Some believe that religion signifies more than a mere “system” or set of beliefs.
According to Durkheim (2012), religion serves as the foundation for ideals regarding life’s ultimate meaning. It is truly representative of commonly held beliefs that seek to improve the quality of life among communities and their members. Therefore, all religions are essentially social at their origins and serve to maintain the whole of society.
Theodicy has been linked to religion. It offers a religious explanation for the unequal distribution of goods, as well as, bad fortune. According to Tilley (2000), it enables believers to keep their faith when they are facing adversity of any kind. It does so through justifying suffering by defending God’s goodness. Some churches across America preach about how God will send you through hard times to detach you from the things that caused you to waiver from him in the first place. Some preach about how the devil is simply trying to trick people into thinking that their current situation will be a permanent situation. Either way, it influences the moral development of people and helps to empower communities.
Since the Code of Ethics of the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) stipulates that social workers should be committed to justice and respect for all people, it is important for social workers to also analyze issues related to religion and spirituality. This will help the practitioner to gather a more holistic view of their clients and their communities. It will also help to promote social justice and the worth of the client. It would be unethical practice to disregard an important facet of an individual’s growth, especially one of which plays a pivotal role in an individual’s development (e.g., spirituality).
Social work and religion are inspired by compassion and empathy (Sickle, 2016). So, it seems fitting to use each of them to compliment one another in practice with vulnerable populations. Social workers need to develop a holistic view of their client in their environment to promote their overall well being. If a major aspect of the client’s life is left unanalyzed then how can a holistic view of the person be attained by the social worker? By obtaining a holistic view of the client, which includes spirituality then discrimination will be avoided and treatment will be more effective.
The lack of utilization of mental health services is evident among Black people across the US and it should be addressed. The literature proposes that there are three fundamental conditions for people seeking help, such as endorsement of norms, stigma, and attitudes toward the profession (Holden, 2014). On a collective level, Black people normally refrain from seeking professional help for their problems. This is because the image of the helping profession has been tarnished by the stigmas it still carries today (e.g., Tuskegee Syphilis study). Stigma is a process that involves negative beliefs, which are based on erroneous knowledge that underlie prejudice and is expressed as negative attitudes (Ayalon & Alvidrez, 2007; ; Rusch Angermeyer, & Corrigan, 2005). Due to the stigma associated with the grievous fraudulence of helping professionals in the past, Black people are presently half as likely as White people to seek mental health services (Satcher, 2001).
Perhaps this is due to a cultural mistrust, which has developed among many “people of color” because of the stigma. Cultural mistrust is a “psychological construct in the lives of Black people”, (Whaley, 2001). In relation to the helping profession, it is the unwillingness as a patient to trust a system that is based on Eurocentric values (e.g., Freudian theories). Because of this psychological construct, many Black people are standoffish of the profession, mostly out of fear. According to Murray (2010), Black people are “fearful that seeking therapy will result in them being labeled”, which is something a Black person fears immensely (e.g., attaining another label).
It has also been argued that the negative effects of cultural mistrust are not unique to counseling or psychotherapy. Rather it also represents a broader perspective of dissatisfaction within the U.S. healthcare system (Benkert, et al., 2006; ; Betancourt et al., 2003). This can be seen in different subgroups of the Black community. According to a Kranke (2012) study, Black adolescents reported similar origins of stigmatizing attitudes toward mental illness as adults. This illustrates further the need to develop programs that take into account community, cultural, family, racial, and religious influences in order to promote the utilization of services and treatment.
Other researchers found that Black women with higher cultural values had greater perceived stigma about seeking counseling (Wallace & Constantine, 2005). Yet, some Black women do engage in services. However, when they do so it is for shorter periods of time and they usually have higher premature termination rates from treatment (William, n.d.). This may be due to many Black patients feeling as though their counselors cannot relate to their issues because of the gap between them culturally. Also, Black people are more likely to engage in counseling when it is labeled as "counseling" and not as "psychotherapy" because of the increased stigma and negative connotations associated with the latter (e.g., one being labeled as psychotic).
Spirituality has proven to be a key coping mechanism for racism related stress, as well. It provides Black people with a church community, spiritual community, guidance, and a personal relationship with God, which helps to combat racial issues they encounter on a daily basis (Beagan, Etowa, & Bernard 2012). Researchers also found correlations between church support and “suicidality”, in that church-based social support networks deter suicide ideas and attempts (Chatters, 2011). The type of support tends to be emotional and given in the context of services or community events, which helps to foster community and further healthy development. According to (Smith, 2003), higher levels of spirituality were associated with lower levels of depression, especially among people facing crisis. Therefore, spirituality is important to consider for treatment purposes because it intersects with an individuals functioning on multiple levels.
The literature on religion and spirituality, as it relates to the helping professions, offers some unique opportunities to improve social services in the Black community. Although research is nil, in reference specifically to spirituality and social work, some inferences can still be made about the causes of the lack of help seeking behavior among Black people.
Stigma and cultural mistrust seem to be the most evident causes for the lack of utilization of services. This exemplifies that the stigma associated with the helping professions must be erased to regain the trust of Black people. The context must be smoothed in order for more Black people to be more willing to engage in services with a professional. Theorists believe this can be accomplished by getting helping professionals to work in conjunction with religious leaders, since the Black Church has historically been the pillar of the Black community.
Rather, they turn to the church, which is not necessarily a bad thing. But researchers have linked greater religious involvement to less reliance on thought suppression and denial as means of coping, among Black women (Prado, 2004). Therefore, it is important for social workers to practice addressing spirituality as it relates to Black women since studies show it can foster healthy functioning.
Many of these problems are deep rooted in the society (e.g., oppression, prejudice, racism, sexism, hatred, unemployment, debt, etc.). If the Black Church fails to empower their communities, like during the Civil Rights Movement, and adequately address the underlying issues associated with their congregant’s pain, separate from spirituality, then their weekly intentions in their houses of worship are good but misguided. It also adds insult to injury when certain religious leaders preach to vulnerable populations, while they seemingly thrive off of the profits from the church collection (i.e., the pastor drives a Bentley while most of the congregation takes the bus or the pastor has a mansion while many in the congregation are homeless). This is adding to the development of this problem because members are turning away from the church due to discouragement and disappointed. And, if Black people feel they cannot trust the helping profession, in addition to the Black church, then that begs the question, where will they turn to next? 🤷
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