Social workers want to talk religion — but they don’t

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A social worker or psychologist listens to a patient.

Photo courtesy of Nikki Zalewski via Shutterstock

A social worker or psychologist listens to a patient.

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(RNS) Most social workers say they don't discuss religion or spirituality with their clients, even though they think it could be beneficial in treatment. Some say that's a shame -- but others say it's a good thing.

  • Cary Frazee

    Not interested in social workers pushing their religion…especially not if govt funded. MYOB.

  • Pingback: Social workers want to talk religion — but they don’t - mosaicversemosaicverse()

  • Fran

    Jesus was the greatest social worker when he was on earth, healing the sick, curing the diseased and ailing, as well as resurrecting the dead, such as his friend, Lazarus. This showed his great love for the human family.

    But more important than that, he taught about God’s kingdom or heavenly government (Daniel 2:44; Isaiah 11:1-9) as the only hope for mankind and the only government that will soon put an end to all that ails us now, including all sickness, disease, old age and even death (Revelation 21:3,4).

    All the miracles Jesus performed are just a “preview” of what God’s government will do for all meek mankind on a worldwide basis during his upcoming millennial rule.

    All the social workers are to be commended for what they accomplish in their fields today (they truly care about people ❤️), but they don’t have the power to accomplish what God promises to do through his kingdom which will literally take place.

  • Chuck

    Made up stories don’t help when you are tasked with providing actual assistance to people. If people need food, medical assistance, etc. someone needs to provide it, whether it’s the government though our taxes or private charity.

    Those made up stories really don’t work when the client has different religious beliefs, e.g. Hindu or atheist. I’m sure Christians would be up in arms if they had to sit through a social worker discussing the generosity of Allah and Mohamed.

  • Fran

    Everything described in God’s Word, the Bible that took place in the past were actual true events or facts, and not made up stories.

    This will become evident to everyone on the planet, no matter their faith, religion, or complete lack thereof, when God’s government soon intervenes in man’s affairs, as promised.

  • Greg1

    I have heard from many Catholic priests, that oftentimes members of the Church will go to psychiatrists, and psychologists, in endless sessions, all to no avail. Then they go to the Sacrament of Confession, and all is healed in the span of 10 minutes. The difference, of course, is the priest has the authority before God to loose Christians of their sins (John 20:23). What many do not realize is that sin weighs a person down, leading them to despair. However, God, in the forgiveness of sins, renews the soul, and frees the person from the clutches of evil. That renews a person, and brings his/her soul back to the state of grace, so the Holy Spirit can operate freely in that person. A soul cluttered with sin, is a divine blockage, and prohibits God from giving him/her the help he/she needs.

  • margaret

    I was a hospital chaplain for years and worked with a lot of social workers. There was always a certain turf battle because there were many areas where the expertise and training of chaplains and social workers overlapped. Nine times out of then it was the social workers who got VERY territorial if they perceived we had gotten into “their” areas. I recall arguing with social workers who thought it was “their” role, not ours to care for families when a patient died, and respond to crisis codes. Once I was asked by a head nurse to do a support group for ICU families. I suggested to the social worker that we do it together. She was so pissed that the nurse asked me instead of her that she sabotaged the group. Soooo…my point is that IF social workers decide that they are competent to deal with spiritual issues, and they definine is as “their” role, they will TOTALLY usurp the role of chaplains upon which they have already seriously encroached.

  • Mulne

    No, Fran. Your statement is false. While there are a few historical resemblances of specific bible stories to better documented events, many of the bible screeds are wildly embellished or else very different from other records. You would improve the accuracy of your world view considerably by asking why no verifiable divine actions have happened recently, or really, ever.

    Making wild and obviously false claims about your beliefs, no matter how often you spam the same material here, is still wrong. Please stop.

  • larry

    Well, you are not a trained social worker. You do not have a personal professional responsibility in the outcomes of individuals under your care like one. I can see why the social workers would want to keep you at arm’s length.

    What constitutes “spiritual” issues winds up being incredibly vague under many circumstances. In many cases undoubtedly it is used as an excuse for more access than a situation should permit.

    Time and again we see how religious doctrines and tenets of faith will take precedence over providing necessary and useful care to individuals.

  • Pam

    The people I work with always want to talk about their religious and spiritual beliefs and I am always delighted to hear. A good social worker knows that it is not about me, it is about them.

  • Larry

    That I could understand. The people are initiating the conversation on the subject, not the social worker.

  • Greg1

    Within the context of social work, patients should get what they need, not what social workers believer they are permitted to talk about.

  • CMR

    I think many commentators are missing the point. The article is saying that including a client’s religion/spirituality could be helpful. If a person has strong beliefs or connections to others in their congregation, it could be another resource for support while a person is going through a tough time. Do they have this other support system? The article doesn’t suggest social workers SHOULD include it or teach their beliefs to the client. Asking if a person is religious/spiritual is an important question because for someone who has deeply held beliefs, it is another component of the person’s mental make up. It seems like it would be useful to know the answer.

  • Lindsay

    If it’s the client that bring it up, I can be okay with that. But I’m an atheist and non-spiritual, I would not want the social worker bringing it up or pressing the issue if I were ever in need of one. I think it also then requires the social workers to be fully versed in all religions. You have to be comfortable about talking about things that might oppose your own beliefs. It seems like a can of worms best left unopened.

  • Greg1

    My thought is that if a social worker is not at least a general believer in God, then I would not want that person involved in any of my affairs, or with anyone in my family. It would be like handing someone a pie with two slices missing, and saying here is a nice whole pie for you. But you know that there is something missing.

  • Larry

    The problem is not the patients talking about religion, its self-righteous tone deaf (usually evangelical Christian) social workers bringing up their religious beliefs on their own accord. A social worker should not broach the subject unless requested. Many Christians love to find avenues to evangelize, even when it is neither requested nor appropriate.

  • Margaret

    Larry, are you implying that chaplains aren’t trained, and that they don’t have a personal professional responsibility in the outcomes of our patients? You are displaying your ignorance. Most chaplains have a 4 year college degree + a three year masters degree (MDiv) plus a full year in a clinical residency, are Board Certified by a nationally recognized professional organization, plus an have undergone an extremely arduous process to become ordained within their tradition or denomination, and may also have had parish experience. We are experts in sorting out what is a personal belief vs. a true relgious issue, and more often than not is a chaplain who will be able to get through to the family because they speak in the language of faith. I consulted on MANY bioethics cases. I also had psychiatrists consult me on psych patients with religious ideation when they weren’t sure if the patient’s religious belief was legitimate or a symptom of their illness.

  • Margaret

    Pam, are there chaplains where you work? If so, relgious and spiritual matters should be referred to a chaplain, just as any matters related to discharge planning or services that may be needed at home should be refered to a Social Worker.

  • Elledra

    Many, many years ago I went to a psychotherapist to deal with some issues–I went at the suggestion of my pastor, in fact. The therapist was extremely helpful. But there came a point when I explained that my religious beliefs were important in all this and I wanted to discuss them. She didn’t want to, and told me to speak with my pastor instead. It felt like I’d fallen between the cracks–my pastor had told me to see a therapist, and she was telling me to see my pastor . . . Eventually, though, the therapist agreed to at least hear me out. But I’ve always felt–with her and other counsellors later–that the profession seemed to view religious belief as a type of pathology. It was to be ignored or avoided, rather than utilized as one more tool to help the patient. I don’t believe religion HAS to be used in treatment, but it’s a waste not to use it if the patient wants it. I’m glad to hear things may be changing!

  • Izabella

    Absolutely discussing spirituality and religion can be beneficial in treatment…and it is vitally important to have the correct training to do so! I believe they are called “Chaplains.”

  • Bob

    That’s nonsense from you as usual Greg1. You attempt to present a believer as having something more than an atheist has. All you have that an atheist does not have is delusion. You in your case are lacking a huge slice, that being comprehension of reason and reality.

    Now, let’s yank you back to the questions about your crazy beliefs that you are unable to answer with any substance:

    How is it again that your omnipotent being couldn’t do his saving bit without the whole silly Jesus hoopla? And how was Jesus’ death a “sacrifice”, when an omnipotent being could just pop up a replacement son any time with less than a snap of his fingers? Pretty pathetic “god” that you’ve made for yourself there.

    Ask the questions. Break the chains. Join the movement.
    Be free of Christianity and other superstitions.

  • Mona

    You heard it from priests!

  • Mona

    Way to speak up for chaplains, Margaret, i just finished my Cpe residency year.

  • Mona


  • Sheila Cronin

    Margaret, I was a social worker in Catholic and university hospitals for almost 25 years. Some chaplains are trained well and some are not and the same is true of social workers. The vast majority of hospital social workers are clinically trained and not simply “discharge planners.” My last few years of hospital work was with AIDS patients and in many cases, the chaplains were nowhere to be found even for those patients who had strong faith, but whose churches abandoned them. Making this a turf battle doesn’t help anyone, especially patients. I’ve never met a social worker who ignored a patient’s religious beliefs. If it is an important part of a patient’s life then chaplains and social workers should and need to work together. Aside from the AIDS epidemic, I’ve worked with many experienced chaplains. As has been said in other comments, it’s all about the patient. As for the turf wars, less judgment and more compassion would be helpful.