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IMPLICATIONS FOR THE DEVELOPMENT OF MINDFULNESS IN SOCIAL WORK EDUCATION

We began this chapter with the question, Is mindfulness value free and what are the implications of this for social work education? Kelly's experience indicated that mindfulness is not value free. Her response to her experience was guided in part by her own spiritual orientation and the social work culture and values she engaged with in her education. It was her Christian orientation and social work education that generated some of the ethical issues that arose for her. In her reflections, she sought to give attention to the broad principles and values of the Australian Association of Social Workers' Code of Ethics, particularly knowing the context of the client in order to start where he or she is at, addressing cultural competence, and critically reflecting on issues of power. Kelly's initial response in this regard to the presenter may have been hampered by the convergence of multiple value systems (Christian/social work education). However, Kelly was also a participant in this instance, and the workshop provided little opportunity for an exploration of different values and beliefs.

Kelly's entry also indicated that there was no specific educational experience that prepared her for making her decision. This highlights the need for students to have the opportunity in their education to develop their understanding of the mind-body-spirit connection, engage with religion and spirituality, and experience the place of the contemplative in practice. Without this, they are left with little to guide them in their response to the emerging use of mindfulness in practice. Crucial to this is the development of a contemplative pedagogy in social work education that is inclusive and socially just.

We argue that the process ofknowledge transfer and development of a “middle way” is complex. Our reflections explore three areas of Kelly's experience: introducing “other ways of knowing” into the social work profession; mindfulness as a spiritual, secular/natural, or cultural practice; and the process of adoption and adaptation of mindfulness. These areas highlight potential cultural and ethical challenges in the integration of mindfulness into social work pedagogy and curriculum.

When introducing new ideas such as mindfulness into social work, we also argue that although mindfulness has been shown to be a natural process that can be cultivated, its translation and evolution into a Western context is also intrinsically connected with the task of marrying different worldviews and cultures that shape and influence the research, evidence, and practice interventions that emerge. The task is no different for social work that also has its own worldviews and culture. There is a need to recognize that social work culture and values and the historical and religious contexts of students' lives impact their adoption and integration of mindfulness as a “way of knowing,” practice or intervention. Kelly's story highlights that social work's commitment to inclusivity and social justice must recognize the diversity of meditative practices and student experience that exists in relation to mindfulness. Responding to this diversity requires the educator to have an understanding of the history of the development of mindfulness, its place in different religious traditions, its definition, and a willingness to remain curious and open to students' experience of mindfulness and thus the challenges this creates in the classroom for the student and the educator.

A necessary implication of this is that we urge educators to take a reflective and self-critical approach that “questions how knowledge is generated” and “how relations of power operate” (D'Cruz, Gillingham, & Melendez, 2007, p. 75) in the pedagogy of mindfulness. This requires social work to attend to the different sources about mindfulness, the disjunctures and synergies that exist in its current development, and ask questions of both the traditional/contemplative and the scientific methodology being used to describe mindfulness. The natural/ scientific but not spiritual or religious discourse may well speak to the needs of many and serve to distance social work from the realm of religion. Equally, however, Kelly's experience indicates that it can also fail and oppress others. This suggests the need to more closely examine the way in which the current discourse about mindfulness in social work excludes and denies the experience of some students. Rather, educators need to be curious and open to facilitating students' own experiences of mindfulness in the historical and religious contexts of their lives.

In understanding and including this experience of difference and the different emotional experiences of students, it is important to “meet the students where they are at,” “remaining nonjudgmental and respectful of the way students adopt the practices and using teaching methodologies and context relevant to the group” (Duerr et al. (2003) and Hassed (2007) as quoted in Lynn, 2010, p. 299). This may require more time to prepare the education culture for the group. As part of this process, it is important to make clear the definition of mindfulness being utilized and the purpose of teaching mindfulness or using it as a pedagogy. From an ethical perspective, it is important to take care to assume that the mindfulness practices/pedagogy may not necessarily be acceptable for all students in the room and may be potentially damaging for some. This highlights the need to provide an environment in which students feel safe to explore any discomfort they may be experiencing with the practice being used, to prepare students for the challenges they may encounter, and to draw on forms of the practice and processes that include the context of the student.

The issue of how mindfulness has been adapted and adopted in the Western context draws attention to larger ethical questions about the appropriation and commodification of knowledge from other cultures and whether there is a larger cultural loss, of which we are not fully aware, that is created in its secular adaptation and application. It is imperative that a social worker concerned with social justice ask questions about whose interest is served in a discourse of mindfulness that is value free and separated from history and tradition. In the case of mindfulness, we argue that the knowledge transfer process is more complex and dialectical in nature than simply one of dispossession and colonization. The implication of this is that the epistemological and cultural convergence occurring in this process provides an opportunity for social work to challenge its own epistemology and ontology and enrich the story of social work.

Such questions have implications in relation to authenticity. Although social work is highly familiar with adaptation, it is also selective in where it raises concerns about authenticity, client self-determination, openness, and transparency. We are not suggesting that these are not important ethical considerations in the use of mindfulness in social work but, rather, that social work needs to be more consistent in its deconstruction and adoption of Western therapies. As educators, we need to help students develop a critical consciousness and examine more closely the conditions under which different practices are questioned. Equally, educators need a reflective and self-critical approach to their own use of mindfulness in the classroom in relation to authenticity, student self-determination, openness, and transparency.

In the specific context of social work field education, Kelly's experience highlights the need for opportunities for students to discuss such experiences with their field educator and at integration sessions. This may involve the field education unit identifying how best to support and resource field educators for this task. The liaison person could also discuss the students' experience in relation to their own issues. Preparation sessions prior to placement could make more explicit the need to examine ethical dilemmas recognizing that in a multicultural society different ways of working may emerge. This may highlight for students that they may be exposed to different values in the workplace whether they are secular or religiously based.

 
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