The Meandering Social Worker

wandering : wondering : learning

Archive for the tag “mindfulness”

Was decision to expel social work student for Facebook posts draconian or deserved?

This was recently discussed by Community Care who summarise some of the key arguments surrounding Sheffield university’s controversial decision

Source: Was decision to expel social work student for Facebook posts draconian or deserved?

In a nutshell, Ngole, a Christian social work student posted on his facebook page something that indicated he did not approve of gay marriage and said that homosexuality was against Biblical teaching.  Another student complained to the university and Ngole was expelled from the course.  The university said that anyone could have Googled his name and discovered his beliefs and that might mean that person would not feel that they could go to him for support.  It doesn’t seem to have been considered that on discovering Ngole’s belief there might be someone who felt more able to go to him for support, but I’ll come back to that in a moment.

There are a number of problems with the university’s decision.

As a society we have absorbed many of the beliefs of Eastern religions without even realising it.  Western psychology long ago adopted Mindfulness from Buddhism.  What in the West we call ‘alternative’ health and fitness practices, such as acupuncture and the martial arts, and their various derivatives, have become so mainstream we tend to forget their origins in Eastern faiths.  We live in a society awash with ‘spiritual’ messages, if only we open our eyes to recognise it. Many of these practices rooted in Eastern philosophies have found their way into the practice contact books of today’s social workers.  Yet we don’t condemn them for promoting spiritual beliefs – because the profession is not as ‘secular’ as we like to think it is.

The argument about only having to Google Ngole’s name to discover his beliefs is weak.  I only have to look at a traditionally dressed Muslim (male or female), Sikh (male or female) or Jew (male) to know the belief system they follow.  Sure, I don’t know to what extent they adhere to their specific teachings, but I don’t even have to Google their name to start making some assumptions.  We wouldn’t dream of discriminating against someone wanting to become a social worker because of belonging to one of these religions (and I know perfectly capable practicing social workers who do belong to these faith systems).

We live in a society with a wide range of beliefs, attitudes, expectations and opinions.  The reality is that we work with people from that wide range of belief systems.  That person who is Googling their social worker’s name might just be looking for reassurance that their social worker shares their own belief system.  Or they might be reassured that their social worker has not tried to influence them with a different opinion.

What if the service users asks us if we are a Christian, Muslim, Sikh, Buddhist or whatever?  What if they ask us if we are married or have children? Or where we live, or what kind of house we live in?  There are a myriad of personal questions that can come up.  How do we respond to them?  In the same way – we generally avoid giving a direct answer.

Social workers, like the eclectic mix of people and beliefs they work with, are not an homogeneous bunch.  Thinking of the diversity of the characters, lifestyles and beliefs of the people I have worked with over the years, it would be a great loss to the profession if we were to try and become homogeneous.  We are all different, as are the service users.  We all have deep rooted prejudices (try the online Implicit Association Test if you don’t think so).  We have all been influenced by the cultural norms of our societies and families.  Class, beliefs, values, experiences – good and bad – we bring them all into our professional role, and absorb new and changing experiences as we go through life into our beliefs and values.  Some hold to easily recognisable religious belief systems.  Others have a more eclectic mix of ‘spirituality’.  Few are truly a-spiritual.  The test should be: can we practice in a manner that adheres to the professional codes of conduct?  Can we accept that others are also able to practice in a manner that adheres to the same codes of conduct?  Can we accept diversity among ourselves?  Because it is that diversity that enriches our profession, enables us to debate issues and pushes at the doors of the dangers of professional and systemic ‘wilful blindness‘.

Did his university give Ngole the opportunity to prove he is capable of becoming that social worker, able to practice in accordance with professional codes of conduct?  How have the rest of his student group been enabled to come to terms with working with difference and diversity following the expulsion of one of their number for being different and diverse?  I don’t know the answers to these questions, but surely social work training is about training to become, not evidencing that we already are.  Has Ngole been denied that opportunity?  He has made mistakes: firstly in believing that his private facebook page was truly private but secondly he may have thought he could trust his peers or educators to be open minded when it comes to diversity and trust. Ngole is not the first student to find out the hard way that that is not, sadly, always the case. To get the most benefit out of social work training students need to be able to feel safe enough to open up their vulnerabilities in order to challenge them.  Fear of expulsion, such as cases like this can cause, do nothing to promote that important part of training.  If social work is not the right profession for Ngole he needed to be able to come to that understanding for himself.  Instead he is now to be embroiled in a legal challenge supported by the Christian Legal Centre, and his opportunity for personal reflection and development is at least on hold if not ended.

I have expressed here my opinion.  I have made it public, as is everything I post on this blog.  I am very conscious of what I post publicly here and on Facebook, and on comments on other people’s blogs.  I am happy to be open to challenge and debate.  I may change my mind.  I may not. You may not know who I am in real life because this blog title is anonymised but available to employers – and those who already know me personally will have no difficulty recognising me; that is not the case for service users.  Like many social workers, my facebook page is in a different name to my registered practice name.  That is as much for personal security reasons as it is because I want to be able to express my opinions without fear of it influencing my work.

I have friends who are Christian, and many more who are not.  I seem to have missed out on having any Muslim friends but I have, and have had, colleagues who are Muslim and Sikh. I have friends on different continents.  I have friends and colleagues who are in gay marriages.  I have friends and colleagues who are not. I have one friend who thinks Donald Trump is ‘on the button’ for his views on Muslims and immigration.  I have many more friends who are seriously worried by the prospect of President Trump.  I have friends who are members of the Labour Party and others who support the Tories.  Although I work cross culturally most, but not all, my friends are ‘White’, but that’s because my birth family are ‘White’ and I live in a predominantly ‘White’ area.  Should I be condemned for any of these things?  Do they make me any less able to be a social worker and adhere to professional codes of conduct?  I hope not.  Just as I don’t condemn you for your beliefs, background, experiences, culture or lifestyle choices.  We preach tolerance and diversity.  Let us better practice it amongst ourselves.  Otherwise we just become afraid of each other in an environment where we are unable to challenge ourselves in order to develop and grow.


HeartMath book reviews

The HeartMath Solution by Doc Childre and Howard Martin with Donna Beech (1999)
Paperback, Published by HarperOne (
The HeartMath Solution combines the underpinning theory and research behind the HeartMath system of reducing stress and living a more coherent life, with self-help style instructions on how to turn theory into practice.

In HeartMath the heart is considered to be a source of intelligence and wisdom, alongside but more reliable than brain intelligence in developing a lifestyle in which stress and negative emotions no longer cause harm. The authors back up their practice with scientific research and short case stories or real life examples of how others have been helped through HeartMath.

Explaining heart intelligence, in the introduction the authors state, “One of the exciting aspects of life at the cusp of the new century is that people are sensing the possibility of a merger between science and spirit … [and] …. the heart is the doorway to this union.” And “… our theory is that the heart links us to a higher intelligence through an intuitive domain where spirit and humanness merge.”

However, although the exercises and practice of HeartMath have not changed, the fact that the book was originally written in 1999 gives a dated feel to the writing and presentational style that does not necessarily do the program justice in the 21st Century. A badly needed second edition would also give the developers of HeartMath the opportunity to provide more recent research evidence.


Transforming Stress by Doc Childre and Deborah Rozman (2005)
Paperback, Published by New Harbinger Publications, Oakland

Published just six years later this book has a more modern feel to it and is part of what has become a series of books from the HeartMath Institute.  “Transforming Stress” gives a good background to the causes and consequences of stress while slowly introducing the HeartMath principles and techniques used to deal with stress and learn how to prevent stress from becoming a problem.

The authors state: The key to transforming stress lies in your power to regulate your emotions and perceptions. That power comes from your heart. You can learn how to engage your heart rhythms to manage your emotions and perceptions….. You don’t manage the situation, …. you manage your reaction to it, gaining a new feeling with new insight about how to best approach the stressful situation even as it is occurring. (p.18)

The first and foundational technique begins with learning to ‘breathe’ through your heart, aligning the rhythms of your heart to your other physical systems in order to access the natural intelligence or brain of the heart. The authors state: this entire book is about building inner security through aligning with the intelligence of your heart. Various short case stories or real life examples demonstrate how others have been helped through achieving this and the subsequent techniques.

Whether or not you practice the specific HeartMath techniques this book provides some useful exercises as well as general information about the development and impact of stress that makes it a useful addition to any library.

Book review: Mindfulness for busy people

As I lay in a hammock under a cloudless African sky it occurred to me I was (at least temporarily) not in quite the same life space as the authors of Mindfulness for busy people, turning frantic and frazzled into calm and composed, envisioned when they wrote their book.

Written in an upbeat and chatty tone, the book opens with some background explanations and dispels some myths: such as mindfulness is not meditation although meditation can be a route to mindfulness.  Mindfulness is ‘a way of being’ rather than something to attain, an ability to ‘live in the present’ with acceptance, compassion and open curiosity about yourself and the world around you.  With the world crashing around your head and deadlines looming on every corner that might seem impossible to attain.  The authors don’t agree.  The message is that mindfulness is easy to do but takes determination and effort to achieve; not that your life should be less busy or doing less, but that you can do what you do more effectively, with less damaging stress and more control over your emotions.  Along the way the authors, psychologists Dr Michael Sinclair and Josie Seydel, emphasise just how busy you are, how unmanageable your life is, how your busyness is causing you to fail in so many ways, as they work to convince you how much you need this book.

As with any self-help book there are plenty of little quizzes, tasks and mini meditations to help you get to grips with the concept.   Throughout these are short and simple.  The book is, after all, intended for people who feel they are to busy to read the book.  There’s no timetable: no one-a-day or one-a-week challenges to take you through a programme at a set pace.  Fast or slow, you can set your own timetable, work through it steadily or lurch through it in chunks: whatever works for you – you can take the book entirely at your own pace.  As a bonus the authors have recorded downloadable audio guides to go with many of the meditations.  There’s plenty of ‘supporting evidence’ as to why Mindfulness is for you but if you want you can even skip the reading and leap through the clearly marked exercises.  Many only take a minute or two and can be done in the middle of a meeting, sitting at traffic lights (not while driving), standing in a queue at the supermarket, in the shower or while taking a much needed coffee break in the staff restaurant.

If you work in any of the social care fields you’ve probably come across either the term mindfulness or it’s practice since it was adopted into modern psychology in the 1970’s.  If you want to know more about mindfulness this could be an easy to read starting point.  If your life, your work, is frantic and frazzled this could be a signpost to a calmer more productive future.

Mindfulness for busy people: turning frantic and frazzled into calm and composed by Dr Michael Sinclair and Josie Seydel (2013) paperback, published by Pearson, £12.99, ISBN 978-0273-78990-1

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