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Research team creates guide for spirituality in mental health recovery

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

LAWRENCE — Spirituality, faith and religion can be challenging to incorporate in helping people with mental health recovery. A University of Kansas professor and his team have developed a brochure and website to help mental health providers around the world sensitively address spirituality and determine how it can help people recover.

Edward Canda, professor of social welfare and courtesy professor of religious studies, led the project by The Spiritual Diversity and Social Work Initiative and The Center for Mental Health Research and Innovation at KU’s School of Social Welfare. 

“We felt it was important to create a very user-friendly guide for providers so they could get a sense, very quickly, of the significance of spirituality and how it fits the Strengths Model for promoting mental health recovery,” Canda said. “My hope is to make a contribution to the mental health community that anyone can access.”

The Strengths Model is an approach to mental health recovery developed at KU in the mid- to late-1980s and has become influential nationally and internationally. It focuses on identifying an individual’s strengths and resources to aid recovery instead of dwelling on the problem or focusing on negative aspects while looking for solutions. The model assesses life domains, including home/daily living, assets, employment/education, supportive relationships, wellness/health, leisure/recreation and spirituality/culture. The spirituality aspect of the latter domain is the most commonly misunderstood, and it is rare for mental health providers to have any training in that area, Canda said. Providers are often uncomfortable discussing it as they feel they may be unintentionally imposing or misunderstanding certain beliefs.

The new brochure, available online gives providers an overview of how spirituality can aid in understanding mental health challenges and helping individuals recover. Specifically it offers suggestions on nonleading questions to explore the possible role of spirituality in individuals' lives and whether it is important to them. Direct and indirect questions, nonjudgmental invitations for further conversation and recommended actions are all included in the brochure. It helps providers understand what spirituality means to a consumer, for example, whether a person is a member of a faith community or other spiritual support system, or might use personal forms of prayer, meditation or ritual, or might consider oneself to be nonreligious or nonspirituals, but finds inspiration in connecting with nature. In any case, the helpful or challenging issues that relate to mental health recovery can be explored, if the consumer wishes. If so, the consumer can be helped to develop plans for action to achieve their recovery goals. More details on the team’s research that led to the brochure are available in the recently published article “Spiritual Assessment in Mental Health Recovery,” authored by Sachiko Gomi, KU doctoral student, V.R. Starnino, assistant professor of social work at Indiana University and KU alumnus; and Canda. The article was published in the Community Mental Health Journal.

“The mental health worker can help identify goals for the individual and link them to proper resources,” Canda said of the spiritually sensitive approach to mental health. “The key is following the consumer’s cues.”

The Center for Mental Health Research and Innovation has begun distributing physical copies of the brochure to mental health providers that practice the Strengths Model, but it is available online for anyone who is interested. This summer and fall Canda will take a sabbatical and travel to several countries to share his work on spiritually sensitive approach to mental health and social work to adapt it for use in varying cultures. He plans to engage colleagues in several countries, including India, Canada, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Czech Republic, Croatia, South Korea and Japan. Spirituality and religion and their place in society differ greatly from country to country and even within regions and social groups of the same nation, necessitating a careful approach when used in mental health practice.

The approach is not new in all areas. Canda has worked extensively in South Korea throughout his career, and his book, “Spiritual Diversity in Social Work Practice: The Heart of Helping,” co-authored with Leoda Dyrud Furman, has been translated into Korean and is now being translated into Japanese.

Canda and colleagues have also developed and are continuing to refine the Spiritual Diversity and Social Work Initiative website http://spiritualdiversity.ku.edu/, an extensive repository for information on spirituality and social work in several fields of practice, such as mental health, available to anyone interested. The site contains contacts for scholars that have contributed to the field from across North America, Asia, Australia, Central America, Europe and the Middle East. There is also a collection of resources for relating spiritual diversity to topics such as aging, education, ethics, health, mental health, philosophy, practice, theory/research and youth.

Canda was recently recognized for his contributions to social work with the Council on Social Work Education’s Significant Lifetime Achievement Award. A pioneering proponent for inclusion of spirituality as part of a holistic approach to social work since the 1980s, Canda said the award was an honor both for him and for all those who have helped spiritually-attuned research, teaching and professional helping expand to where it is today.

“This award is very meaningful to me — not only because it recognizes my work, but especially because it shows increased recognition of the importance for education to prepare social workers to address spirituality, in its diverse religious

and nonreligious forms,” Canda said in his acceptance speech. “That is truly amazing as it shows that I, and our profession, have come a long way since I began this work.”

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