Academic journal article Social Work

Reimaging Field Instruction from a Spiritually Sensitive Perspective: An Alternative Approach

Academic journal article Social Work

Reimaging Field Instruction from a Spiritually Sensitive Perspective: An Alternative Approach

Article excerpt

No longer can we tell whether it is the student offering himself to the teacher or the teacher offering herself to the student. We see each of the two beings mirroring the other in pure reflection.

- Huang & Lynch, 1995, p. 4

As we come to the end of the 20th century and celebrate 100 years of social work, we take this opportunity to reflect on how we train, supervise, mentor, and teach beginning professionals. Students come to the profession of social work from a wide range of age groups and truly diverse and rich backgrounds and with many hopes and fears as beginning professionals. What is unique about the professional training of social workers is that all full-time and many part-time students enter practice the same day they enter graduate school. This form of education, referred to as field instruction, relies heavily on experienced practitioners to provide supervised practice opportunities that enable students to acquire the requisite knowledge, skills, and professional identity for professional social work practice (Rogers & McDonald, 1992).

The original goal of this article was to apply Buddhist principles to field work supervision, but as we began to explore the topic we found that other worldviews such as Taoism and African and Native American traditions have the potential to add a wealth of insight to the subject. As our discussions began to develop into a thesis, we were struck by the fascinating ways religious and spiritual principles could be applied to social work education. It would run counter to our goals for us to propose a replacement to the traditional model. Instead we seek to broaden the scope of traditional models, allowing for alternatives that may function more effectively in a contemporary context.

This article takes this notion of spirituality into the practice setting through field instruction. We emphasize the value of this notion in the education of the student in the field. Specifically, we suggest some ways of adding to the value of the experience by attending to the spiritual nature of the field instructor-student relationship. We bring this sense of spirituality into practice settings because the field experience is an important point of entry into practice and as such, one of the most critical points of entry for a paradigm shift.

While releasing the roles of "field instructor" and "student" from static definitions, we also propose that fieldwork can provide a mutually enriching growth experience for both the student and the field instructor and effectively respond to the modern changes and challenges faced by that relationship. We chose to use a spiritual perspective and Eastern spiritual concepts toward increasing the intrinsic value of this invaluable part of social work education. Five core concepts from Eastern religious and spiritual traditions (that is, Buddhism, Confucianism, and Taoism) that could prove beneficial to fieldwork supervision are isolated for this purpose. The concepts are Sacred Space, karma, interrelation - emptiness, process dedicated to process - no goal, and Taoist harmony.

Reimaging field instruction from a spiritual perspective is presented as a specific model of practice and as an alternative way that is useful in our attempts to understand relationships formed during fieldwork education. Approaching the supervisor-student relationship as a sacred space, respecting the radically interdependent nature of all relationships, and focusing on the process of the relationship rather than the goal opens the process of fieldwork supervision to the upper limits of its potential.

Although it appears that the meaning of the terms supervision, field instruction, and mentorship deserve no further explanation, it is important to present precise definitions of these terms for the purpose of clarity and consistency. Supervision is providing emotional support, sharing of clinical responsibilities, a resource person to discuss client issues, enhanced professional development, opportunity to discuss social work theory and practice, feedback, appreciation, agency, a sense of belonging, and personal growth (Kadushin, 1974). …

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