Spirituality In Social Care

Anita Parker of Aberdeen City Council, Community Services, Social Work Training team reports on the outcomes of recent workshops on Spirituality…

Towards the end of 2004, Jim Simpson, a minister from the Baptist Church, contacted the Training Team offering to contribute to some training and development activities during a three month sabbatical period in early 2005. He had demonstrated an interest in offering ‘care for the carer’ and had done a seminar the year before for residential workers,  which focused on spiritual needs.

Lynne Mitchell, Senior Social Worker/Internal Verifier with the Training team, with a particular interest in this area, made contact with Jim and thus began a very valuable partnership which resulted in raising the profile of spirituality in both the lives of carers and service users.

In the spring of 2005 a partnership was established that proved highly successful. It was agreed that a workshop approach would be most appropriate and these were offered to sixty eight carers working with older people and people with a learning disability. Staff were from Aberdeen City Council, Aberdeenshire Council and the Voluntary Sector.   This provided a creative mix of background, service provision and expectation.

It soon became obvious that demand would outstrip available places for these six introductory workshops which looked at ‘Spirituality’. The workshops were designed and delivered by Jim and Lynne.

The intention was to reflect the growing recognition of ‘spirituality’ in people’s lives as reflected in the National Care Standards, the National Occupational Standards, and the Higher National Certificate in Social Care. The aim was to provide an opportunity to explore the subject; to make links at a personal level as carers, and potentially with service users including their families.

One care home placed three members of staff on each of the first four workshops. When asked why, the answer given was ‘The subject seems so relevant.’ {mospagebreak}

When filling in the spirituality section in a service user’s Care Plan one manager was unsure where to begin and welcomed assistance in this area so that they could then advise staff accordingly.

The interest and take up of places was quite astounding with staff seeking professional guidance whilst at the same time giving consideration to a dimension of care that can be overlooked, but is an integral part of the whole person.

‘Spirituality’ can be a difficult subject when seen in the narrow sense of religious practice. Initially the challenge was to introduce ourselves as those who may ‘have the capacity to be a spiritual person’. It was then important to gather and explore any preconceived ideas which could be used as a tool for developing a broader understanding and a launch pad for confident expression. Allowing oneself to speak about the subject without feeling embarrassed was a major obstacle but once this was crossed the individual and the group were open to a range of possibilities.

Participation from the outset was interactive with encouragement to each other to share stories and raise questions ‘we have never had the opportunity to explore before’. Even in support and supervision sessions, the practical issues, such as the job to be done, can easily swamp people.

The impact of our feelings in response to the emotional demands placed upon us at times is not fully appreciated.

The ‘Spirituality’ workshops provided a sounding board, and as safe a place as was possible, to give voice to some of these hidden emotions. Staff members were willing to make use of such a facility and found their own well-being was enriched in listening and responding to each other.

Due to the diversity of age and life experience when placed alongside the big questions of ‘life and death’ it was realised that the individual did not have adequate answers but collectively were grappling with an understanding of current ‘spirituality’.{mospagebreak}

Each workshop therefore, reflected a different emphasis depending on the group of people involved. Participants were evolving and growing as they undertook exercises in their use of language and how they could make connections through signs and symbols. The participants were seen to relax over the duration of the day and were encouraged to release any pent up tension that some did not even realise they were carrying.

It was only after certain exercises, that they admitted to themselves how they had accumulated baggage, over time and that this may be affecting their potential.

It became obvious how genuinely committed many Carers are to providing a professional service in line with the National Care Standards and the SSSC Codes of Practice.  Their attitude towards the service user was illustrated to be at a deep and meaningful level and therefore any emotional cost is often accepted as par for the course.

These Carers are not asking for sympathy. However, if  employers want to maintain their workforce longer term and slow down the constant turnover of personnel, these issues and the value placed on their staff merit consideration.

Carer’s are a great asset; they can hold a ‘spirituality’ in who they are, and this can be reflected in the quality of the work they are able to offer.{mospagebreak}

The atmosphere in the Day Centres and Care Homes revolves largely around these people who are willing to give of themselves whilst being competent practitioners.

The Care Standards were given a meaningful context when seen from the perspective of a service user and reviewed through the lens of ‘spirituality’. The principles of Dignity, Privacy, Choice, Safety, Realising Potential, Equality and Diversity, each enable service users to live their lives as fully as possible; and in the way they choose within the context of service provision. The rights of the individual and the emphasis on how they experience the care they receive, reflect some of the principles of spirituality such as Meaning, Purpose, Value and Hope in daily life.

Many suggestions were positively received in making this possible, moving from theory into practice, with an enhanced understanding of the person (service user) and their needs.  This focus made it possible to clarify the needs and aspirations we all share: to see and appreciate the one receiving care from a broader context, with their own personal history and desires which can be accepted on many different levels.

‘Spirituality’ for the service user is as diverse as it is for anyone, and a challenge to be met. If elderly people choose the practice of formal religion they should be enabled to express it and not made to feel ‘old fashioned’. Their values and well-being, when recognised and given space, may add to the experience of their Carers and make their task much more fulfilling.{mospagebreak}

So the concept of partnership continues and is enhanced within the work-place. ‘Spirituality’ becomes a vehicle but not an end in itself. These workshops were only delivered at an introductory level – we were able to scratch at the surface – and bring together the Carer, the Care Standards, and the Service User, in a creative way. Such a partnership is worth considering – because so much more can be achieved when working together.

Due to the success of this pilot project, Aberdeen City Council intends to offer further workshops on Spirituality in 2007. It is acknowledged that there is continuing commitment within the Council to support front line staff and to address the need to ‘Care for the Carer’.

Feedback from the workshop suggests this pilot project has built on that commitment. Staff described feeling a renewed commitment to engaging with service users on the basis of respect for the individual. They also stated that they felt acknowledged and supported personally. In considering a long term view, helping staff at all levels to feel valued is a service worth investing in. The Council is also in the process of developing their policy on Spiritual Care.

Finally some feedback from workshop participants:
– ‘Excellent, informative, encouraged to evaluate life/work practices’
– ‘Spirituality was presented as a practical, everyday human reality without forcing any right or wrong attitude’
– ‘Can use ideas from this course to inform my work practice’
– ‘Inspirational, uplifting and enlightening’

Compiled by Jim Simpson and Anita Parker, November 2005.