Spirituality and Social Work: Acknowledging a Critical Element of Client Identity

A social worker meets with a client.










The field of social work is predominantly focused on promoting social justice for individuals and communities. This takes many forms, from advocacy to counseling, but all efforts point to a common theme of helping people live healthy, socially adjusted lifestyles. This often means engaging every facet of identity, including a person’s spirituality. As a Catholic liberal arts institution, Regis College is uniquely positioned to discuss issues of spirituality in the context of social work.

Students in online Master of Social Work programs can benefit from exploring how spirituality and social work can be effectively woven together.

The Role of Spirituality in Social Work Practice

It’s important to understand that conversations around spirituality in social work practice aren’t about a specific religion. Instead, incorporating spirituality into social work practice is about helping clients to explore the spiritual aspect of their lives and helping them along a journey of personal discovery that can promote healing and healthy living. Acknowledging clients’ spirituality is increasingly recognized as a critical element of social work.

Survey Results Show How Social Workers Incorporate Spirituality Into Their Practice

A blog post from the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) covered research published by the NASW Press detailing the increased role of spirituality in social work.

The research explored the factors that help social workers integrate their clients’ religious and spiritual beliefs into their clinical practice and examined what limits their ability to engage in conversations around spirituality.

A survey of social workers found that 85% of social work professionals feel they don’t run into barriers trying to discuss spiritual matters with clients.

Other key findings of the survey include the following:

  • 66% said they believe their personal religious and spiritual journeys have had a positive impact on their ability to discuss spiritual matters with their clients.
  • 37% said specific religious practices help them engage clients, including prayer, meditation, and yoga.
  • 25% said they receive some form of training to help them engage with spirituality in their social work efforts.
  • 9% of social workers who answered a survey question regarding what prevented them from integrating religion and spirituality into their practice said they wait for the client to bring up the topic; among the entire survey group, 19.5% said they wait for clients to bring up the topic. Many social workers are willing to incorporate issues of spirituality into what they do, but they often feel uncomfortable doing so until the client has broached the subject.

Religion in Social Work

Ignoring religion and spirituality neglects a major component of many people’s lives. However, many social workers don’t feel prepared to initiate or participate in these conversations. In some cases, it may be because of a lack of formal training on the topic. This is where a course on spirituality and social work can be instrumental in providing care and furthering the field of social work.

What to Expect from a Course on Spirituality in Social Work

Basically, classes on spirituality in social work are designed to prepare students to engage with spiritual matters when working with social work clients. This can lead to discussions on a wide range of topics, with major points of discussion including the following:

  • How to initiate and respond to conversations around spiritual matters in a healthy way. This can be a complicated matter, as social workers must develop strategies to listen to and support clients while ensuring that they remain professional and clinical in how their personal beliefs influence these conversations.
  • How to engage in areas of social work practice that are overtly religious or spiritual in nature, such as in counseling roles that are designed to exist within the confines of a religious organization.
  • How spirituality has been explored within social work in the past, how best practices are defined in today’s climate, and what thought leaders are introducing as ideas that could influence the near future of social work.

Regis College’s Focus on Spirituality and Justice

As an institution, Regis College is built around a mission of empowering women and men to serve, lead, and challenge themselves academically. This mission is founded in the values of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Boston, an organization that focuses on bringing about reconciliation in situations in which brokenness is present.

These goals align naturally with the aim of social work, as many social work jobs focus on protecting individuals from adverse conditions, offering counseling and support services, addressing societal issues that hold individuals back, and putting people in a position to succeed in life.

These concepts are essential to the nature of Regis College, as promoting social justice is one of the institution’s core values. We work to build an identity focused on commitment to service and aiding the marginalized, ideas that are integral to social work. We also emphasize creating a strong sense of community and working to develop the entirety of a person, not just isolated values.

A Future in Social Work

Exploring Regis College’s online Master of Social Work program is a great way for individuals to discover whether the program could help them achieve their personal and professional goals. Regis College is particularly well suited for those seeking to incorporate matters of spirituality into social work, as our identity as a Catholic institution creates a baseline expectation that issues of faith are central to our mission. Discover a rewarding career in social work today.

Recommended Readings

Important Social Worker Skills

What Is Accreditation, and Why Does It Matter for You?

What You Can Learn About Ethics in Social Work


National Association of Social Workers, Social Workers’ Perceived Barriers to and Sources of Support for Integrating Clients’ Religion and Spirituality in Practice

Regis College, Online Master of Social Work Curriculum

Regis College, The Mission of Regis College

Sisters of St. Joseph Boston, Our Mission/History