Academic journal article Journal of Social Work Education

Perceptions of Compliance with the Profession's Ethical Standards That Address Religion: A National Study

Academic journal article Journal of Social Work Education

Perceptions of Compliance with the Profession's Ethical Standards That Address Religion: A National Study

Article excerpt

THE PROFESSION'S treatment of religion is a matter of ethical concern to all social workers. The National Association of Social Workers (1999) Code of Ethics lists four standards that explicitly mention religion (1.05c, 2.01b, 4.02, and 6.04d). In addition, given that religion is the basis for numerous cultural groups, at least two standards implicitly refer to religion (1.05a and 1.05b). These ethical standards are designed to shape the profession's posture toward religion, ensuring that its interaction occurs within certain prescribed parameters that are conducive to sound social work practice.

Various definitions exist for both religion and the associated construct of spirituality (Canda & Furman, 1999; Carroll, 1998). While religion and spirituality are generally conceptualized as distinct but overlapping constructs (Hodge, 2001), debate exists regarding which is the broader construct (Pargament, 1999). For the purposes of this paper, religion, which can be defined as a visible, measurable manifestation of an inward spiritual reality (Pargament, 1997; Musick, Koenig, Larson, & Matthews, 1998), is used as the broader term. This usage is consistent with the Code's mention of religion but not spirituality.

In light of recent trends, the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) ethical standards related to religion have rarely been more relevant. Empirical research, client desires, cultural diversity, and developments within the profession itself have all served to focus increasing amounts of attention upon this subject.

A growing body of empirical research indicates that religion is a significant strength in individuals' lives (Johnson, 2002; Koenig, McCullough, & Larson, 2001). In what is perhaps the most exhaustive review to date, Koenig et al. (2001) examined over 1,200 studies on religion, most of which were conducted in the past few decades. These researchers found that religion was consistently associated with a wide range of salutary outcomes in the areas of mental and physical health.

Religion often plays a role of increased significance for many populations of particular interest to social workers, such as African Americans, immigrants, women, the elderly, and people who are poor (Davis & Robinson, 1997; Gallup & Lindsay, 1999; Kamya, 1997; Pargament, 1997). Interest in religious belief has increased among the general population (Gallup & Lindsay, 1999), and many clients desire to have their religious beliefs and values integrated into counseling settings (Arnold, Avants, Margolin, & Marcotte, 2002; Bart, 1998; Privette, Quackenbos, & Bundrick, 1994; Rose, Westefeld, & Ansley, 2001).

As the American cultural mosaic has diversified over the past few decades with the addition of growing numbers of Muslims (Hodge, 2004a), Hindus (Hodge, 2004b), and other people of faith (Melton, 1999), the importance of culturally competent service is increasingly recognized (Dunn, 2002). Clients' religious worldviews can affect attitudes and practices regarding a wide range of issues of importance to helping professionals (Rey, 1997).

The social work profession has responded to and reflected these changes in a number of ways. Miller (2001) reported that at least 50 social work programs now have specialized courses on religion and spirituality, up from 17 in 1995 and a handful in 1990. The Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) recently added a specialized symposium on spirituality at their Annual Program Meeting and its (2001) Educational Policy and Accreditation Standards now addresses religion and spirituality. The recently-issued NASW Standards for Cultural Competence in Social Work Practice (2001) directs social workers to consider religious cultures in their work with clients. Indeed, Canda and Furman (1999) reported that there is "an explosion of interest" (p. 72) in religion and spirituality among social workers.

Given the emerging nature of the interest, it is perhaps unsurprising that relatively few studies have examined the views of social workers on various topics related to religion (DeCoster & Burcham, 2002). …

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