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Home arrow Sociology arrow Holistic engagement : transformative social work education in the 21st century
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Skill 2: Whole Self-Inquiry

Learning to know these multifaceted aspects of the whole self requires interest in learning about these multifaceted aspects of the whole self. Given both the complexity and fluidity of the whole self experiences from moment to moment, context to context, interaction to interaction, learning to pay attention—to seek information from these parts—must be intentional, consistent, and honest in order to be meaningful. As such, we conceptualize the second skill in holistic engagement practice as “whole self-inquiry,” defined as a lifelong authentic and deliberate learning about all aspects of the whole self.

This second important area of holistic engagement views self-inquiry in an expanded way. Whereas existing social work education efforts, including the CSWE Competency 2.1.1 in the United States, emphasize the importance of self-reflection and self-awareness as a core responsibility of the professional social worker, our expanded view of the whole self requires an evolution in how self-inquiry unfolds throughout one's career. The inclusion of heart, mind, body, and spirit as part of the self, in addition to one's interactions with the energetics of the context and the interaction with others whose whole selves are equally as complicated, invokes a level of searching, treasure hunting for the valuable nuggets of the whole self experience.

It is our belief, reinforced through the existing literature (McGarrigle & Walsh, 2011; Mishna & Bogo, 2007), that there is currently limited information on how students are being taught to pay attention. Teaching psychosocial assessment serves as a primary skills development focus in social work education; we teach students how to pay attention to specific areas of a person's life and functioning. However, curricula teaching deliberate, systematic exploration of the students' and clients' whole selves, as conceptualized previously, are not routinely taught in social work.

Self-inquiry, focused on the nuances of the whole self, is multidimensional in nature, requiring the simultaneous sensing of self, in environmental context, and in relation to others. In addition, the process of inquiry at this level of detail impacts the experience itself, leading to additional shifts in the moment's information to be gleaned from the whole self. This interdependent and iterative process invites an exquisite attention that can only be as meaningful as it is honest and authentic, and it is only as applicable as it is ongoing. Whole self-inquiry is cultivated through a lifelong developmental practice, experimenting repeatedly with paying attention to as many areas of the expanded self as one is capable of in any given moment.

Social workers have long recognized the importance of identifying biases, of looking at cultural issues and how they impact communication and connection. Indeed, there is a wealth ofliterature on the subject of culturally competent social work practice and teaching such skills in social work classrooms (Jani, Pierce, Ortiz, & Sowbel, 2011). However, we surmise that this process we are pointing to cannot be adequately addressed without specific, classroom-based experiences to develop self-inquiry skills. Larrison and Korr (2013) emphasize the role of purposeful experiences to foster students' “sense of who they are as developing practitioners” (p. 202). Furthermore, they advocate that “competent social work practice necessitates that emerging practitioners recognize—through selfawareness, critical reflexivity, and analytical thinking—how they make use of who they are is an integral component of one's practical and purposeful action”

(p. 200).

If we aim to develop whole self-inquiry as a practice, we need to be able to model whole self-inquiry during the educational process, inasmuch as we demonstrate active listening, or utilize the strengths perspective. If our ultimate ability to engage with our whole selves is incumbent upon this inquiry, faculty and students, supervisors and supervisees must be engaged in this lifelong process. Indeed, with recent rhetorical focus on social work as a human rights profession, such a focus can only be effective when social workers continually interrogate the inner and outer terrain of their field of practice.

Developing whole self-inquiry requires that the practitioner set an intention to engage in and sustain the practice, which necessitates a strong support system along with plenty of reminders. This is why the role of the social work educator can be so powerful for students, as we can provide opportunities for them to engage in activities that may bring up discomfort and help them to develop skills for noticing and reflecting. In this regard, Rodriguez-Keyes, Schneider, and Keenan (2013) report that faculty efforts to support student self-inquiry further enhance student motivation and engagement with “essential social work curriculum by expressing care and helping students feel known in the classroom” (p. 785).

The practice also requires a tremendous amount of compassion for oneself, for as we go deeper into these practices, we tend to see things about ourselves that we may not like very much; or we may have a belief that we are not very good at the practices (Neff, 2012). The practice involved in whole self-inquiry is often uncomfortable, requiring curiosity and honesty. However, herein lies the richness of the learning, the potential growth. As we learn to tolerate and then appreciate the wealth we learn when we deliberately inquire across all of these aspects of self, we can create the spaciousness and safety required for students to initiate their practice within the classroom setting. Indeed, the connection between student and teacher becomes the venue through which the requisite safety for students, their peers, and the teacher is created.

 
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