KU News Service

Research team creates guide for spirituality in mental health recovery

Wed, 03/26/2014

LAWRENCE — Spirituality, faith and religion can be challenging to incorporate in helping people with mental health recovery. A University of Kansas professor and his team have developed a brochure and website to help mental health providers around the world sensitively address spirituality and determine how it can help people recover.

Edward Canda, professor of social welfare and courtesy professor of religious studies, led the project by The Spiritual Diversity and Social Work Initiative and The Center for Mental Health Research and Innovation at KU’s School of Social Welfare. 

“We felt it was important to create a very user-friendly guide for providers so they could get a sense, very quickly, of the significance of spirituality and how it fits the Strengths Model for promoting mental health recovery,” Canda said. “My hope is to make a contribution to the mental health community that anyone can access.”

The Strengths Model is an approach to mental health recovery developed at KU in the mid- to late-1980s and has become influential nationally and internationally. It focuses on identifying an individual’s strengths and resources to aid recovery instead of dwelling on the problem or focusing on negative aspects while looking for solutions. The model assesses life domains, including home/daily living, assets, employment/education, supportive relationships, wellness/health, leisure/recreation and spirituality/culture. The spirituality aspect of the latter domain is the most commonly misunderstood, and it is rare for mental health providers to have any training in that area, Canda said. Providers are often uncomfortable discussing it as they feel they may be unintentionally imposing or misunderstanding certain beliefs.

The new brochure, available online gives providers an overview of how spirituality can aid in understanding mental health challenges and helping individuals recover. Specifically it offers suggestions on nonleading questions to explore the possible role of spirituality in individuals' lives and whether it is important to them. Direct and indirect questions, nonjudgmental invitations for further conversation and recommended actions are all included in the brochure. It helps providers understand what spirituality means to a consumer, for example, whether a person is a member of a faith community or other spiritual support system, or might use personal forms of prayer, meditation or ritual, or might consider oneself to be nonreligious or nonspirituals, but finds inspiration in connecting with nature. In any case, the helpful or challenging issues that relate to mental health recovery can be explored, if the consumer wishes. If so, the consumer can be helped to develop plans for action to achieve their recovery goals. More details on the team’s research that led to the brochure are available in the recently published article “Spiritual Assessment in Mental Health Recovery,” authored by Sachiko Gomi, KU doctoral student, V.R. Starnino, assistant professor of social work at Indiana University and KU alumnus; and Canda. The article was published in the Community Mental Health Journal.

“The mental health worker can help identify goals for the individual and link them to proper resources,” Canda said of the spiritually sensitive approach to mental health. “The key is following the consumer’s cues.”

The Center for Mental Health Research and Innovation has begun distributing physical copies of the brochure to mental health providers that practice the Strengths Model, but it is available online for anyone who is interested. This summer and fall Canda will take a sabbatical and travel to several countries to share his work on spiritually sensitive approach to mental health and social work to adapt it for use in varying cultures. He plans to engage colleagues in several countries, including India, Canada, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Czech Republic, Croatia, South Korea and Japan. Spirituality and religion and their place in society differ greatly from country to country and even within regions and social groups of the same nation, necessitating a careful approach when used in mental health practice.

The approach is not new in all areas. Canda has worked extensively in South Korea throughout his career, and his book, “Spiritual Diversity in Social Work Practice: The Heart of Helping,” co-authored with Leoda Dyrud Furman, has been translated into Korean and is now being translated into Japanese.

Canda and colleagues have also developed and are continuing to refine the Spiritual Diversity and Social Work Initiative website, an extensive repository for information on spirituality and social work in several fields of practice, such as mental health, available to anyone interested. The site contains contacts for scholars that have contributed to the field from across North America, Asia, Australia, Central America, Europe and the Middle East. There is also a collection of resources for relating spiritual diversity to topics such as aging, education, ethics, health, mental health, philosophy, practice, theory/research and youth.

Canda was recently recognized for his contributions to social work with the Council on Social Work Education’s Significant Lifetime Achievement Award. A pioneering proponent for inclusion of spirituality as part of a holistic approach to social work since the 1980s, Canda said the award was an honor both for him and for all those who have helped spiritually-attuned research, teaching and professional helping expand to where it is today.

“This award is very meaningful to me — not only because it recognizes my work, but especially because it shows increased recognition of the importance for education to prepare social workers to address spirituality, in its diverse religious

and nonreligious forms,” Canda said in his acceptance speech. “That is truly amazing as it shows that I, and our profession, have come a long way since I began this work.”

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Ashlie Koehn, a University of Kansas junior from Burns studying in Kyrgyzstan, interrupted helping her host family prepare dinner to make a Skype call on Monday evening.

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Wanna Skype? Chancellor gets creative to surprise Truman winner From KU News Service: Ashlie Koehn, a University of Kansas junior from Burns studying in Kyrgyzstan, interrupted helping her host family prepare dinner to make a Skype call on Monday evening. To her surprise, Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little was on the other end of the call letting Koehn know she had been named a 2015 Harry S. Truman Scholar. Koehn is the 18th KU student to be named a Truman Scholar and the only 2015 recipient from the state of Kansas. Earlier this month, she was also named a 2015 Udall Scholar. And in spite of a distance of more than 10,800 kilometers and 11 time zones, Koehn’s thrill from hearing the news from the chancellor came through loud and clear. “Ashlie’s experience at KU epitomizes a quality undergraduate experience. She challenged herself in her coursework, exposed herself to different research opportunities, studied abroad in Germany, Switzerland and Kyrgyzstan, and participated in both student government and community service projects,” Gray-Little said. “This is quite a year for Ashlie. Her hard work is a wonderful reflection on her and also a great reflection on the university, and we all congratulate her.” Each new Truman Scholar receives up to $30,000 for graduate study. Scholars also receive priority admission and supplemental financial aid at some premier graduate institutions, leadership training, career and graduate school counseling, and special internship opportunities within the federal government. Koehn, a member of KU’s nationally recognized University Honors Program, is majoring in environmental studies, economics and international studies. Her goal after earning her KU degree is to pursue a master’s degree in economics at either the London School of Economics or the University of Reading, with a focus on the economics of climate change. In 2014, she received KU’s Newman Civic Engagement Award for her work establishing the Coalition against Slavery and Trafficking. Her involvement with the issue was sparked by Hannah Britton, associate professor of political science and women, gender, and sexuality studies, who hosted national conference on contemporary slavery at KU three years ago. “Ashlie and I met several times to think about what KU students could contribute to the issue of slavery and human trafficking, and the result was her founding of KU CAST,” Britton said. “After a year as president, Ashlie successfully handed the organization over to the next student leader. She demonstrated her strong leadership qualities by setting a unique goal and then pursuing it with her sense of passion, engagement and dedication. No matter the country or context, her leadership strength is evident in her coursework, her public service and her work experiences.” The University Honors Program works with a campus committee to select KU’s nominees for the Truman Scholarship and supports them during the application process. Anne Wallen, assistant director of national fellowships and scholarships, noted it was an amazing ruse to pull off the surprise. Originally, the call was set up to be between Wallen and Koehn. “I was totally not prepared to be greeted by Chancellor Gray-Little, but it was an amazing surprise for sure,” Koehn said. “As a first-generation student, it took time to learn the collegiate system, but my parents taught me to be resourceful and independent from a young age and KU and the Kansas Air National Guard have provided me with the opportunities to drive me into the future, both at graduate school and in my career. I plan to use the Truman Scholarship to pursue a career as an environmental economist helping to shape future trade agreements and leverage action on important international environmental issues, particularly concerning climate change.” Koehn also had a surprise of her own for the chancellor — the meal she was helping to prepare was not exactly typical Kansas dinner fare. On the menu with her host family in Kyrgyzstan on Monday was a traditional Kyrgyz meal called Beshbarmak, or “five fingers,” because you eat it with your hands. The dish is made of horse and sheep and was being prepared as a birthday celebration for Koehn’s host mom. Chancellor Gray-Little, as she signed off from Skype, made sure to encourage Koehn to enjoy her Beshbarmak. Koehn is the daughter of Rodney and Carolyn Koehn of Burns. She graduated from Fredric Remington High School in Moundridge. She is an active member of the Kansas Air National Guard and currently on leave while studying abroad in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. She is a member of the KU Global Scholars Program and a past member of the Student Senate. In addition to being named a 2015 Truman and Udall scholar, she was named a 2014 Boren Scholar and Gilman Scholar and in 2013 was named the Kansas Air National Guard Airman of the Year.

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