The TAO of Social Work
FEAR is the social worker’s most formidable enemy. Vulnerable people at risk are the social worker’s constituents, and vulnerable people at risk are, of course, full of fear. Persistent fear always morphs into anger setting up a self-destructive spiral in the vulnerable. Whether working with a population of addicts, immigrants, children at risk, or the elderly, helping clients overcome fear is the first job of the social worker.
A Persistent Problem
Case workers are finding that alleviating immediate physical problems (hunger, homelessness, addiction, grinding poverty) does not change the self-destructive patterns that have been set-up in the vulnerable. The same clients return for assistance again and again. Self-destructive behavior patterns drive them right back into the arms of frustrated social workers. Now what?
In the first decade of the twenty-first century, social workers, vexed by the persistent self-destructive spiral they experienced in many of their clients, began to look for a solution to the deeper disease inflicting the vulnerable. For many years they dismissed meditation and mindfulness as “new age” nonsense. However, recent research has shown that social workers can make good use of the contemplative practices from religion and spiritual disciplines. Along with emergent collaborative approaches, meditation and mindfulness, albeit slowly, are finding their way into the professional practice of social work.
Mindfulness entails being aware of the present moment and accepting things as they are without judgment. “Mindfulness is meditation in action and involves a ‘be here now’ approach that allows life to unfold without the limitations of prejudgment. It means being open to an awareness of the moment as it is.” (Borysenko, 2007)
A Social Worker’s Experience
“I begin my first interview with every client asking them if they accept their lot in life,” said one case worker we interviewed who is utilizing “mindfulness” in her practice. “I don’t begin a long training in meditation and new age spirituality. I simply try to introduce each client to the self-evident concept of accepting things as they are without anger or assigning blame, and using that mental place as a starting point to begin to improve their circumstances. After I assure them that I am there to help them, I shock them with a “so what?” approach to their inevitable tale of woe. I refuse to let them blame themselves or anyone else for their situation. After all, their circumstances already “are”. Who cares how they got there. Let’s just work together to get them out of the vulnerable situation they’re in. I encourage them to stop wasting time and energy on blame and anger and work with me to make things better one step at a time. That is how I introduce my clients to the basic concept of “mindfulness”. It’s a great starting point, and I think it has made all the difference. My recidivism rate is way down; and I’m not teaching yoga or meditation to my vulnerable clients. I’m simply encouraging them to utilize the first principle of “mindfulness” to prevent their fear from turning to anger. Taking that first step alters all subsequent conduct, limiting the spiral of self-destruction that is the greatest obstacle to getting their lives back in order.”
She further explained that she believed this simple introduction to the first step in mindfulness helped her clients gain insight, regulate anxieties, and look at things from a safe place within themselves.
It’s Definitely Worth a Try
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