- Social Welfare Policy & Contemporary Issues
- SOCW 419/420 Reflective Experiencing: An Ignatian Model for Writing Reflection Journals
- Teaching to the Mission: Spiritually-Based Professional Development of Self in Field Education - An Ignatian Approach (SOCW 420: Senior Field Seminar)
- Taking the Next Step to Social Action: Gender Identity Disorder and the Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders
Jaylene Krieg Schaefer, PhD, LISW
Mentor: Linda Schoenstedt
SOCW316 - Social Welfare Policy & Contemporary Issues
This course is designed to provide students with an understanding of American social welfare policy analysis. This course will review historical, current, and emerging social problems and critique policies created or proposed to respond to these problems. Students will learn how to understand and critically analyze social policy, while taking into account the basic principles of economic and social justice. Specific focus will be given to the impact of the formation and implementation of social welfare policies on the poor, people of color, women and other at-risk populations.
By the end of the course the student should be able to:
• Understand the historical background and competing societal values which underlie current social welfare policies and programs.
• Understand the role of ideology, values, and ethics in policy formation and implementation with special attention to the ways that such policies affect the poor, people of color, and other oppressed populations.
• Acquire knowledge and skills that enhance the ability to understand the ways in which policy interacts with micro, mezzo, and macro environments to promote or hinder the principles of economic and social justice.
• Demonstrate knowledge and skill by utilizing a model of policy analysis to research and critique a social welfare policy.
• Demonstrate an understanding of the connections between generalist social work practice and social welfare policy.
• Engage in policy advocacy.
Ignatian Mentoring Project: Applying Ignatian spiritual exercises to the course
“Gospel exhortations to feed the hungry and clothe the naked are not hard sells” (Eifler & Landy, 2014, p.xii), especially at a Jesuit University. Students may be encouraged to volunteer their time and monies to charities and may have chosen to attend a Jesuit University because such an education seems a good fit with their existing values or their interest in helping others. Teaching a course on social welfare may seem like a sensible way to tap into this desire but social work practice, although involved in helping, is neither volunteering nor charity work. In addition, the discipline has (appropriately so) a non-theological approach.
Ignatius provided the Church the Spiritual Exercises which he believed could help individuals “discern God’s call in their lives” (O’Brien, 2015, p.2). One exercise involves imagining oneself looking down on the world and seeing all the bad things that are happening as a result of people turning away from goodness. I imagine children crying themselves to sleep without the comfort of a parent who is more focused on their own addiction, a man sleeping outdoors in the park during a snowstorm because he is homeless, or a teenager sentenced to life in prison. These are some of the images shared with students in this course as palpable examples of how social welfare problems impact individuals.
This social welfare policy course includes learning about social welfare problems, discovering social welfare policies that respond to that problem, and discovering how policies are actually enacted because policy implementation is often so different from how we typically think such things work. We follow this by wondering if that is right, just, or the best we can do in the U.S. Then, students are challenged to imagine better. I have begun philosophically to frame this course as ‘Inspiring Empathy and Outrage’. Concretely, the students are challenged to discern what they can do.
Contemplating social welfare policy action can feel highly overwhelming. Social welfare problems are not amenable to simple solutions and students (as well as their instructor) may feel paralyzed in the face of such huge, complicated issues. Yet, the next step in the exercise provided by Ignatius is to sustain hope by discerning what we are called to do to heal the world.
In this course, I have begun to support the students to consider what they are called to do both ‘big and small’. ‘Small’ does not apply to the size of the action but rather the number of people impacted. ‘Small’ refers to working with individuals. By learning about social welfare problems and how both the problems and policies impact individuals, I hope to inspire empathy in the students for their future clients. Hopefully, this results in improved, genuine, empathic practice for social work students who are reminded that clients don’t care what you know until they know you care.
Acting ‘big’ involves impacting a larger number of people or addressing social change on a larger scale. Since this may seem intimidating, this action is structured using Kush’s book, The One Hour Activist. Included in this short reading are the ‘dos and don’ts’ of policy advocacy with elected officials.
The assignment directions state that the purpose of this assignment is to demystify legislative advocacy. Each student is to type a letter to their lawmaker at any level (local, state, or federal) using the suggestions from Kush’s book The One-Hour Activist. Students are expected to actually mail the letter to the lawmaker. Bonus points are awarded for students who receive and share with the class an individualized response from their lawmaker.
The framework of discerning policy action both big and small hopefully makes the course and topic of social welfare policy seem relevant to all students, not just the rather small minority who are interested in policy advocacy. A visual representation of this framework is included.
Eifler, K. E. & Landy, T. M. (2014). Becoming beholders. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press.
Kush, C. (2004). The one hour activist. Somerset, NJ: Wiley.
O’Brien, K. (2015). The Spiritual Exercises as a foundation for Jesuit education. Conversations 47. 2-4.Back to top
An Ignatian Model for Writing Reflection Journals
Field Education is often referred to as the capstone experience. It is where the classroom and real life come together for the student. A critical part of field education is reflecting on your experiences an d integrating them with what you have learned in the classroom. One of the educational outcomes for field education, as articulated by CSWE, is a development of the professional self. Having opportunities to think critically about your experiences and share your insights is an important part of developing that professional self. Cohrane and Hanley (1999) discuss the importance of reviewing your work, and emphasize the need for self-reflection and critical analysis of the work you are doing. They state,
You are responsible, in many ways, for the depth and breathe of your learning by how honestly and openly you evaluate your work. This is not only the hardest part of being a student, but the most important part of being a professional? (p. 65).
They emphasize the need to engage in journal writing and encourage students to find a quite comfortable space to explore the journal assignment and thus learn how to process the work that is being done.
Canada and Furman (1999) emphasize being reflective as a critical part of both personal and professional growth. They state that, "Personal engagement in learning is a transformative experience that requires reflectivity, the practice of introspective self-reflection about how one's inner life reflects on the outer world" (p. xxi). They relate reflection specifically to what they call, "reflective reading" and state that the prerequisite is, "...silence-that is, quieting in order to know oneself, the inner stirrings of the heart, and the discerning wisdom of the intellect (p. xxi). They go on to explain that reflective silence requires, "a willingness to become introspective", to "get centered," and to pay, "gentle consistent attention to oneself and one's situation" (p. xxi).
The idea of reflective reading is a useful concept that can be applied to the reflection process for field education and one that I rename as "reflective experiencing" by placing the emphasis on ones experiences. Canda and Furman (1999) discuss the importance of building this skill by being regular, consistent and disciplined. Thus, I encourage you to set a time for reflection and keep to that, by building it into your day or week. When you write about a field experience, it is important to go beyond the restating of events. Although setting the stage is helpful, the reflection journal should be more than a blow by blow or a laundry list of activities, it should reflect the thinking, feeling and doing aspects of the experience. Ruth Barton (2006) discusses the concept of "a rule of life" and describes it as an important part of the Christian tradition that supports a process of spiritual transformation "day in and day out".
"A rule of life seeks to respond to two questions: Who do I want to be? How do I want to live? Actually, it might be more accurate to say that a rule of life seeks to address the interplay between these two questions: How do I want to live so I can be who I want to be? (pg. 147)"
The idea of a "rule of life" supports the development of the skill of reflection. Meaning, reflection is not something that comes easy to all students. Thus, by approaching reflection as something that is important and needs to be incorporated into your day to day life will help you develop your skill at reflection.
A "rule of life" is decidedly Ignatian in its philosophy and applicable in your process of professional development. Ignatian pedagogy refers to a model of education that looks at the whole student and is concerned with developing "men and women of competence, conscious, and compassion" (Traub, pg. 12). This is accomplished through faculty considering several key areas. First, it is important for faculty to consider the context of student's lives and encourage students to reflect on past experiences. Through a process of learning the skills of reflection, students are challenged to consider their actions. Although, the goal of a "rule of life" as applied to field education is not spiritual transformation, the idea of what is it that you need to do daily, weekly, and monthly to support your personal and professional growth is an important one to reflect on. Consider how you want to start and end each day of field, when and where you will build in quiet time for reflection and how reflection will contribute to your development as a social worker. It is my hope that reflection becomes a skill and practice that you will build in your professional life beyond field and that will sustain you throughout your professional life.
One of the values of Jesuit education is discernment. Discernment refers to, "a process for making choices when the option is not between good and evil, but between several possible courses of action all of which are potentially good" (Mooney, p. 6). An important aspect of discernment is that it is a process. The discernment process includes thinking, feeling and listening with an open heart. This is accomplished by reflecting on present and past experiences and noticing your reactions to people, events and ideas. All of this is used to help mitigate between two worlds, one, your outside experiences and the other, your inner dialogue. Traub (2002) states that,
For Ignatius the process involves prayer, reflection, and consultation with others- all with the honest attention not only to the rational (reasons pro and con) but also to the realm of one's feelings, emotions, and desires what Ignatius called "movements" of the soul (p. 2).
Thus, discernment becomes a way of knowing oneself and the world which is another important value of Jesuit education.
The ability to engage in ethical decision making and resolve ethical dilemmas, grounded in discernment, is a critically important skill in a professional social worker. However, ethical decision making is not always innate and often complicated by ones development. For traditional aged student, during late adolescence, students are often coming to grips with who they are and how they see themselves engaging in the world. Thus, how they see themselves as a professional social worker is impacted by development. Even nontraditional students engage in a process of self-reflection and also question who they are becoming as a professional. Thus, it is necessary to develop the skill of discernment through a process of listening; reflecting, through attending to thoughts and feelings; and finally acting. It is critical to be able to take in information, sit with it, integrate it with what you already know or have experienced, and finally, make some determination about that information. It is as equally important to be truly open and listen to the experiences you are having. One of the tools that can help develop your skill in reflection is writing reflection journals, thus, each week you will have the opportunity to sit down in a quite place and think, feel, ask questions, make determinations and take action about the experiences you have had and write about them. This is such an important part of the educational process that students will be able to count ½ hour of field a week toward this endeavor.
In order to develop the skill of reflection which leads to discernment for ethical practice, you are asked to engage in reflective experiencing. This term was adapted from Canda and Furman's (1999) idea of "reflective reading" (p. xxi). In order to accomplish this, you will engage in a four step process (LEDS) which consists of,
1) Listen- through the skills of observation and focus during your days in field, select an experience(s) that is/are speaking to you, and demanding your attention. This step is closely aligned with the Jesuit value of "knowing the world". In professional development this is important because one of the measures of a true professional is the ability to fully understand the whole client system. Similarly, Ecological System theory suggests that the self is the result of the interaction between the individual and the environment, thus it is important to be as aware as possible of both the individual and the environment. This also relates to the value of listening and having a dialogue for the sake of understanding and not attending to things with an agenda. However, at some point in the helping process the professional social worker must have an agenda, a goal and a plan; however, in the initial engagement phase listening is very helpful.
You might pay attention to:
- the specific experiences or tasks of that week
various successes, concerns and challenges
that which stood out to you
- that which has stuck with you during the day or over the week , and
- feelings, thoughts, and ideas.
2) Explore- through critical thinking, process the experience, consider the context, what stands out, why this is important to explore, what you think and feel about this, and what in your life and social work education relates to this event. The skill of critical thinking is at the heart of Jesuit education as much as it is an outcome for Social Work education. Thus, some of the questions that you might ask as you are thinking critically about your experience might first be related to you, such as:
- how/why this is important to you
- what your reaction was at the time
- what you think about it now as you look back
- how it relates to you (For example, does this relate to your areas of interest, life experience, strengths, limitations, feedback you have been given before?)
3) Document- write about the experience, and the process of reflection, in your journal entry, by writing down the exploration you will learn from and be able to act upon the field experiences; and, lastly,
4) Share- it is important for you to share your reflection and what you discern from the reflection for both ethical practice and an increased understanding of your overall development as a social worker.
This 4 step process, grounded in Ignatian pedagogy and the values of Jesuit education, emphasizes reflection and the context of your life, encourages you to go beyond a blow by blow account of the day to day experiences in field and delve more deeply into your experiences, and lastly discern the meaning of your reflection in the context of ethical practice and professional development. The primary purpose of the 4 steps is to facilitate deeper reflection journals, and better develop the skill of reflection. This is critical to both your success in field and will become an important step in the process of your overall professional development. As Kiser (2008) states,
...while experiential education can be a powerful pedagogical approach, students need to learn how to learn most effectively from experience...Experience is a powerful teacher that proves to be more effective when combined carefully with critical thinking, self-evaluation, and reflection (pgs. xiv-xv).
General Reflection Journal Writing Guidelines:
1. Find a quiet place and get comfortable.
2. Compose your journal.
3. Although the length is not as important as the time and content, a general guideline is as follows a minimum of 2-3 typed pages (Times New Roman font, standard margins, 1 ½ spaced, 12 pt font).
4. The reflection journal is for you, it is a place to process, ask questions, and explore your thoughts and feelings about the specific content areas, the placement/field process, field experiences, and general questions concerning field.
5. Additional areas that a student could write about would be:
- diversity issues,
- legal or ethical concerns
- organizational or systemic concerns
- your role
- process and content of supervision, and
- overall learning.
6. Read the Field Director's comments. One of the purposes of the feedback is to improve your journal writing skills so that you will get the most from the readings, discussions and experience and be well prepared for seminar.
7. For your mid-term and final reflection journal, review your past journals and reflect on any themes and discuss your overall learning.
Barton, R. (2006). Sacred Rhythms Arranging Our Lives for Spiritual Transformation. Ill: Intervarsity Press.
Canda, E. R., & Furman, L. D. (1999). Spiritual diversity in social work practice: The heart of helping. New York: The Free Press.
Cochrane, S. F., & Hanley, M. M. (1999). Learning through field: A developmental approach. Needham Heights, MA: Allyn and Bacon.
Conn, J. W. (1996). Women's spirituality: Resources for Christian development (Second ed.). Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press.
Mooney, D. K. (2004). Do you walk ignatian? A complication of jesuit values expressed in the work day (2nd ed.). Cincinnati, OH: Xavier University.
Kiser, P. (2008). The Human Services Internship. Californian:Thomson Brooks/Cole
Traub, G. W. (2002). Do you speak ignation? A glossary of terms used in ignation and jesuit circles. Cincinnati, OH: Xavier University.
Teaching to the Mission: Spiritually-Based Professional Development of Self in Field Education - An Ignatian Approach (SOCW 420: Senior Field Seminar)
Shelagh Larkin, MSW/LISW
Mentor: Trudelle Thomas, Ph.D. (English)
The purpose of the Ignatian Mentoring Program, a faculty mentoring program offered through Ignatian Programs at Xavier University, is to provide faculty an opportunity to explore the values of Jesuit education and pedagogy in the context of a mentoring relationship with the goal of integrating mission and identity into their teaching and or scholarship. My participation in the program has provided a wonderful foundation from which to explore the integration of the University's mission and identity into the professional development of self capstone paper in SOCW 420 Senior Seminar course which is the integrative seminar that runs concurrent with field instruction. How I arrived at this program and the process of the experience itself are as important as the outcome, thus I will provide some background with regard to both.
I have a long and personal history with Xavier University. My father was on the faculty for 43 years and I grew up with the campus as my backyard. I, myself, attended Xavier and graduated in 1985 with a BS in Psychology. However, even though I am Jesuit educated, I did not know much about the Jesuits nor did I participate in mission and ministry life of the University. What I did get from my father, however, was a great respect for the Jesuits values of free inquiry and the pursuit of learning. When I joined the faculty in 1998, as a part of my orientation I attended Manresa, the on-campus orientation program that introduces faculty to the mission and values of Jesuit education. I found it quite interesting, not at all what I had expected. I was intrigued by the story of St. Ignatius of Loyola, the rise and eventual suppression of Jesuit Education in Europe and the role female students played and continue to play in Jesuit education in America. However, after that afternoon the experience became overshadowed by the demands of the day. So much so that the first time I received an invitation to the IMP, I glanced at it and dropped it in my waste can.
A year or so ago, I attended a Salon dinner on the topic of Diversity at the residence of Father Michael Graham, the President of Xavier University. The dinner was an opportunity to meet new people and have an uncensored, conversation about diversity. In order to prepare for the dinner and discussion, we were asked to read the president's diversity paper. One thing that stood out to me was the notion of "listening" for the sake of listening or "listening without an agenda" as described by Father Graham. That got me thinking about the profession of social work and the role that listening plays. As a social worker, we are trained to use "active listening" to help individuals, families, groups and communities function better in society as well as work to improve society's ability to assist those in need. So this notion of listening without an agenda was freeing and exciting. This coupled by the opportunity to meet new people, listen to their diversity story and share my own became an extremely valuable experience in my personal and professional development.
In addition, as a result of some things going on in our department, I have been thinking more deeply about Undergraduate Social Work education at Xavier a Catholic, Jesuit University. Namely, last year, the department brought in a consultant to assist in the redesign of several key social work courses in the hopes that they will be included in the core. Several foundational principles of social work namely, service, our societal and personal responsibility to the poor and oppressed, and the underlying values of the profession seemed to fit well with the overall mission of the university and were concepts and information that could benefit all students at Xavier.
It became increasing clear to me that the mission of social work couldn't be more aligned with certain aspects of the mission of Jesuit education if you manufactured it that way yet, I don't think I had ever thought about it or talked with faculty or students about this. Nor, do I think that the average student, when they think about the mission and values of Jesuit education, even when it emphasizes social justice and service, think about social work. In fact, in some ways I feel I had avoided the topic of religion and spirituality and social work practice, but why? What had caused this gap in the curriculum?
Integrating issues of spirituality into social work practice and curriculum has been a struggle for the social work profession. Canda and Furman have identified several theories to explain this: 1) it has been hard to find an agreed upon definition of spirituality, and 2) most social workers feel unprepared to address this issue with clients. As a result, the thinking is that it is best to refer clients to those who are better trained to discuss theses matters, such as pastors, rabbis and priests.
When I first heard Canda and Furman speak at the Council on Social Work Education Annual Program Meeting in Dallas in 2001, I felt much the same way. As much as I agreed that this was an important area to consider, I thought, for me, discussions of religion and spirituality were best left up to those better trained and qualified. The same holds true for social work education. Many of the reasons for not addressing this area share the same idea, namely, that social work faculty by and large is not trained to address such issues and thus it is better to ignore them.
In a Jesuit, Catholic institution such as Xavier, I would say that an additional argument could be made that, the core courses in theology and philosophy and the programs of mission and ministry provide students with this content, and, therefore, the social work department does not need to. In addition, the social work curriculum is overburdened with specific content, and we cannot mandate more content in the curriculum, yet we are doing our students a disservice. Our department has made some attempt to address this need by offering a course entitled, Religion, Spirituality and Professional Practice, which is a team-taught course with a professor from the theology department. However, since this course is an elective, students will only get this important content if they can fit it into their schedules.
I would argue that, due to the widespread interest in spirituality and religion in the US over the last 10 years, we need to prepare students to serve the client who may need to explore issues of spirituality and religion within the context of the professional helping relationship which is supported by the idea of treating the "whole" client and starting where the client is. Similarly, this same idea is important to consider with regard to social work education. Educating the "whole" student, with spirituality being a part of the student is equally important. Thus, it is important to consider the student's own spiritual and religious development as well as the possible role this may play in her or his development as a social worker.
Interestingly enough, Hodge reports that the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations (JCAHO) now requires that a spiritual assessment be conducted on all patients. However, an important issue to consider is how equipped social workers feel to complete a spiritual assessment. In fact, Canda and Furman found that only 17% of social workers felt prepared to conduct a spiritual assessment. I recently shared this research with the seniors in my seminar class and asked them if they felt prepared to discuss matters of religion and spirituality with their clients, and they also felt that they have not had an opportunity to explore or be trained in this area. Moreover, two students reported specific ethical dilemmas that revolved around issues of religion and spirituality and professional practice and both felt unprepared at the time to manage the situations. When discussing the topic of religion and spirituality in practice with the juniors, several students felt that religion and spirituality would be an important part of their practice and were surprised that this was even an issue. Thus, it struck me as interesting that students at a Jesuit, Catholic institution in the profession of social worker, both of which share similar and deeply held values, both of which are rooted in a religious and or spiritual tradition, had not had an opportunity to discuss and be prepared to practice in this area, while also clearly identifying that for some this would be an important area of their future practice.
Thus, I have become curious about what my students think and how they feel their religious and/or spiritual values and Jesuit education interacts or not with their social work education, with specific emphasis on who they see themselves becoming as social workers. I have realized that on the one hand, I may have been taking the mission and values of the University for granted, saying to myself, what could be more closely aligned with the mission of social work while simultaneously discounting it because of the pressure to train professionals and my personal thought that the integration of institutional values and professional values was not my responsibility or an area of comfort.
So, this time, when the letter came across my desk it was almost as if it were illuminated and something that I felt compelled to pursue. To have an opportunity to form a relationship with a mentor I didn't know and explore the values and mission of Jesuit education in the context of the profession of social work, social work education, field instruction and visa versa as well as look at ways to encourage my students to explore their experiences religious, non-religious and spiritual and reflect on those experiences as well as tell their own stories -- all this was not something that was going to end up in the waste can.
Thus the journey began. When I first meet with Dr. Debra Mooney, the director of Ignatian Program, I shared with her my thoughts and how I had arrived at this place, and she asked me if I had any thoughts about who I would like to mentor me. I said, "No" and felt that I would defer to her. She suggested Dr. Trudelle Thomas and gave me a copy of her book, Spirituality in the Mother Zone. As I was reading the book, I read a passage she wrote where she mentioned Brown County. I remember thinking to myself, "is this the same Brown County boarding school that my mother went to." Well, the first time I met Trudelle, she told that she knew my mother, and that my mother had in fact taken her on a tour of the Catholic boarding school which she herself had attended for a book Trudelle was writing about the history of the Convent. I instantly felt comfortable and felt that this was an added bonus. Unfortunately, our lives became very busy, and we initially had trouble getting together. However, I continued to study, reading up on the values of both Jesuit education and social work, the history of religion and social work and spiritually-based social work practice.
In the beginning of my work and relationship with my mentor, a very disturbing thing happened in my neighborhood that swiftly propelled my life in a completely unexpected direction. A neighbor of mine, Phil Bates, was shot and killed in front of his house on Rosehill Avenue. Several days later another neighbor (a close friend of mine) and her two children were held up at gunpoint on their way home from the candlelight vigil for Phil Bates.
Both of these events galvanized my realization that I needed to take specific, engaged action.
As a social worker, some things came easily, providing support, assisting in community organizing, i.e. helping to establish a Block Watch program and attending the Citizen on Patrol training to establish an active chapter in North Avondale. Other things were not so easy: dealing with my own trauma and grief at the loss of my perceived or perhaps misperceived safety, the sadness I felt for the Bates family and his friends and family members, explaining all of this to my children who were understandably frightened and upset and as my 8-year-old said one night when I went out, "I don't want you to get shot."
Then an important thing happened that I found very helpful. I attended the burial mass for Phil Bates at Bellarmine Chapel and listened to the wonderful words of the priest, Father Richard Bollman, as he eloquently managed to deal with the complex issues that presented themselves. What he said had a major impact on me as he tried to deal with the complex emotions of fear, sadness, anxiety and grief for the Bates' family, the neighbors and the city as a whole into 3 words: faith, hope and love. It was in those three words that I found such comfort and realized that, with those important things, we can overcome events and experiences that seem insurmountable. At the time, I didn't really think that it related to my work for the IMP, and in fact, I was concerned that my time was so consumed by neighborhood meetings, e-mails, patrols, etc. that I was neglecting what I was supposed to be doing. However, as I continued to reflect on the values of Jesuit education, I saw that this was an important experience in the process.
The next and equally amazing experience as a part of the IMP came when Dr. Debra Mooney sent out an e-mail announcing a conference that was coming up at Fairfield University in Fairfield, Connecticut called, "Jesuit and Feminist Education: Transformative Discourses for Teaching and Learning Conference." I almost couldn't believe what I was reading. To see those two words, Jesuit and Feminist, in the same title was amazing to me because they are at the core of who I am.
I immediately contacted Debra and asked if I could use my stipend money, and she said she thought that would be great. Once again, I almost did the oh, it's too expensive, it's too far away, it's too short notice, etc., but fortunately something again told me to go for it. Words cannot describe the impact this conference had on me personally and professionally. It was an incredible experience in two primary ways. First of all, the tone of the conference was so welcoming, and I felt as if I were home. To be surrounded by such wonderful women, and, yes, some men and Jesuits, made me proud, proud of who I was, and the level of the scholarship and the complex ideas that were discussed was dizzying. I felt that my Jesuit education prepared me well; however, I admit that one presenter had me reeling. The day was spent looking at this intersection, what is it to be both Jesuit and Feminist, where do they compliment each other, and, of course, where do they diverge. The further grounding in Jesuit pedagogy was extremely exciting and helpful to me, but, for it to be in the context of Feminist theory, was icing on the cake.
In terms of the major Jesuit idea of "Who Am I," or identity, I felt the conference helped me find myself, and who I am is an interesting combination of things. It also encouraged me to embrace who I am in all its commonalities and differences and bring that "magis" or excellence to the table as I participate in my students' and future social workers' lives who are also in a process of answering that same question. What better way to assist others in this journey then to reflect on my own.
I spend a great deal of time studying the values of Jesuit education and reflecting on those values in the context of my current teaching activities. One of the values that most significantly impacted my thinking is "cura personalis" or the educating of the "whole person." The idea of considering the student from a holistic perspective, encompassing all aspects of who she or he is, with specific emphasis on spirituality, fit well with my vision of what I wanted to bring to the table in my teaching. In addition, I became very interested in feminist spirituality and exploring my own spiritual development and the impact that spirituality may have on one's professional development. Lastly, I explored the history of religion and spirituality in social work practice and the values of the profession.
Toward the end of my year-long mentoring relationship, my mentor asked me to think about what she had done as a mentor that was helpful and to share that for other mentors. As I thought about that question, it occurred to me that some of it was serendipity, meaning, I think so much of what I got from her was based on who she was. However, in addition, my mentor provided excellent reading suggestions that seemed to be on target and helped advance my thinking. She also helped me address my writer's block which was very beneficial. I found myself looking forward to my time for reading and writing. Lastly, our discussions were wonderfully stimulating, and she was able to help me focus my ideas and always challenged me to look deeper. The outcome of my yearlong mentoring experience was the adaptation of the professional development of self capstone paper to better integrate the values of Jesuit education with specific emphasis on what I call spiritually-based professional development of self. In addition, it has stimulated me to look at other ways to bring the mission and identity of Xavier to life in the field education program.
In the spring of the senior year, in the Senior Seminar course, which is the integrative seminar that goes along with field instruction, the seniors write a Professional Development of Self Capstone paper. The objectives of the seminar course are to provide an opportunity for students to share their experiences in field and integrate the course work into their professional practice as social workers. Field education is often referred to as the capstone experience, where the students are able to bring together their classroom and "real" life experiences as social workers. Field education is an excellent and appropriate avenue for the integration of the mission of Jesuit education and social work education. At a national gathering of Jesuits at Santa Clara University, Peter-Hans Kolvenbach stated that,
"The real measure of our Jesuit universities, [then,] lies in who our students become. Tomorrow's "whole person" cannot be whole without a well-educated solidarity...Solidarity is learned through "contact" rather than through "concepts." When the heart is touched by direct experience, the mind may be challenged to change." (cited in Traub, 10).
Thus, field instruction becomes an opportunity for the student to not only pursue and reflect on what it is to be a social worker, but, more importantly, what is it to be a Jesuit-educated social worker. This is what is truly at the heart of mission-driven education.
Thus, the professional development of the self capstone paper is an opportunity for students to reflect on their professional development as soon-to-be professional social workers. They review writings from their texts that explore this area of curriculum, as well as engage in personal reflection, exploring from their perspective what the process of engaging in field instruction has been for them and how it has assisted them in who they are becoming as social workers.
Prior to the Ignatian Mentoring Program, this activity had only been focused on the students' professional development as social workers as it relates to various skills, values and behaviors and only specific to their experiences in field and in seminar. As a result of the IMP, I have expanded this reflection to encourage the student to consider larger questions of, who am I? And, who am I called to be? Thus, by taking into account cura personalis, the value of considering the whole person, which is central to Jesuit education, students have a more grounded and better integrated perspective from which to view the notion of professional development.
Professional Development of Self in Field Education
Professional development of self in field education is an area of social work education that I have been interested in throughout my 8 years at Xavier. According to the Council on Social Work Education, schools of social work are mandated to produce professionals who demonstrate an infusion of professional knowledge, values and skills. Professional development of self is often defined as the acquisition of a set of skills. For instance, Cochran and Hanley define, "markers of active practice" (Cochran and Hanley, pg 117). Some of which are: being grounded in practice, practicing self-care, continued education (life-long learning), use of self, use of supervision, developing a support system, acting to eliminate oppression and injustice and pursuing social or organizational change. In addition, professional development is viewed as an adherence to the profession's values and engaging in ethical practice. Lastly, professional development is identified as engaging in professional behavior versus that of an employee and related to attire, arriving on time, managing one's workload and being able to function within an organization.
Although the above mentioned attributes of a professional are fairly agreed upon, according to Mariatta Barretti, "relatively little is know about how social work students become professionals" (Barretti, pg 9). The notion of how it is that students become professionals (individuals who engage in the aforementioned professional behaviors) is something that has intrigued me as the Field Education Coordinator for the Social Work program.
It has been humbling and heartwarming to watch from year to year, the development, even transformation, that occurs from the first day I meet the juniors in the pre-placement seminar to the last day when they graduate. It is hard to describe what exactly it is that I am witnessing. I contend that it is more than just the maturational development that occurs as a student moves from the second semester of the junior year to graduation. Although one cannot deny that simply aging over a year and half, particularly for our traditional students, is significant, it is clear to me that there is more going on. Something significant is happening in that year and half which is more than just aging. This can best be seen in our non-traditional students, who, even though the minority, appear to have an equally significant process of development as people, students and soon-to-be professional social workers. It is tempting to try to reduce this transformation to simply the acquisition of a set of skills or behaviors, but I would argue that it is much more than that and name it the realization of a professional identity.
The Realization of a Professional Identity
Every year I have students write a Professional Development of Self Capstone paper where I ask them to reflect on their field experiences and their development as professional social workers. The students share many common experiences that could easily be reduced to skill sets and a strong integration of values or simply the development of basic professional behaviors, but it is also important to explore that which may be less visible, the process that results in the realization of a professional identity or ability to bring to life or make "real" one's professional identity.
The idea that the development of a professional self is more a process as opposed to simply gaining a set of behaviors or values is supported in the literature. Marretta Barretti found in her study "that students undergo a journey consisting of roughly six phases of professional socialization to the social work profession" (Baretti, pg 15). They are as follows: expectation, revelation, refutation, negotiation, adaptation, and affirmation. In the second phase, revelation, students identified the field as "the most significant aspect of training for student's professional identity" (Barretti, pg 17). In addition, Cochrane and Hanley articulate a developmental process that students go through during field education and identified 4 stages: Beginning, Reality Confrontation, Relative Mastery and Closure.
The most interesting finding in Barretti's study was the notion that professional development begins long before students enter social work programs. Barretti states:
"Because students hold well-defined conceptualizations of social workers and of the profession through previous experiences with both, it behooves social work programs to start where the 'client' is by building upon students' breadth of experience rather than assuming they are blank slates on which only they will write "(Barretti, pg 22).
Thus, the realization, or making "real," of the professional identity is a process as well as the acquisition and articulation of a critical set of values, knowledge and skills. By moving from the inward out, meaning starting where the student is, taking a holistic approach and acknowledging what they are bringing to the table while simultaneously socializing them into the profession, is how the student realizes herself or himself as a professional. So how does social work education go about facilitating the student to realize their professional identity?
Spiritually Based Professional Development
Spiritually in social work practice has been written about extensively for the last 10 to 20 years. David Derezotes writes about a "second phase of spirituality," one that is concerned not only with personal spiritual growth, but also with a transformation that leads to a deeper awareness of responsibility for the well-being of others. He goes on to say that, "there is a growing awareness that spiritual development brings with it an increased responsibility to serve, and that personal spirituality and service are themselves interconnected and interrelated" (Derezotes, p2). He further advocates a holistic model, a biopsychosocialspiritual model, when viewing clients. Thus, it becomes critically important to recognize the possibility that the spirituality of the student may be a driving force in the realization of her or his identity as a social worker and may be one of the things that the student is bringing.
In order to combat one of the previously identified arguments for not addressing spirituality, namely, that there is no agreed upon definition, I offer a definition of spirituality that will provide the foundation from which students can look at their development, both as people and professionals.
Canda and Furman in their book "Spiritually Sensitive Social Work Practice," provide a definition of spirituality that is an excellent backdrop to this discussion. They state that, "spirituality relates to a universal and fundamental aspect of what it is to be human -- to search for a sense of meaning, purpose, and moral framework for relating with self, others and the ultimate reality" (Canda and Furman pg 370). They go on to say that, "spiritually sensitive social workers address clients as whole persons, applying professional roles, rules and assessment labels in a flexible way that is responsive to the values of the client and his or her community" (Canda and Furman, pg 32). In addition, they espouse a model for integrating spirituality across the curriculum. David Derezotes distinguishes spirituality from religion by stating:
"Spirituality can be seen as the individual's sense of connectedness, meaning, peace, consciousness, purpose, and service that develops across the life span. In contrast, religiosity can be seen as socially shared rituals, doctrines, and beliefs that may or may not support and enhance the individual's spiritual development" (Derezotes, p3).
I chose to look at and ask students to reflect on spirituality and the definition that I offer as opposed to religion. However, I recognize that for many they are inseparable; thus, I leave it up to the student to decide how she or he frames the reflection.
Three Areas of Spirituality Based Professional Development of Self
Thus, it becomes important to apply the above-mentioned ideas of spiritually sensitive practice to social work education and more specifically the area of field education. There are three main areas of spiritually-based professional development that I asked students to reflect on specifically. They are meaning and purpose in professional life, reflection and discernment for ethical practice and spiritually-based self-care. I will provide a discussion of each and link them to the values of Ignatian and Jesuit education.
Meaning and Purpose in Professional Life
The first area is meaning and purpose in professional life. Cochran and Hanley in their text Learning through Field specifically address the area of meaning and spirituality and relate them to one's professional identity. Social workers become intricately involved in the deepest of issues their clients are struggling with, such as the social worker who works with Hospice, and is intimately involved in a client's process of dying. It is in the moments of intimate human interaction that recognizing and drawing on spirituality can be very beneficial to both the client and the worker.
The Ignatian Mentoring Program was first and foremost an incredible opportunity for me to consider my identity and spiritual development. The time I spent in discussion with my mentor and the reading and reflection I engaged in throughout the entire process of the IMP has helped me embrace who I am as a whole person. Thus, for me Identity and Self are central to meaning and purpose. Without having a strong sense of who you are and what you are being called to do, it is very hard to understand your purpose. Furthermore, meaning and purpose are central to spirituality and to the realization of a professional identity as a social worker. Most social workers state feeling called to the profession or joke that they don't know what else they would do if they stopped being a social worker. Finding meaning in one's work is an important idea that has been well articulated by Matthew Fox in his book, The Reinvention of Work. He states:
"Good living and good working go together. Life and livelihood ought not to be separated but to flow from the same source, which is Spirit, for both life and livelihood are about Spirit. Spirit means life, and both life and livelihood are about living in depth, living with meaning, purpose, joy, and a sense of contributing to the greater community. A spirituality of work is about bringing life and livelihood back together again. And Spirit with them (Fox, pg 1&2).
Thus, an increased clarity around meaning and purpose in one's work is also important to sustaining one's professional life or, as Trudelle Thomas calls it, "composing your life." However, the ability to fully embrace one's identity and one's greatest resource as a social worker can be complicated by how the individual and the wider society view that individual's identity. I experienced this first hand in that I rejected my brand of spirituality which tends to humanistic, feminist and non-religious because I didn't think it was right particularly in a Catholic, Jesuit institution. However, as a result of the mentoring program, I have fully embraced my identity and see that I have been missing an important aspect of who I am as a faculty member. Thus, it is critical that faculty be open to enabling the students to discover, embrace and fully utilize their identity and true selves.
Canda and Furman go on to talk about spirituality in the everyday. I love this idea, and I think it is helpful for students as they embark on looking at meaning and purpose for themselves. The three words that really exemplify for me spiritually based practice in the everyday are faith, hope and love. Often in my practice, I would have to take a leap of faith that a child that I was working with would be okay when I left for the evening or how I tried to routinely bring hope to the table during very difficult situations or lastly show measures of love, or, as I would rename, positive unconditional regard for the uniqueness, dignity and worth of each person with whom I worked. These aspects of my practice were decidedly spiritual in nature, found in the everyday, provided deep meaning and grounded me in my purpose as a social worker. However, it has only been through the result of the IMP that I could see this. Prior to the IMP, I would have said the abovementioned activities were just what social workers do, which is fine, but now I see them as deeper, more meaningful and thus sustaining.
Reflection and Discernment for Ethical Practice
Janice Staral in her paper, "Introducing Ignatian Spirituality: Linking Self-Reflection with Social Work Ethics," emphasized the need for self-reflection, decision-making and self-care and relates those specifically to her experiences with Ignatian spirituality. She states that Ignatian spirituality supports the social work values of social justice, the dignity and worth and the person, and the value of personal growth and self-care. She also felt compelled as I do, to bring these ideas to life particularly at Marquette University, a Catholic, Jesuit institution. She states, "It seems important to find appropriate means to introduce social work students to some concepts from Ignatian spirituality" (Staral, pg 39). The ideas of self-reflection, decision-making and self-care are equally important as they relate to professional development. The Examen of Conscience, as Staral describes it, supports a need for reflection as a critical aspect of Jesuit education. She explains it as, "This prayer form concentrates on a key principle of Jesuit (or Ignatian) spirituality, which is 'reflecting on daily life' and gaining insights and resolutions regarding daily experiences as a result of this reflection" (Staral, pg 40). She goes on to suggest that this would be helpful for students in making professional decisions and navigating the waters of professional life.
For me, this supports the emphasis that I place on refection and the Jesuit value of discernment as it relates to the day-to-day of social work practice. The processing of what happens in the field and the need for the student to be able to take in what it is that they are experiencing and process it such that it can be integrated into who they are and who they are becoming as people and professional social workers becomes incredibly important. Furthermore, developing the skill of reflection and discernment is critical to the practicing professional social worker not just the student.
The field students engage in weekly reflection that results in them writing a journal entry where they have engaged in what I call "reflective experiencing," a term I adapted from Canda and Furman's idea of "reflective reading" (Canda & Furman, p. xxi). In order to accomplish this, students engage in a four step process, first outlined by Trudelle Thomas, English professor, and then adapted for field education: 1) attending to the experiences of field, 2) engaging in critical thinking regarding those experiences, 3) acting through writing or establishing specific action plans and 4) sharing either through the journal entry or in the senior seminar class. This process was laid out in a handout I wrote called "Reflective Reading and Experiencing: An Ignatian Model for Writing Reflection Journals," the purpose of which was to take the weekly log assignment and adapt it to reflect a deeper sense of the student's experiences in field and reactions to those experiences. I have received positive feedback from the students, one of which said that he felt the new direction, away from a blow-by-blow of the day, was "freeing" and more fun. Reflection and discernment are also critical skills for the professional social worker to develop and to consider ways to utilize this skill for on-going professional development.
The last area I asked students to consider is spiritually-based self-care. Janice Staral makes the link between spirituality and self-care. For me, this is incredibly important and one that I think our students will benefit from greatly. Ruth Barton in Sacred Rhythms discusses the concept of "a rule of life." The author describes it as an important part of the Christian tradition that supports a process of spiritual transformation "day in and day out."
"A rule of life seeks to respond to two questions: Who do I want to be? How do I want to live? Actually, it might be more accurate to say that a rule of life seeks to address the interplay between these two questions: How do I want to live so I can be who I want to be?" (pg. 147)
"A rule of life" supports the idea of spiritually-based self-care and one that intentionally looks at what is it that we need to do daily, weekly, monthly, yearly to sustain ourselves, our spiritual development, and, I would add, our professional development. The idea is to go beyond the consumer-oriented "me time" of spa treatments and retail therapy, and develop a deeper sense of how one goes about sustaining a professional life. I think this is also important, given that social work is a profession based on care that its professionals develop ways to engage in meaningful self-care. This is not an easy expectation given that caregivers tend to see their needs as secondary to others, particularly female caregivers who are often socialized to see the needs of others as more important to themselves.
Spiritually-based self-care is going beyond the surface to consider the needs of the inner self. This can be very challenging given our superficial, consumer-oriented culture which tends to be very externally focused. Spiritually-based self-care demands an inward out perspective, drawing on the inner most fundamental aspects of who we are as people and what is important to us as opposed to a more superficial outward emphasis on manicures, facials, working out, shopping etc. It is through meeting the deeper inner needs that one develops the ability to sustain oneself as a person and a professional. The challenge for all of us is to find those inner things that bring deeper meaning to us and nurture them. Thus, the critical first step is placing one's self-care as primary and discovering ways to build it into one's day-to-day life.
One area I have discovered that has been helpful to me in my recent professional development has been having a mentor. It has been very beneficial, and, although my current mentoring relationship is coming to an end in the context of the IMP, it is clear to me that I need to continue this model in my professional life. In addition, having time for quiet reading, reflection and discussion has been invigorating for me. The notion of self-examination in the context of consultation is very helpful, having professional peers with whom you can share your concerns and ask questions and open yourself up to receive feedback, support and encouragement as well as to be challenged and questioned is very helpful. Margorie Thompson states that, "self-examination is an occasion for spiritual refreshment, whatever we discover within ourselves at the time of the review. Its purpose is always to bring us into greater intimacy with the Lover of our souls...," (Thompson, pg 104). In addition, one may find keeping a journal as very helpful in exploring one's personal and work life. Lastly, finding ways to connect with family and my home life has been very important to me as well.
I provided an opportunity for students to reflect on several things:
Values of Jesuit education:
- Service of Faith and Promotion of Social Justice
- Finding God in all Things
- Cura Personalis
- Women and Men for Others
Values of Social Work
- Dignity and worth of the individual
- Social Justice
- Importance of Human Relationships
- The student's own religious and spiritual development
Three areas of spiritually based professional development
- Meaning and purpose in one's work,
- Reflection and discernment for ethical practice,
- Spiritually-based self-care.
- Their individual professional development
Seminar Session: Integrating Spirituality and Work: Developing a Personal Rule of Life presented by Dr. Trudelle Thomas - Professor, English Department
- The students participated in a session of the senior seminar course that was devoted to laying the foundation for their reflection and the writing of the capstone paper. In order to prepare for this discussion, the students read chapter 5, Composing Your Life, from Dr. Thomas' book, Spirituality in the Mother Zone. In addition, they read a paper I wrote on spirituality sensitive professional development and two booklets on the values and mission of Jesuit education supplied by Ignatian Programs. The class was experiential and provided the students with an opportunity to explore spirituality as a means to define and sustain their professional life. Trudelle presented her wheel of creating a Personalized Rule of Life with specific emphasis on two areas, solitude and home front economic. (For more information on Dr. Thomas's work, see in this book under "Mentor Reflections.")
Additional areas to consider:
- Individual strengths, weaknesses, successes and challenges related to your development
- Any value-driven or ethical issues, dilemmas that you have encountered in the field and discuss what you learned from them
- How you define yourself as a professional. What has been easy for you? What has been challenging?
- Your own spiritual and/or religious development and the role it has played or not in your development as a professional social worker
- Your observations of professionalism as it relates to your supervisor, co-workers, peers and agency, as well as the profession as a whole as you have observed and experienced it in your field placement
Note: It is important to state that I had no expectation for what any of this should mean to a particular student, I can only speak to my own process as a result of my participation in the IMP over the past year and reflecting on these areas. What is important for me, however, is to provide an opportunity and invitation for students to look at the bigger picture of who they are, who they are called to be, and how they can sustain themselves throughout their professional lives. For me, these questions reflect spirituality and are extremely useful for the professional social worker.
Overall the feedback from the students verbally and in writing was supportive of this content area and the paper. In fact one student stated, "If this paper had not had the spiritual focus, I don't think I could have written it, I mean I would of, but I don't think it would have been as helpful or meaningful to me." Most all of the students connected to the idea of meaning and purpose stating that they feel "called" to be a social worker. Several appreciated the opportunity to reflect on their own religious and spiritual development, stating that even though Xavier is a Catholic, Jesuit institution, they have not had a chance to explore their own religious and spiritual development. Furthermore, many reported feeling that they didn't think that spirituality was an important area of who they are as people until they were asked to reflect on it and then realized that it was important to consider. They reflected a continuum from deeply religious and spiritual to not at all, but all agreed that, regardless of where each of them were as individuals, from a professional practice perspective, this was an important area to consider. One student shared a story of having had an uncomfortable experience with a client and not knowing how to handle it at the time. She states she now has an understanding of how she would handle that same situation in the future and feels that this has made her a stronger social worker. In terms of spiritually-based selfcare, they all reported feeling that this was important to consider and could be a valuable resource in managing a professional life. One student stated that for him reflection was interwoven with self-care and both had a spiritual foundation. Through quiet reflection and listening, he was able to make better choices professionally and thus take better care of himself throughout the process. Lastly, the notion of spirituality flowing through all aspects of one's professional identity and being an important resource was supported by many students.
Although the official IMP program is ending, it is my plan to continue to develop my work in this area. Several future directions, include but are not limited to, introducing field instructors to the mission of Jesuit education through either a specific training or inviting them to attend Manresa on Campus. Looking more specifically at the student field instructor relationship and providing opportunities for field instructors to reflect on the quality of field education supervision from a spiritual or mission-driven context. Further exploring this area for students and continuing to develop and refine those initiatives outlined above.
For the general Xavier student, I have an interest in offering these ideas around composing an academic life, particularly finding ways to mentor and encourage quiet reading and reflection. Lastly, to consider offering social work students an opportunity to participate in the "spiritual exercises." The central purpose of all of these activities is to offer more inclusive mission-driven education that truly reflects and considers the "whole" student.
With regard to the field education program, at the suggestion of one student who stated she wished she had received this information earlier, I will introduce the content area of religion and spirituality earlier in the curriculum in the pre-placement seminar given that it is the beginning of the field education program. Similarly, I will encourage students to reflect on the three main areas of spirituality sensitive professional development in the beginning of the senior year. By laying this foundation earlier, it is my hope that the student will achieve a deeper, more integrated reflection at the end of the field education program.
The Ignatian Mentoring Program proved to be an important experience in my development as a social work educator. Mission-driven work is not new to social work practice; however, mission-driven education is not something that I have read much about. Thus, I feel this is an important area for further exploration and scholarship. I feel fortunate that I have this opportunity and feel that it has greatly benefited myself, my students and, hopefully, will contribute to others. Thus, I would like to thank my mentor, Dr. Trudelle Thomas, English Department, Dr. Debra Mooney, Director of Ignatian Programs, and the University for this incredible opportunity.
This paper was presented at the 2007 Social Work for Social Justice: Strengthening Social Work Practice Through the Integration of Catholic Social Teaching Conference held June 3-June 6, 2007 at the joint School of Social Work of the College of St. Catherine and University of St. Thomas, St. Paul, Minnesota at the session entitled "Teaching to the Mission: An Integration of Jesuit Values and Pedagogy into the Field Education Curriculum.
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Thomas, T. (2005). Spirituality in the mother zone: Staying centered, finding god. Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press.
Traub, G. W. (2002). Do you speak Ignatian? A glossary of terms used in Ignatian and Jesuit circles. Cincinnati, OH: Xavier University.
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Paper presented at the 2007 Social Work for Social Justice: Strengthening Social Work Practice through the Integration of Catholic Social Teaching conference at The College of St. Catherine/The University of St. Thomas.
Taking the Next Step to Social Action: Gender Identity Disorder and the Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders
Stephanie Brzuzy, Ph.D.
Mentor: Ed Cueva, Ph.D. (Classics)
As a newly hired faculty member at Xavier, I was anxious to know more about the mission and identity of a Jesuit institution of higher education. How does teaching to the mission actually happen? I began to meet on a regular basis with my mentor, Ed Cueva, at which time we discussed many issues that helped me to understand the context, culture, and rich traditions that are Xavier. I am grateful for his kindness and the vast knowledge he willingly shared with me.
Upon my arrival at Xavier, I was struck by the passion of the faculty to sustain, support, and critically reflect on the core curriculum that makes Xavier University unique. Now, upon more reflection, I see this as a living example of Jesuit traditions in action. I am pleased to be a part of this on-going conversation and reflection on what a living and breathing core curriculum embodies on a day-to-day basis in the lives of our students and what we hope they will leave us with as they go forth in the world.
Mission statements in social work departments across the country are similar. Ours reads, "social workers are committed to making society more equitable and responsive to people's needs. Social work offers a practical approach to solving problems and strengthening individuals, families, groups, organizations, communities and society". Xavier's department of social work, however, is one of the few undergraduate programs in the nation that places a heavy emphasis on social justice and a call to community action to eliminate poverty, fight discrimination, and be a voice for the most vulnerable citizens in our communities. I believe the focus of the social work curriculum at Xavier is no accident. It is sustained by the Jesuit traditions that support it. A component of the Jesuit mission "a faith that does justice" rings true here.
The call to social action demands social work students to evaluate in critical ways their communities of practice in order to challenge social injustice in its multiple forms. We often work with people when they are most vulnerable and in need of someone to advocate on their behalf. Students must recognize that institutions of caring can be sites of discrimination and when this occurs it requires action. Institutions of caring cannot go unexamined and our students must be prepared for the ethical challenges they will face. To help students connect with the necessity to be critical of the possible social injustices that can occur in sites of caring, I developed the following learning project which is based on my belief that Gender Identity Disorder as a mental diagnosis must be reassessed by social work practitioners.
Background on the Issue
In 2012, the American Psychiatric Association is scheduled to release the next version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V). Its work will constitute the first major rewrite of the document allowing additions and deletions of diagnostic categories since 1994. Gender Identity Disorder (GID) is probably the most widely contested diagnosis of a mental disorder in the current version of the DSM (DSM IV-TR, 2000) published by the American Psychiatric Association (APA). The diagnostic criteria define GID as:
A. A strong and persistent cross-gender identification (not merely a desire for any perceived cultural advantages of being the other sex.) In children, the disturbance is manifested by four (or more) of the following: 1) repeatedly stated desire to be, or insistence that he or she is, the other sex; 2) in boys, preference for cross-dressing or simulating female attire; in girls, insistence of wearing only stereotypical masculine clothing; 3) strong and persistent preferences for cross-sex roles in make-believe play or persistent fantasies of being the other sex; 4) intense desire to participate in the stereotypical games and pastimes of the other sex; 5) strong preference for playmates of the other sex. B. Persistent discomfort with his or her sex or sense of inappropriateness in the gender role of that sex. C. The disturbance is not concurrent with a physical intersex condition. D. The disturbance causes clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning (APA, DSM-IV-TR, 302.85, 2000).
Social work professionals use the DSM on a regular basis to support their work with individuals who have mental health issues. The DSM is powerful and should not go unquestioned when its diagnostic categories do harm. GID is a diagnosis that potentially imposes harm on individuals for non-conforming gender expression. This is not without serious consequences for individual lives. Homosexuality was removed from the DSM in 1973 and the call to action in 2011 should be the removal of GID.
In order for students to better understand the connections between the diagnosis of GID and the potential harm it creates, they will read Daphne Scholinski's memoir, The Last Time I Wore a Dress (1997), which documents her life when she was institutionalized in various mental hospitals from the ages of 15-18 for being "an inappropriate female." During her institutionalization, she was taught how to "walk like a girl," apply makeup and style her hair. She was also inappropriately restrained, sexually assaulted and placed in solitary confinement. Next, they will read Tre Wentling's article "Am I Obsessed? Gender Identity Disorder, Stress, and Obsession" in Gender, Sex and Sexuality by Ferber, Holcomb and Wentling, eds. Oxford University Press (2009). In this article, Wentling discusses the stress and anxiety s/he negotiates everyday from societal interactions to his/her non-conforming gender expression. S/he emphasizes how the diagnosis of GID and its pathologization of non-conforming individuals creates added layers of unnecessary stress and discrimination. Once students have completed these readings, they will be asked to write a reflection paper on how caring institutions can shift from being sites of potential discrimination, regulation and harm to sites that take into account social work principles and accept people as they truly are without recourse.
The complete manuscript can be seen at:
Ault, A. and Brzuzy, S. (2009). Removing gender identity disorder (GID) from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) fifth edition: A call for action. Journal of Social Work (In Press).