Study: Why social workers aren’t discussing religion and spirituality with clients

Don’t expect your social worker to ask you about your religious beliefs.

New research by a Baylor University professor shows that licensed clinical social workers (LCSWs), who account for the largest number of clinically trained helping professionals, believe that discussions about their clients’ religion and spirituality can often lead to improved health and mental health, but practitioners are not integrating these conversations into their counseling sessions.

“It’s that big elephant in the room,” said Holly Oxhandler, Ph.D., assistant professor in Baylor’s Diana R. Garland School of Social Work. “If we ignore it, we’re ignoring a huge component of their lives that may be tied to the clinical issue.”

Oxhandler worked with a team of researchers from the University of Houston. They surveyed 442 LCSWs across the United States for the study – “The Integration of Clients’ Religion and Spirituality in Social Work Practice” – which is published in the latest edition of the journalSocial Work.

The survey revealed that the vast majority of LCSWs, with more than 80 percent responding favorably on most of the survey items, have positive attitudes regarding the integration of their clients’ religion and spirituality into their discussions; are confident in their abilities to assess and discuss their clients’ beliefs; and find it feasible to do so. But they’re not doing it.

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