The Great Balancing Act
The longer I go in my social work career, the more aware of potential conflicts I become. These can pop up anywhere, anytime, and can catch you offguard if you’re not aware that such possibilities exist. A big mistake I made when I began practicing social work was thinking that I was immune to the experience of internal conflict, which is extremely laughable, because there is not a single person in the field of social work who has not or will not go through this at one point or another. The incredibly common conflict of balancing both the religious and personal self is one that I have been thinking a lot about recently.
When dealing with a client, the topic of religous affiliation is bound to come up. Sometimes I wonder why that is, but eventually I come to the same conclusion that I always do; our religious beliefs are central to who we are as individuals. Maybe you’re reading this thinking “I don’t have any set religious beliefs” or “I’m an atheist”. Those statements are equally as important to understanding who you are as a person. More importantly, those kind of statements are sometimes the key to understanding our clients. But here’s the question: what do you do when your client’s views are in direct opposition to your own? It’s a tough question, one that we are constantly asking and reanswering in our own minds. As I’ve been thinking about this over the past week or so, I’ve continually gone back to an idea that one of my professors talks about each week in class. I think to myself, “If I were a client, how would I want my therapist to handle this?” In my mind, the answer is quite simple when put into that framework. If my therapist and I had opposing religious views I first would want him/her to just be honest with me. There’s nothing worse than having someone lie to you, especially when that person is your therapist. Secondly, I would want them to be respectful. If you’re a social worker, you know that one of the main tenets of our field is mutual respect between client and therapist; religious differences shouldn’t change that. Last but not least, I would want my therapist to remember that this is difficult for me, too. When inherent conflict exists between the client and social worker, the situation is never easy, and neither party has it easier than the other.
Although these situations can be difficult, they are far from insurmountable. I truly believe that a client and therapist each from different religious backgrounds can coexist peacefully and have a healthy therapeutic relationship. I even think that they could learn a little from each other. And in the end, I think that’s what it’s all about. With mutual respect and open communication, you can never go wrong.