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Lifestyle-Oriented Health Risks

A fourth factor necessitating the development of holistic engagement skills concerns negative lifestyle-oriented health outcomes that manifest in a culture dominated by the “McDondaldization” phenomenon (Ritzer, 2011). As efficiency becomes more highly valued in the culture, many Westerners and now non-Westerners, as well, value efficiency when it comes to many aspects ofliving, including food procurement and consumption. Obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and addiction are just a few of the conditions that are plaguing our communities (McCall, 2007). In addition, rates of stress-related conditions such as low-grade anxiety, chronic fatigue syndrome, and depression have reached epidemic proportions (Koopsen & Young, 2009). If one were to address such issues by focusing solely on an individual rather than his or her environment, solely on biology rather than the social or spiritual, or expect the issue to be addressed by completing a list of tasks, interventions will fail to transform.

Holistic approaches to a problem such as heart disease go beyond the Western medical approach of linear causality (focusing solely on cholesterol levels or blood pressure) but instead bring attention to a web of causation, such as “stress and the role of the mind in perpetuating it, your emotional temperament, your connections to other people, and whether you are living life in accordance with some larger purpose” (McCall, 2007, p. 4). Thus, holistic interventions, rather than focusing on a magic, unidimensional solution, seek to work on many areas simultaneously. Furthermore, a transformative approach to these issues encourages dialogue between body and mind, self and other, individual and society. It requires being in relationship with what is painful, and allowing suffering and oppression to reveal themselves, in order to experience healing. Thus, social work students must begin this work in the safe space of a classroom at the outset of their development as social workers.

Related to these lifestyle health issues is the fact that social work practitioners experience high rates of burnout and stress themselves, as manifested in chronic aversive states, such as anxiety, and addictive behaviors, such as compulsive overeating and substance abuse. Unfortunately, there is more rhetoric around self-care in social work education and practice than there is in the practicing of it (McGarrigle & Walsh, 2011). More than ever before, self-care and personal well-being are vital to every social worker. However, social workers are seldom provided with training and supervision on techniques to regulate the emotions that arise as a result of their work (Turner, 2009). The lack of emphasis on selfcare in the profession has gotten so problematic in the United States that the National Association of Social Workers (2009) has offered a policy statement on self-care affirming that “self-care is an essential component in competent, compassionate, and ethical social work practice, requiring time, energy, and commitment” (p. 269). The association argues that self-care should be integrated into every phase of social work education.

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