for additional resources on self-care. David Pooler is also serving as guest editor for a special issue of Social Work & Christianity that we are developing on workplace health. It will have further resources.

  3. Thank you all for your kind words! I sincerely appreciate it and the additional resources on self-care. I agree, Rick, that it's definitely on a lot of hearts and minds and am still overwhelmed by the attendance to the session on "Spirituality and Professional Self-Care" at the 2011 NACSW Convention!

    Thank you for the info on the upcoming issue on Social Work & Christianity, David! Looking forward to learning more!

  4. "This desire to engage in the particular work I do, to serve and advocate for others, has been so strong for me that I truly find it to be more sustaining than draining." That statement is so beautifully put and being in that place of having our work sustain rather than drain is where I desire to be. Thank you for your reminding me of the importance of self-care!

    1. Thank you for your kind words, Christina!! I'm glad they served to be a little reminder for you to practice self-care!

  5. Holly,
    I really loved the song. I am going to have my kids listen to it tonight. What a great message for all who seek to do what God has called them to do!

  6. Thanks for your post, Holly. I read this and reflected on the multiple competing- but equally important- obligations and responsibilities I have in my personal and professional lives. Finding balance in all these areas so I can reflect the fruit of the spirit in a gracious way is often challenging, frequently ineffective, and usually a reminder of my infallibility and need to rely on the One who is the Author of LIfe. Dual relationships indeed!

    1. Thank you for your comment, Carrie! Yes, it can be challenging to find that balance, but well worth the effort. Good luck to you!

  7. Holly,

    Being of a certain generation, the music and lyrics of Josh Wilson's song were new to me. But, what a gift! It is inspiring to hear his passion and commitment when there is so much to do. It is so tempting to build "islands of contentment in a sea of despair" (can't remember whom I'm quoting). We have to care. Our actions will give meaning to our prayers and help them not be empty, as Josh puts it so well.

    Blessings on all who seek to care.

    1. Thank you, Denis! I agree – we do have to care and I'm so happy to hear you enjoyed the song. I find it to be energizing and a great reminder of how important our positive actions can be in serving others in our own, unique way 🙂

  8. Thank you for posting such a great article on the importance of self care when serving others. As a new social worker, it is sometimes difficult to walk away at the end of the day when there are so many still who need so much. I often say just another 20 minutes to look up and find 45 have passed. Yet God never gives us more than we can handle and I guess part of it is learning to prioritize and not try to do it all. That is very hard though when you dont know what tomorrow will bring. Thanks again for the reminder to seek the "delicate balance".

    1. Hi Bonnie! I completely understand that struggle with time and have often caught myself doing the "just 20 more mins…" = 45 min. I had to intentionally begin remembering the oxygen mask idea – that we can't help others if we're not able to help ourselves. Best of luck in your journey and finding that "delicate balance!" 🙂

  9. Holly,
    Thank you for the wonderful article. I too am a graduate of GSSW at U of H. It is wonderful to see other professionals who speak openly of their faith there.

  10. Hi! I really resonated with the comment that doing social work has hit your "sweet spot". I get so much energy from being a social worker/therapist and find it continually causes me to reflect on what my faith means, especially as I encounter the trauma and hardship of those that I assist. I find also that prayer has become more and more a staple of my life at work as I have worked as a therapist after getting my MSW>

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