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INTRODUCING OTHER WAYS OF KNOWING INTO THE SOCIAL WORK PROFESSION

During our conversations, we agreed that the profession of social work has a particular way of knowing reality and that it is that way of knowing reality that has also contributed to Kelly's questions about the use of mindfulness in her practice. This view of reality can be traced back to the development of the Western tradition of science. It encompasses a particular set ofvalues that creates a materialist-positivist view that has fostered a humanist and modernist paradigm within social work despite social work's religious origins. This paradigm subscribes to an ethos that, until recently, includes a taboo on teaching anything related to religion and spirituality unless it is secularized and evidenced through empirical science (Stewart, 2009).

In the Australian context, there has been an emphasis on social justice and anti-oppression in social work practice and education (Chenoweth & McAuliffe, 2012; Connolly & Harms, 2012; Healy, 2005). Consequently, anything that appears or has been used as a means of oppression—for example, gender, disability, and religion—needs to be deconstructed and engaged with in a particular way. Within this cultural lens, “suffering” comes from societal structures of power and oppression. This is unlike the Buddhist view of suffering that is ultimately connected to the mind and the root delusions of attachment, desire, and ignorance. This view is at odds with a social justice analysis in social work and a Christian value base in Kelly's case.

Kelly, like each of the authors, has been educated in and practiced in this paradigm of social work that includes a culture of professionalism, empiricism, and evidence-based practice (Rice, 2002). Yet some of us are also influenced by critical and postmodern ideas that step back from the notion of “evidence,” professionalism, and a right/wrong dualism. However, even within the large majority ofthese approaches, the spiritual and ecological have been absent (Coates, 2003), and knowledge from other “ways of knowing” has not been readily accepted (Cameron & McDermott, 2007; Mensinga, 2011).

From our own experiences, the introduction of new ideas into social work is done with extreme care and fear by the educator (as evidenced in the struggle to incorporate spirituality into social work practice and education) or there is an open embrace of the current flavor of the month. In Kelly's case, at that point in her education, she had had little exposure to this secular application of mindfulness. The paradigm in which she had been educated meant that mindfulness was for Kelly not just a function but also an intervention with values added to it—her own personal values and the values of the profession. Her experience highlights that the application of mindfulness can generate ethical tensions and conflicts with the social work values of social justice and anti-oppression. In addition, her experience points to the need for education and practice to provide a means for the student, practitioner, and educator to identify and navigate the tensions that the different paradigms create.

 
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