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Journaling About Spirituality and Social Work

Journal Assignment Instructions (Exercise 1.3)


These are the instructions for all journal assignments. There is not a submission for these instructions. 

1.3 Journaling About Spirituality and Social Work

When quiet time and attention are set aside for regular self-reflection, personal and professional growth can be enhanced significantly. One method for doing this is to keep a growth journal. Journaling provides a format for dialogue with yourself about reactions to the reading, class discussions, insights and implications about spiritual growth, and actions you take to support growth. A journal can be informal and unstructured, consisting of a free-flowing dialogue with yourself. This has the advantage of spontaneity and flexibility. However, some structure can encourage regularity, consistency, and self-discipline. The following paragraphs present a suggested structure for journaling in response to reading this book as well as to class discussions or presentations. The structure should provide consistency, but it should not hamper creativity. So feel free to modify it as needed.

The main purpose of this format is to encourage systematic self-reflection that moves all the way from awareness of reactions to actions planned or implemented to support growth. It is important to start with an accurate reading of the material, but reflective journaling is not just a matter of restating what was said. Reflective journaling incorporates intellectual analysis, but it should not be limited to detached, unfeeling thinking. Thinking, feeling, sensing, intuiting, and acting should all be joined.

After reading each chapter, relax and center yourself. Take a few minutes to page back through and recall your reactions, especially reactions of strong agreement or disagreement or any strong feelings and opinions. Identify which aspects of the chapter struck you as having the most significance for your personal and professional growth. If you made notes or underlined text, review those to refresh your memory. Then, take 15–30 minutes to write a commentary about your reactions and implications for growth.

A fictitious example will be given for each step. Since this example is fictitious, there is not as much personal detail as would be likely in a real journal entry. In addition, there will be great variation of style and content for each person. Find your own style of comfort with this journal process. Use the following format:

1. Title of the chapter, date read, and date of journal entry

2. Insight(s) from the reading or from class

Summarize one idea contained in the reading of most significance to you. Choose this as your focus for the journal entry. Be sure this is an accurate summary of what you read. Keep it brief, not more than about 50 words.

Example: In the introduction, the authors mentioned that one of the greatest challenges to an inclusive approach to spirituality in social work is how to include people who have an exclusive viewpoint and do not wish to dialogue or are not open to change.

3. Self-Reflection

Explain in detail how this is significant to you. Include the following levels of reflection.

a. What was your immediate reaction at the time of reading? What is your reaction as you think back on it now?

Example: When I first read this, I wondered if they were talking about people like me, a committed Christian. I felt angry and defensive, as though they were insulting me. Now that I think about it, I recall they said rigid exclusivist thinking could apply to any spiritual perspective or ideology, so they were not singling Christians out. I realize that my feelings are easily hurt when the subject of religion or spirituality comes up in social work settings.

b. Explain what it is about you that predisposes you to this reaction. For example, what is the relevance of this insight to your personal and professional interests; special strengths and talents; any prejudices, biases, or lack of knowledge; significant faith or value commitments; religious or nonreligious upbringing; cultural heritage and patterns?

Example: I became a born-again Christian 4 years ago. This made a tremendous impact on changing my life for the better. In addition, after my conversion, I felt called to follow Christ’s example by serving others in social work. However, I’ve sometimes been stereotyped and insulted by other social workers as a right-wing fundamentalist. They imply that I should not be a social worker if I have such a strong Christian commitment.

c. Identify specific strengths and limitations of your personal and professional development that are revealed by this self-reflection.

Example: My Christian commitment and support from my church are important sources of strength for me. They give me the energy and motivation to live a life of service. However, some of my fellow social workers do not share the same beliefs as me. I can see that this difference is sometimes hard to get past, both for them and for me. I understand why I feel defensive, considering my past hurts. However, I should not let this get in the way of communicating well with others. I need to figure out how to build on the strength of my faith and also how to join this with the values, ethics, and ways of communicating within the social work profession.

d. For at least one strength and one limitation identified, list an implication for further growth.

Example: My strength is my faith. I need to explore more how to join my faith with social work.

My limitation is my defensiveness. I need to avoid assuming negative intentions when I receive constructive criticism. If someone raises questions about my faith, I need to learn how to relax and respond clearly. I need to learn how to listen to their concerns with empathy and learn from their position. I also need to learn how to encourage them to listen to me. This way we could have a dialogue and learn from each other. This, after all, is consistent both with my commitment to Christian love of neighbor and to the social work professional principle of “starting where the person is.”

e. For each implication, list a specific action that you could take to support your growth.

Example: For strength: I will explore the website of the North American Association of Christians in Social Work (NACSW, and then decide whether to attend their meetings and join. I could also read articles and books about the history of Christian social work and the professional dilemmas and conflicts that sometimes arise around religion and social work. I could also learn about a different religious approach to social work and talk with social workers of this religion to help me broaden my perspective.

For limitation: When I meet other Christian social workers, we could form a support group to discuss our experiences in social work, positive and negative. This would provide interesting conversation, mutual support, and an opportunity to work through my feelings. When I meet with a social worker from another religious background, we could discuss how we each try to connect our spiritual ways to social work and find not only the differences but also the commonalities between us.

f. Select at least one action that you commit to carrying out within the next month. Make a promise to yourself in writing to do this. Make a practical plan for how it can be accomplished.

Example: Based on my review of the NACSW website, I decided to join within the next 2 weeks. I will find out the schedule for the next regional or national conference and make plans to attend. I will also invite my colleague who practices conservative religious Judaism to join me for lunch during the next week. We have already developed a friendly working relationship and gone to lunch a few times. However, the next time, I will ask if it would be all right to talk about our religious backgrounds and how we relate them to social work.

g. After this action is carried out, create an entry in your journal that discusses what happened, how you felt about it, and what you gained. If new areas for growth are identified from this, repeat the process of taking new actions and reporting to yourself about the results.

Example: I joined NACSW and eagerly await the conference scheduled for next month. I have already read their online materials and plan to order some of their publications. I felt affirmed to find out about the ways social work can be linked to church settings. I am excited to learn more about this. I am especially interested to explore how to abide by professional ethics while practicing as a Christian social worker.

This afternoon, I had lunch with my Jewish friend. She was surprised that I brought up the topic of religion, but she said she was glad. We had a good conversation. Although we have different faith commitments, we also discovered many commonalities of belief and experience as religiously committed social workers. We plan to discuss this more in the near future.


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