We live in a world where research is at the tip of our fingers always. One new area of research that is becoming more popular is the study of how spirituality and our social work practice intertwine and how they impact each other. Our practice experiences can influence how we see the world around us, and our spirituality can influence how we practice with our clients. Taking it one step further, there have been studies about the differences in spirituality between women and men, especially practitioners and clients in health care settings. Also, there has been increased research in how the topic of spirituality needs to be addressed in different ways between women and men, as women tend to be more spiritual than men per the research.
First, let me clarify what spirituality is. Many people confuse spirituality and religion, which are two terms that may be perceived as related or distinct. Per Oxhandler and Parrish, religion is a physical system of beliefs and practices, while spirituality is one’s own personal journey towards understanding the answers to life’s most pressing questions (2017). In other words, religion is more of a social construct, in terms of the actual institution of one’s faith, and spirituality refers to your personal relationship with the Divine. So, religion refers to the outside while spirituality refers to the inside.
In 2016, Yadav, Khanna, and Singh evaluated the intersection between stress and spirituality in male and female college students. They found that a lower level of stress in female students was directly related to a higher level of being open about their spiritualty, meaning that the female students surveyed were more willing to talk about their personal relationship with the Divine compared to men to relieve their stress. In a study measuring the difference of importance of religiosity and spirituality between men and women in European countries, they found that women tend to be more involved in and interested in the concept of spirituality (Robinson et al., 2019). Women tend to be more open to yoga practices that highlight meditations on spirituality, be open about their relationship with God, attend church regularly, as well as practice spirituality in their everyday lives (Robinson et al., 2019). Finally, L. Scott Kimball and Carmen Knudson-Martin (2002) discussed what they like to call “The Cultural Trinity”, which includes the intersection of spirituality, religion, and gender. They talk about the importance of seeing the spirituality in yourself, especially since we cannot leave who we are outside those doors. They discuss their experiences in integrating the cultural trinity, and how they have seen such a drastic change in how their clients are healed. Per these two authors, spirituality and religion has been a source of healing for these clients, especially their female clients, as women tend to be more willing to integrate their faith and talk about their faith. They have also seen such a positive correlation between talking about it in sessions and the outcomes of the working relationship.
So, why does this matter? Why is spirituality something to consider, say, when you are faced with a new client who identifies as female, who lost her mother, and who is battling depression, anxiety, and grief from the loss? What if on her intake, she mentioned a belief in God, and how that has gotten her through her most horrible days? Noting that spirituality impacts us, how we see the world, and how we see other people, talking about spirituality with our clients opens doors for deeper and richer conversations, and it can help us get a more complete picture of who our clients are. Plus, we are ethically charged as social workers to consider the impact of religion and spirituality on our clients, since this is regarded as a huge part of how one sees the world. There is also grounded research now that including religion and spirituality as a part of treatment can improve treatment outcomes. Kim, Chen, and Brachfield (2019) conducted an interview study of clients at a Christian counseling center to see how the impact of religion and spirituality can harm or improve client outcomes. They found that all the clients interviewed said that integrating religion and spirituality changed their trajectory in each of their healing processes. They felt safe in the therapy room and felt free to talk about how their religion and spirituality is either helping or hindering them. They felt that they were truly able to embrace the full process and getting to the root of the problems they were facing, because they could see themselves in a wholistic way. Including religion and spirituality in the therapy process can do wonders for the client, and can build the rapport between client and helping professional that much more.
Kim, E. E., Chen, E. C., & Brachfeld, C. (2019). Patients’ experience of spirituality and change
in individual psychotherapy at a Christian counseling clinic: A grounded theory
analysis. Spirituality in Clinical Practice, 6(2), 110–123. https://doi-org.ezproxy.baylor.edu/10.1037/scp0000176
Kimball, L. S., & Knudson-Martin, C. (2002). A cultural trinity: Spirituality, religion and gender
in clinical practice. Journal of Family Psychotherapy, 13(1–2), 145–166. https://doi-org.ezproxy.baylor.edu/10.1300/J085v13n01_08
Oxhandler, H. K., & Parrish, D. E. (2018). Integrating clients’ religion/spirituality in clinical
practice: A comparison among social workers, psychologists, counselors, marriage and
family therapists, and nurses. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 74(4), 680–694.
Robinson, O. C., Hanson, K., Hayward, G., & Lorimer, D. (2019). Age and cultural gender
equality as moderators of the gender difference in the importance of religion and
spirituality: Comparing the United Kingdom, France, and Germany. Journal for the
Scientific Study of Religion, 58(1), 301–308. https://doi-org.ezproxy.baylor.edu/10.1111/jssr.12567
Yadav, R., Khanna, A., & Singh, D. (2017). Exploration of relationship between stress and
spirituality characteristics of male and female engineering students: A comprehensive
study. Journal of Religion and Health, 56(2), 388–399. https://doi-org.ezproxy.baylor.edu/10.1007/s10943-015-0174-7