My View of Personal Morality’s Place in Social Work Practice

One of my most recent posts touched on the subject of this post, but I am writing this one by request in a more personal way, with a focus on personal beliefs as they influence professional social work.

In the post I mentioned above, I made this statement:

Value people as much as you value your morals. Don’t agree with their beliefs if they conflict with yours- but believe in them. That’s the cure for intolerance.

I started out in Christian ministry before I decided to get my social work degrees and pursue the profession. I chose social work as an avenue for helping for a good reason- in the church, the pat responses of, “Just have faith,” or “I’ll be praying for you,” are not enough to help people in the greatest need. In fact, those statements typically translate into loss of faith and increase in despair because at the point of need, a person wants to be with someone who can be fully present and can help skillfully and compassionately.

This disparity that brought me to social work does not compromise my personal or spiritual beliefs at all- it was a recognition of where the church can do better. I believe in prayer to Christ and faith in God- I rely on those things. It’s not a belief problem- it’s a people problem. And so, in working to correct that, I haven’t given up on my beliefs, but I have tried to learn how to appreciate people, their stages of life, and the situations they find themselves in.

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I have explained this to numerous social work students that come out of our faith-based liberal arts colleges in the area aspiring to be social workers. One question I always receive is: “If you really believe in Christ and that He is the answer to the problems people face, how do work in a profession/with a company/in a position that often restricts you from sharing your faith?” I think the answer I give these students is the answer I would give to anyone wanting to know how my personal beliefs work together with my professional choices. And here it goes:

It is one thing to talk about Jesus. It is another thing to embody what He did. Social work isn’t preaching or evangelization, but it is meeting people in need where they are. I certainly get to help more people in their time of need in social work than I would otherwise.

With that mindset, I realize that I am fulfilling a certain, narrow role in the life of the person. What is most important for this individual at the moment? I am in the business of crisis intervention. Keeping a child or adolescent from harming himself is paramount in the moment. The morality of what they are thinking or doing is irrelevant. The goal is to preserve the opportunity for healthier choices in the future. I know I can only make a difference with that person in the here-and-now. The only person I can make a difference in for all time and eternity- is me. But I trust One who is greater and wiser than I to guide and direct other people to the best things in life now and forever. And ever so often, I do see a lasting change occur due to my efforts as a social worker.

This post has been a glimpse into how social work has shaped me. It has also provided a view of the way my personal beliefs have shaped my practice and my perception of what I do as a social worker. There is more that could be said, but I want to leave room for discussion, or even to write another post. So what do you want to know from me about the tension between strong personal beliefs and being open to differences posed by clients? What has been your experience? What is your motivation to help through the social work profession? I feel that my strong beliefs are my greatest motivation to help others. What about you?


3 thoughts on “My View of Personal Morality’s Place in Social Work Practice”

  1. This is such an important topic Glen. Thank you for articulating your perspective so eloquently. I resonated with much of what you wrote because I have always felt that my work as a clinical social worker was a kind of spiritual practice for me in terms of how I would be present with my clients.

    You kind of hinted at this, but I’d be interested in hearing a bit more about how you manage situations with your clients where they are considering choices that really conflict with your moral values. I know this is a situation that comes up in many of the discussions that we have with social work students. I plan on sharing your post with our faculty in the hopes that some of them will use it in their classes.

    1. I have been thinking about your question and I want to write more about specific scenarios that I and other social workers have faced that represent the conflict between personal beliefs and professional responsibilities. In thinking about it, I did come up with some points that are important to me when I encounter conflicts:
      – stay people-centered
      – remember that the options a person presents represent the only options they even know exist- don’t rip those options away without helping them consider new alternatives.
      – objectively help evaluate options for any given situation.
      – disclose if there is a decision the client is making that I cannot be objective about. Even in granting informed consent to a service, it does not mean that a client or practitioner can always aware of all scenarios that may arise, and the client should be able to decide if he wants to be served by someone else (when possible.)

      This is just a start, and it is somewhat generic, but I want to give serious consideration to some actual scenarios and write those in additional blog posts.

      I’m thrilled that you would consider my writing as useful in educating social work students! Thanks again for the topic idea and let me know if I can be of assistance in any way!

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