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HARDINESS AND SPIRITUAL WELL-BEING AMONG SOCIAL WORK STUDENTS: IMPLICATIONS FOR SOCIAL WORK EDUCATION.

THE STRESSES OF HIGHER EDUCATION have been well documented. Social work, like other disciplines, has its own stresses (Kramer, Matthew, & Endias, 1987; Munson, 1984; Patchner, 1983). The entire educational experience is fraught with role ambiguity, conflict, stress, and strain, all brought on by students' expectations of themselves, their perception of faculty and school expectations, field instruction demands, and multiple, often conflicting roles and work schedules. Thus, many students find that with their jobs, family responsibilities, and school demands they work long hours over the course of their training. This is further complicated by current demands on service providers. The unpredictable nature of the job market creates even greater anxiety and stress among students. Similarly, the stress of social work, which involves interaction with different, often overwhelmed populations, taxes students beyond what they are prepared for in graduate school. Burnout, a psychological distress arising from over-extension of the self, although not unique to social work, often affects social work students both in their training and practice. Jayaratne and Chess (1983) relate burnout to job strain and emotional exhaustion and depersonalization.

In their recent study, "Enhancing Student Coping and Modifying the Stressful Academic Environment," Reeser, MacDonald, and Wertkin (1992) point out that within an academic environment stress reduction is a shared responsibility for students and faculty. Support for students can be obtained at various levels. Family members and significant others can provide it, as can faculty and supervisors who act as mentors for students. These supports may act as buffers to the potentially harmful effects of stress. There are, however, some personality characteristics that also serve as resources in resisting the negative effects of stress. These include hardiness, spiritual well-being, and self-esteem.

This article describes the results of a study on a group of MSW students. The purpose of the study was to examine the impact of hardiness and spiritual well-being on self-esteem for a sample of graduate social work students. Reported here are the findings of this research and the implications for social work education.

Hardiness

The concept of hardiness, which was first proposed by Kobasa (1979), developed from existentialist philosophy. In this philosophy, the goal of existence is to create personal meaning through decision making, action, and confronting new possibilities and challenges. Although Kobasa studied individuals coping with terminal illness, such as cancer, the concept has been applied to other extremely stressful settings, including higher education. For Kobasa, hardiness--one's ability to handle and manage problems or difficulties--consisted of characteristics of control, commitment, and challenge, and implied an active rather than a passive reactive position to stress. The concept of hardiness involved viewing hardships and new life experiences as challenges. It also involved having a sense of internal control rather than feeling like the victim of circumstances.

Spiritual Well-Being

Another characteristic that may help individuals to resist the negative effect of stress is spiritual well-being. Spiritual well-being is defined as satisfaction with one's relationship with a higher being, and one's sense of meaning and purpose in life (Ellison & Smith, 1991; Kamya, 1997; Paloutzian & Ellison, 1982).

Banks (1980) defines spiritual well-being as consisting of four characteristics: (1) a unifying force that serves to integrate physical, emotional, and social dimensions of health; (2) a source of meaning in life, which may serve as an inner drive for personal accomplishments; (3) a common bond between individuals that allows the sharing of warmth, love, and compassion and the adherence to a set of principles; and (4) a source of individual perceptions that allow the individual to acknowledge the supernatural and to experience pleasure. Moberg (1979) describes spiritual well-being as an indicator of spiritual health. Paloutzian and Ellison (1982) observed two dimensions to spiritual well-being: a religious component which refers to a sense of well-being in relation to some ultimate reality, and a socio-psychological component which refers to a sense of life purpose and satisfaction with one's life.

There is evidence for renewed interest in issues related to spiritual well-being. Martin and Carlson (1988) convincingly argue for integrating the spiritual/religious dimension in health psychology research into clinical frameworks. They present evidence that spiritual commitment lifestyles may be associated with reduced incidence of disease and risk factors, as well as an improved quality of life. For them, the spiritual worldview and a relationship with God provides comfort and support in dealing with stress or personal threats. Martin and Carlson (1988) further make some important observations bearing on future research directions. They include: (1) the link between health and social, physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being; (2) the relevance of spiritual interventions in attending to people's needs; and (3) the spiritual lens as central to people's worldview. These points emphasize the need to consider the overlap between the psychological and the spiritual.

Interest in Spiritual Well-Being

Awareness of how spiritual well-being affects the emotional healing process for individuals and groups encountered by social workers is expanding. The value of spiritual well-being is acknowledged for those living under oppressive conditions (Hopps, Pinderhughes, & Shankar, 1995), those maintaining cultural ties to ethnic and immigrant communities (Kamya, 1997; Rodriguez, 1996), and those coping with change and loss inherent in the human condition (Sermabeikian, 1994). As an outgrowth of this interest, several schools of social work and seminaries offer joint degrees in social work and pastoral counseling, recognizing that these fields can work in concert toward the healthy development of individuals, groups, and communities. Not only do professionals in these fields attend to the well-being of individuals, groups, and communities, they also have a commitment to social justice issues. This commitment may certainly generate considerable stress or distress for both social work and religious professionals, testing their hardiness. Indeed, as professionals it is necessary to develop collaborations and partnerships in delivering social services. Spiritual well-being influences psychological issues, just as psychological and emotional issues influence spiritual well-being.

A number of studies are beginning to emerge underscoring the importance of religion and spirituality in social work education and practice (Canda, 1988, 1989; Dudley & Helfgott, 1990; Fuhrman, 1994; Sermabeikian, 1994; Sheridan, Bullis, Adcock, Berlin, & Miller, 1992). Religion and spirituality as sources of strength and support have been largely excluded from research despite a growing awareness of their importance in people's lives (Sheridan et al., 1992). Yet, outside the field of social work, some studies have underscored the effects of religious and spiritual coping over nonreligious coping (e.g., cognitive problem solving) in the amelioration of distress (Maton, 1989; Pargament et al., 1990). In Krippner's (1992) Spiritual Dimensions of Healing, religious and spiritual dimensions of life are underlined as the most important cultural factors of human experience, beliefs, values, and behavior, as well as illness patterns.

Problems Associated with Spiritual Well-Being

Definitional and measurement issues of the concepts related to spirituality are generally suggested to be at the root of these concepts' exclusion from research. Cornett (1992) suggests that "mental health practitioners have an almost instinctive negative reaction to the introduction of the word `spirituality' into clinical discussions" (p. 102). Canda (1995) calls it an "allergy toward spirituality" (p. 5) with .serious ramifications for social work practice. The reaction appears to stem from difficulties in the quantifiability of the terms, the confusion of concepts leading to fears of imposition of one's adherence to the beliefs and practices of a religious institution onto another, and the reliance on problem-solving approaches (Benner, 1991; Cornett, 1992). The assumptions that have supported this exclusion have not gone unchallenged (Tyson, 1992). Often, positivist emphases upon empirically verifiable knowledge have tended to exclude other ways of knowing.

Self-Esteem

Self-esteem, which is defined as one's self-perceptions and self-valuations in personal and social contexts, is a key mediating variable in coping with stress. Pearlin and Schooler (1978) raise the question, Does an efficacious handling of stress depend on what people do, or what people are? They found that personality characteristics indicative of psychological resources, that is, mastery and self-esteem, are "the most helpful in sustaining people facing strains arising out of conditions over which they may have little direct control" (p. 13). For Pearlin and Schooler, self-esteem aids one's ability to cope with stress, therefore suggesting that it is tied to efficacy expectations.

Methodology

Sample and Procedure

The population for this study consisted of master's-level social work students enrolled during the 1993-94 school year at a medium-sized university in the Northeast. All participants had been in the program for at least one year. A questionnaire was distributed to students before a general presentation on burnout by social workers who had been in the field for at least five years. A brief explanation of the reasons for the survey was included with the instrument. Confidentiality was stressed in the instructions given to the respondents.

Of the 120 students who attended the lecture, 105 (87.5%) voluntarily completed the questionnaire (see Table 1). More than three quarters (81.9%) of the respondents were women, and most of the respondents (90.4%) were white; the remainder were African American, Asian, and Hispanic. Almost half (46.2%) of the respondents were between the ages of 21 and 25. More than a third (35.2%) of the respondents ranged between 26 and 35 years of age, and the rest between 36 and 50 years of age. The mean age of the respondents was 28.5. More than two thirds (68.6%) of the respondents identified themselves as single, and the rest identified themselves as married (20.0%), separated (2.9%), or divorced (1.9%).

Table 1. Demographic Characteristics of Social Work Students (N = 105)
Characteristic n %

Gender
 Male 19 18.1
 Female 86 81.9

Age (years)
 21-25 42 46.2
 26-30 20 22.0
 31-35 12 13.2
 36-40 7 7.7
 41-45 6 15.6
 46-50 4 4.4

Race
 White 94 90.4
 African American 5 4.8
 Hispanic 3 2.9
 Asian 2 1.9

Marital Status
 Single, never married 72 68.6
 Married 21 20.0
 Single, cohabiting 7 6.7
 Separated 3 2.9
 Divorced 2 1.9

Student Status
Full time 71 71.0
Part time 29 29.0


Note: Totals may not equal 105 due to missing data; percentages may not equal 100 due to rounding.

The majority of the sample (71.0%) were full-time students. Almost half of the respondents (45.7%) were Roman Catholic, and the rest reported their religious affiliation as other (15.2%), none (13.3%), Protestant (14.3%), or Jewish (10.5%). Nearly a quarter (22.9%) of the respondents were employed full-time, over a third (36.2%) of the respondents were employed part-time, and a third of the sample (33.3%) reported they were unemployed; a small number of the respondents (7.6%) did not answer this question. The vast majority of respondents (77.1%) were involved in clinical work, while a few respondents (16.2%) were interested in community organizing and planning. A small number of respondents (6.7%) combined social work with either theology, law, or business fields.

The data for this study were collected with a self-administered questionnaire that included demographics, a measure for hardiness, a measure for spiritual well-being, and a measure for self-esteem. In addition to the demographic information the respondents were required to indicate their level of contentment (1=very content; 4=not at all content) in the following areas: financial status, emotional support from people, and spiritual support from people. The respondents were also asked to rate their health in general (1=very good; 4=very poor). Similarly, respondents were asked to rate their level of stress (1=very high; 4=very low).

There are two limitations of this study worth noting. First, it did not examine the influence of religious affiliation on the responses given by social work students. The findings might have been different if the respondents had been drawn from a nonreligious background, where the level of social support might differ greatly from that of a sample with a religious background, especially in the respondents' willingness to report their situations. Second, because the participants were attending a lecture on burnout, the nature of their responses may reflect a guardedness around these issues. Thus, the respondents may have underreported stress and overreported self-esteem and spiritual well-being, which may limit the validity and reliability of the results.

Measures and Variables

The variables measured were hardiness, spiritual well-being, and self-esteem. These variables were measured with the following standardized instruments: the Family Hardiness Index (McCubbin & Thompson, 1991), the Spiritual Well-Being Scale (Paloutzian & Ellison, 1982), and the Coopersmith Self-Esteem Inventory (Coopersmith, 1967).

The Family Hardiness Index, a 20-item, four-point Likert scale measures hardiness, or the ability to resist stress and to adapt to and effectively deal with new situations (McCubbin & Thompson, 1991). The scale has four subscales: cooriented commitment, confidence, challenge, and control. Higher sum scores indicated greater hardiness. The scale had a Cronbach's alpha of .82 for the sample.

The Spiritual Well-Being Scale, a 20-item, six-point Likert scale measures spiritual well-being, religious well-being, and existential well-being. The scale calls for the respondents to assess the degree to which they "strongly agree" or "strongly disagree" with a given statement. Higher scores indicate greater spiritual well-being. Cronbach's alpha coefficients were .59 and .90 for existential well-being and religious well-being, respectively.

The Coopersmith Self-Esteem Inventory, a 25-item scale, assesses self-esteem as indicated by attitudes toward self in social, academic, family, and personal contexts. Higher scores indicate greater self-esteem. For respondents in this sample, the scale had a Cronbach's alpha of .87.

Results

Multiple regression analysis was used to determine whether and to what extent a measurable multiple correlation exists between hardiness and spiritual well-being as predictor variables (independent variables) and self-esteem (dependent variable) (see Table 2). The ordinal Likert scale data were treated as interval data to perform the regression. This assumption was, therefore, violated. Results show that both spiritual well-being and hardiness contribute to self-esteem (R=.541). Spiritual well-being and hardiness was accounted for by 28% of variance ([R.sup.2]=.285; adjusted [R.sup.2]=.270). The analysis of variance reports two degrees of freedom associated with regression sum of squares, reflecting the two independent variables. The test yielded F=20.081 (p=.0000).

Table 2. Results of Regression Analysis and Analysis of Variance for Hardiness and Spiritual Well-Being as Predictors of Self-Esteem
 Dependent Measures

Variable b SE [Beta] p

Spiritual Well-Being .314 .115 .541 .0073

Hardiness .967 .208 1.380 .0000


ANOVA Results: F=20.081, df=2, 101, [R.sup.2]=.285, adjusted [R.sup.2]=.27034

Table 2 further shows that both independent variables are significant in predicting self-esteem. The coefficient weights associated with spiritual well-being and hardiness are positive, indicating that as spiritual well-being and hardiness increase, self-esteem increases. Both spiritual well-being (p=.0073) and hardiness (p=.0000) contribute significantly to the regression.

Overall, on the major variables investigated in this study, higher scores on the hardiness and spiritual well-being scales were associated with higher scores on the self-esteem scale. These findings are consistent with earlier studies done with different populations (Ellison, 1983; Kamya, 1997). The relationships between spiritual well-being and physical well-being and between psychological well-being and relational well-being have been documented (Fehring, Brennan, & Keller, 1987; Kamya, 1997; Paloutzian & Ellison, 1982). The findings in this study support the argument that both hardiness and spiritual well-being are related to self-esteem among social work students. The R scores point to the strength of correlative relationships when hardiness and spiritual well-being are presumed to be the predictor variables. Similarly the positive relationship between hardiness and self-esteem suggests that those social work students who had greater internal strengths to endure stress also had greater self-esteem. Other studies on immigrant populations (Kamya, 1997; Naditch & Morrissey, 1976; Padilla, Alvarez, & Lindholm, 1986), cancer patients (Bonner, 1988), and lawyers (Kobasa, 1979) have demonstrated the relationships between these concepts. Indeed, a strong interrelationship exists among the three variables.

Implications for Social Work

The paucity of empirical data on spiritual well-being and its relationship to other psychological constructs in social work literature underscores the need for further research. This study supports the need to develop a strategy for approaching spiritual well-being issues in social work practice, research, and education. Because of the skepticism that surrounds organized religion, the erroneous interchangeability of spirituality and religion, and questions about the measurement of spiritual well-being, it is imperative to be empirical and eclectic in assessments and strategies dealing with spiritual well-being. Spiritual well-being, which is often seen as subjective and unmeasurable, needs to develop an empirical base. Similarly, social work research and practice needs to transcend the vestiges of psychology research, which has been generally limited to a social psychology emphasis and a secular base, to include spiritual dimensions. This study further underscores the need for researchers to utilize an encompassing approach in dealing with differences and similarities as they develop a strategy to incorporate spiritual well-being concerns into social work. Such an encompassing approach may need to utilize qualitative or case study research to provide direction for future development of the field.

The degree to which the results of this study showed hardiness and spiritual well-being as predictors of self-esteem among social work students suggests the need for social work educators to pay attention to them. Seward (1989) has argued convincingly that interventions to improve spiritual well-being are as essential as interventions directed to improving physical and emotional health. For Canda (1995), the "allergy toward spirituality" hinders social work education in the classroom and in the field, thus failing to engage the whole student, teacher, and client. Schools of social work need to explore ways to address this issue. There must be a revisioning, a new way of seeing things. Sermabeikian (1994) has described it as "look[ing] beyond what is easily counted and accounted for and examin[ing] what does not fit into our categories and conceptions of the world" (p. 179). As schools of social work inculcate in their students the need to see and celebrate difference in their work, spiritual well-being as a difference that makes a difference needs to be stressed. The challenge for schools of social work is to free themselves from the vestiges of organized religion.

Curricula could include modules, if not courses, that examine spiritual well-being as well a,; research and practice issues on spiritual well-being. Indeed, it is important to emphasize how existential issues such as meaning, freedom, and power have important relationships with spiritual well-being concerns, not only for the students but also for their clients. It is interesting to note that many students find social work school to be an opportunity to explore issues of great importance, if not for the first time, at a deeper level. These include, but are not limited to, values, sacred space, hope, fear, pain, anxiety, forgiveness, and not knowing--all of which have import for spiritual well-being.

One way of attending to content that addresses spiritual well-being is to establish a system for training social workers to integrate issues of spiritual well-being in their work. A forum where such concerns are discussed would lend credibility to the issue for students and their interactions or exploration with their clients. In clinical work, there are other, indeed, strongly held concepts for which there is no quantifiability, such as transference, countertransference or self-object. One approach is to pay attention to the narrative world of spirituality. The narrative includes a set of stories or metaphors which provide meaning to human experience. This approach, which is part of postmodern theory, suggests that there are alternative ways of thinking and being. Careful and thoughtful consideration of spiritual well-being is, therefore, consistent with social work.

Another area worth noting is that of field education. In some powerful way, this is where the challenge begins. Students come into intimate contact with their clients. All their learning is tested as they step in the sacred space of the other. The situation is one which requires adherence to the old adage, "Know thyself." This challenge is heightened as social work students negotiate their own spiritual well-being in the face of the other whether they are aware of it or not. As students interact with their clients, they reveal their self-perceptions and, by extension, their spiritual well-being. Self-awareness becomes crucial. Supervisors also need to appreciate spiritual well-being as a quality which interacts with other qualities to develop an integrated professional identity. Similarly, the role of mentorship (Collins, 1993; Collins, Kamya, & Tourse, 1997) cannot be over-emphasized. Because the potential for burnout is all too real for social workers as they interact with overwhelmed clients (Hopps et al., 1994), spiritual well-being may be an important resource for students. Indeed, almost all respondents in this study indicated spiritual support in their lives as central to their contentment. Addressing spiritual well-being issues in social work education will help students gradually learn to include spiritual well-being as a value in the concept of human nature.

Finally, the challenge for social work lies in its commitment to interprofessional education, research, and collaboration. Spiritual well-being, hardiness and self-esteem are concepts that can be further explored using an interdisciplinary approach. These concepts are highly regarded in theology, pastoral ministry, and nursing. The challenges that face social workers and pastoral ministers are closely related. To this end, pastoral counseling can provide some insight for social workers into the meaning of spiritual well-being. Indeed, interprofessional education would, therefore, imply that such education is linked to both field learning and curricula. This would certainly enrich both fields and, ultimately, the persons they seek to serve.

Conclusion

This study found that a strong interrelationship exists among spiritual well-being, hardiness, and self-esteem. The results of the study underscore the need to attend to a deficit in social work education in this area. The questions and hypotheses posed come directly out of the literature, which suggests self-esteem as a dependent variable examined in this study. Future research could examine self-esteem as the independent variable.

The participants' responses were based on self-report measures. There may be biases and assumptions which limit objectivity. The participants may have underreported stress and/or overreported self-esteem, spiritual well-being and hardiness, all of which may limit reliability of the results. Indeed, the nature of the questions on the instruments may have limited the exploration of the depth and complexity of the issues. The instruments attempted to measure objectively determined norms of stress, self-esteem, spiritual well-being, and hardiness without exploring the richly subjective and complex meanings of these variables. Follow-up studies that examine these variables qualitatively are needed to provide further depth, richness, and complexity to these findings. One approach may be to conduct individual interviews or use focus groups with a subsample of participants.

Future research could examine what spiritual beliefs are meaningful for social work students and how these beliefs could be utilized to provide culturally competent services. Other questions to investigate include how to balance the exploration of spiritual well-being while simultaneously observing the separation of church and state.

Apart from these limitations, spiritual well-being has particular relevance for social work education. The Council on Social Work Education demands that social work schools address diversity, including religious diversity, in the curriculum, providing social work educators with an important starting point. The challenge for social work education is great. Just as social work students need to enhance their multicultural attitudes, skills and sensitivity to issues of gender, race, and other aspects of diversity, they also have an obligation to develop their multicultural attitudes and increase their skills and sensitivity to issues of spiritual well-being--their own and that of their clients.

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Accepted: 1/99.

Address correspondence to: Hugo A. Kamya, Graduate School of Social Work, Boston College, 140 Commonwealth Avenue, McGuinn Hall 302, Chestnut Hill, MA 02167-3807; e-mail: hugo.kamya@bc.edu.

HUGO A. KAMYA is associate professor, Graduate School of Social Work, Boston College.
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Author:KAMYA, HUGO A.
Publication:Journal of Social Work Education
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 22, 2000
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