Academic journal article Social Work

Implicit Spiritual Assessment: An Alternative Approach for Assessing Client Spirituality

Academic journal article Social Work

Implicit Spiritual Assessment: An Alternative Approach for Assessing Client Spirituality

Article excerpt

It is increasingly realized that spirituality plays an important role in fostering health and wellness (Koenig, King, & Carson, 2012). To help social work practitioners understand this relationship in clients' lives, a spiritual assessment is commonly recommended as a routine component of practice (Canda & Furman, 2010; Furness & Gilligan, 2010). Administering a spiritual assessment--as part of a larger bio-psycho-social-spiritual assessment--provides a more holistic understanding of clients' realities, which in turn provides the basis for subsequent practice decisions.

As a result of the time constraints that exist in therapeutic settings, spiritual assessment is widely conceptualized as a two-stage process: a brief preliminary assessment followed--if clinically warranted--by an extensive comprehensive assessment (Canda & Furman, 2010; Pargament, 2007; Shafranske, 2005). The brief assessment consists of a few questions that are typically administered to all clients (for example, "I was wondering if you are interested in spirituality or religion?"). The purpose of the preliminary assessment is to determine the clinical relevance of spirituality and to ascertain whether a comprehensive assessment is needed. In situations where clients' spiritual beliefs and practices intersect service provision, practitioners can select from an array of comprehensive assessment tools to explore this intersection (Hodge & Limb, 2010).

Although this explicit approach to spiritual assessment represents an important contribution to the literature, it may not be effective with all clients (Nelson-Becker, 2005). Some clients may benefit from what might be called an implicit spiritual assessment. In this approach, the use of traditional spiritual or religious language is avoided. Instead, practitioners use terminology that is implicitly spiritual in nature to explore potentially relevant content. As such, an implicit assessment provides a method to identify and operationalize dimensions of clients' experience that may be critical to effective service provision but would otherwise be overlooked in an explicit spiritual assessment.

Approximately two-thirds of direct practitioners affiliated with NASW believe social workers need to become more knowledgeable about spirituality (Canda & Furman, 2010). Indeed, studies have repeatedly found that most direct practitioners report receiving minimal training in spirituality during their graduate educations (Canda & Furman, 2010; Sheridan, 2009). This article addresses this knowledge gap by orienting readers to the process of conducting an implicit spiritual assessment as a supplement to existing assessment approaches.

The article begins by defining spirituality and religion and noting contexts in which an implicit spiritual assessment may be particularly germane. The process of administering a spiritual assessment is discussed, and sample questions are provided to help practitioners implement this approach in practice settings. The article concludes by offering some suggestions for integrating an implicit assessment with more traditional explicit approaches to assessment.


Spirituality is understood and expressed diversely among social workers (Hodge & McGrew, 2006) and the general public (Gallup & Jones, 2000). One way to conceptualize spirituality is in terms of connectedness with what is perceived to be sacred or transcendent (Hodge, 2001; Koenig et al., 2012; Pargament, 2007). As such, spirituality can be seen as a fundamental human drive for transcendent meaning and purpose that involves connectedness with oneself, others, and ultimate reality (Canda & Furman, 2010; Crisp, 2010).

Religion can be conceptualized as a shared set of beliefs and practices that have been developed over time with people who have similar understandings of the sacred or transcendent (Geppert, Bogenschutz, & Miller, 2007; Koenig et al. …

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