Discussion on religion and spirituality can often lead to improved physical and mental health, but clinical social workers are not integrating these conversations into their counselling sessions, a study says.
Licensed clinical social workers (LCSWs) account for the largest number of clinically trained helping professionals in the US.
"It's that big elephant in the room. If we ignore it, we are ignoring a huge component of their lives that may be tied to the clinical issue," said Holly Oxhandler from Baylor University.
Oxhandler and colleagues surveyed 442 LCSWs across the US for the study, which was published in the journal Social Work.
The survey revealed that the vast majority of LCSWs, with more than 80 percent responding favourably on most of the survey items, have positive attitudes regarding the integration of their clients' religion and spirituality into their discussions.
"They are confident in their abilities to assess and discuss their clients' beliefs, and find it feasible to do so. But they are not doing it... I'm still boggled by the fact that they are so disconnected between their views and their behaviours," she said.
Oxhandler said that from the 1920s to the 1970s, there was a push for what is called the "medical model" of practice, which she said had no mention of religion or spirituality because there was no research to support the discussion about clients' faith and practice during that time.
"It wasn't until the 1980s when some researchers were saying, 'Well, it's kind of an important area of their clients' culture that we need to be considering in clinical practice'."
It is important for social workers to be trained to learn about religions other than their own, she said adding: "If you're a Christian social worker working in a medical setting and you have a Muslim client who's in the hospital, how do you know that she needs to be positioned a certain way within her room when she prays five times a day?"