Methods: Purposive sampling was used to recruit students from the BASW, MSW and PhD programs in a northeast research-intensive school of social work. Students completed an online survey assessing opinions regarding the appropriateness of social work partnerships with religious organizations. Students ranked the appropriateness of social work collaboration with religious leaders to establish an integrated treatment plan on a Likert-scale responses of “very inappropriate, somewhat inappropriate, somewhat appropriate and very appropriate.” Respondents also answered the following open-ended question “Given that social work adheres to a bio-psycho-social-spiritual model, what potential benefits and/or drawbacks do you see to partnering with a spiritual leader to provide psychosocial services to individuals in the organization?” Responses were entered into Dedoose® mixed methods software and analyzed using content analysis.
Results: Partnering with religious leaders to create integrated treatment plans was viewed as either “very appropriate” or “somewhat appropriate” by 87.5% of the social work students which was also reflected in the 101 qualitative excerpts mentioning benefits of collaboration. Specific benefits cited by respondents included the provision of holistic client care, providing clients with a sense of meaning and hope, and increased rapport with the social worker. Respondents highlighted the importance of client initiation of collaborative partnerships and preservation of client self-determination. Furthermore, respondents highlighted the necessity of considering contextual factors and mentioned relevant ethical concerns for consideration of integrated treatment plans, including the importance of social worker cultural competence. Participants raised several issues regarding spiritual integration which included concerns about potential religious pressure, religious harm and disagreements between the religious leader and social worker. Moreover, approximately 5% of participants expressed that social work partnership with religious organizations is inappropriate citing personal and/or ethical reasons.
Conclusion and Implications: Social work partnership with religious leaders could benefit clients who express interest in integrating spirituality in their treatment plans. With each client, social workers should carefully consider the contextual factors and ethical implications of entering into a collaborative partnership. In practice, social workers can be sensitive to client experiences of religious harm while also supporting client self-efficacy. Social work education can seek to better address issues related to spirituality in the curriculum and equip students to think critically about interprofessional partnerships so they can approach potential issues in a culturally competent manner.