Academic journal article Social Work

Working with Hindu Clients in a Spiritually Sensitive Manner

Academic journal article Social Work

Working with Hindu Clients in a Spiritually Sensitive Manner

Article excerpt

When working with nonmainstream populations, effective service provision is often contingent on the practitioner's level of cultural competence (Mizio, 1998; Poole, 1998). Cultural competence is predicated on developing an awareness of the two worldviews involved in the counseling dialogue, the consumer's and the practitioner's (McPhatter, 1997). Not only should workers strive to develop an empathetic understanding of consumers' reality, but workers should also seek to acquire an awareness of their own culturally informed assumptions (Wambach & Van Soest, 1997). Based on the new awareness, social workers can implement interventions that are congruent with the consumer's beliefs, values, and practices.

Lack of cultural competence can have serious ramifications, particularly when working with religious traditions that practitioners may not be familiar with, such as Hinduism. Not only is effective practice impeded, but harm may occur. Reddy and Hanna (1998) emphasized that practitioner application of typical Western secular values and related interventions with Hindus in counseling settings my cause "confusion and further negative affect." Indeed, whereas Goodwin and Cramer (1998) found that 80 percent of the 70 Hindus in the study would use a counseling service, they also found that 76 percent of respondents "were insistent that the counselor should be someone who understood their culture intimately" (p. 422).

Most social workers, however, have received no training on Hinduism during their graduate programs (Canda & Furman, 1999), suggesting the need for practitioners to familiarize themselves with this population. This need may be particularly salient given that Hinduism is the largest Asian religion in the United States (Richards & Bergin, 1997) and is growing rapidly (Williams, 1997). Yet, only a few articles have appeared in the literature on Hinduism (Canda & Furman), and none has focused on orienting workers to interact with Hindu consumers.

This article attempts to equip workers with a practice-oriented understanding of Hinduism. This articles highlights the centrality of community as a metaphor for understanding Hinduism and leads into a discussion of the dharma, the underlying sacred order that informs classical Hinduism.


Hinduism is a 12th-century Persian term used by Muslims to describe "the belief of the people of India" (Fenton et al., 1993, p. 21). Although there are more than 800 million Hindu adherents worldwide, 13 percent of the earth's population (Juthani, 1998), the overwhelming majority live in India, the cradle of Hinduism, where they are approximately 85 percent of the population (Fenton et al.). Thus, Hinduism is closely tied to Indian history, geography, and culture. In the eyes of many Indians, and especially among the Hindu majority, Hindu culture and Indian culture are functionally equivalent (Fenton, 1988).

Hindu self-awareness and self-identity affirms Hinduism as a single religious universe (Weightman, 1998). As Melton (1999) noted, there are a number of commonly held beliefs, practices and values, including a shared religious history in India. Conversely, it is important to note that there is an extraordinary degree of diversity within Hinduism. For example, even prevalent terminology, such as Brahman and dharma, can signify a wide range of divergent and discrete concepts among various spiritual traditions within the religiion (Reat, 1990).

Consequently, it should be kept in mind that this article is intended to provide social workers with an "exploratory working hypothesis" with which to interact with Hindu clients, rather than a definitive framework. In other words, practitioners should use the concepts developed in this article as a starting point, while allowing consumers the freedom to adjust practitioners' understanding of their reality on the basis of their own interpretation of Hinduism.

Centrality of Community

For social workers raised and educated in a Western Enlightenment-derived worldview that emphasizes personal autonomy, human rationality, and a positivist epistemology (Crocker, 1997; Jafari, 1993), the Hindu cosmology can represent a radically different model for understanding reality. …

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