Finding the “Sweet Spot”

by Holly
Originally posted May 10, 2010

“Sweet spot.” Golfers understand the term. So do tennis players. Ever swung a baseball bat or paddled a Ping-Pong ball? If so, you know the oh-so-nice feel of the sweet spot. Connect with these prime inches of real estate and . . . ka-pow! Life makes sweet sense when you find your spot. – Max Lucado, Cure for the Common Life

I read these words written by Max Lucado about two years ago, and was instantly drawn to the ideas he wrote about. As I continued into the book, I couldn’t help but smile, knowing that although I wasn’t completely in my sweet spot just yet (unsure if I ever really would be), I knew I was somewhat headed in the right direction, and that my path was clearly laid out before me. About four months after reading this book, I began working at Baylor College of Medicine, administering Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) to older adults with anxiety and depression. Shortly thereafter, I began working on a study to further understand this population’s thoughts on integrating spirituality into treatment and later served as a coauthor on a CBT manual with this focus. The edges of my sweet spot were becoming more and more clear, and I began to find myself gravitating to this area of study.

The next bend in my path led me to drift from psychology to social work, although it wasn’t until I began my studies at GCSW that I really understood the field. The cultural, holistic approach that social work offers could not have fit more perfectly with my passion for learning about integrating the client’s spiritual beliefs into treatment, and I felt as though I was looking at my life in awe, watching everything begin to add up! Then, in October 2009 an old coworker emailed me, inviting me to attend a Baylor Grand Rounds talk that was led by our very own professor, Dr. Andy Achenbaum. Hearing him talk about spirituality being “the immanence and transcendence” (or the idea of being in the present and yet beyond at the same time) really fascinated me, and I realized even more how much therapeutic potential there was in this area of study.

After my Foundation Semester in the program, I couldn’t deny that spirituality was a hot topic for discussion between some of the members of my cohort and even with some of the faculty members. I realized there was a need to educate others not only on the importance of spirituality and social work as it relates to working with our clients, each other, and self-awareness (potentially through self-care) but how to do this appropriately without sounding “pushy” or as though the clinician had a personal, religious agenda.

During my time at Baylor, I attended another Grand Rounds talk delivered by a well-known psychologist in this area of study, Kenneth Pargament, Ph.D., and had the opportunity to meet with him to discuss his experiences. I will never forget the statistics he gave during his speech: he explained that while about 90% of Americans believe in a higher power, 27% of clinical psychologists hold similar beliefs, and that only 12% of clinical psychology programs train their students on how to integrate spirituality into treatment.

Let me repeat that….

About 9 in 10 Americans believe in a higher power.
Less than 3 in 10 clinical psychologists believe in a higher power.
This leaves over a 60% gap in knowledge, that only 12% of psychology educational programs touch on.

Granted, I know this is social work, not psychology, but these statistics caused me to want to learn more as it relates to social work. Thanks to Dr. Achenbaum here at the GCSW, I’ve had a wonderful opportunity to continue my research through an independent study. I began the study in Spring of 2010, and have chosen to continue this research into the summer.
Just a few of the books I’ve read include:

I also spent a large portion of my first year internship at Arrow Child and Family Ministries researching articles to develop a training module on integrating spirituality into treatment plans with foster children. Looking back, I am incredibly grateful to have built up quite a collection of articles now to support my argument with a variety of populations!

At this point, my sweet spot is becoming more and more obvious that it involves clinical social work, teaching, and spirituality. I’m so grateful to have found a way to combine all of the above, and passionately want to continue pursuing this area of interest, especially with the incredible support I’ve received from a couple of the faculty members here at GCSW. At this point though, as I’ve shared with a few of the other students recently, this study has become more of a hobby for me, and I’ve openly admitted to many how immersing myself in what I’ve read has been truly sustaining for me. It doesn’t feel like work . . . it feels like I’ve found my sweet spot.

For any of those who are considering doing an independent study, I strongly encourage you to do so! Beware; you definitely need to have the ability to take initiative, to know what you want to get out of the study before it begins, and to have strong time management skills. If you’re able to master these, I would say to go for it! To find your sweet spot, or niche, within this profession and to identify something you can love doing, to call it your hobby and not your job, to be able to admit it sustains you, rather than you sustaining the work, to connect with faculty and learn from their experiences and wisdom and, most importantly, to find yourself constantly challenged, learning, and growing is so incredibly worth it – and that is an understatement!

I will end this entry with my absolute favorite quote that seems to be perfectly appropriate. Coming from a family with a wide variety of spiritual beliefs, I had the opportunity of living with a Buddhist for about 6 years, who taught me more life lessons than I could ever share, adopted me as his daughter, and empowered me to be the best I could be. The quote he shared was:

Believe nothing merely because you have been told it. Do not believe what your teacher tells you merely out of respect for the teacher. But whatsoever, after due examination and analysis, you find to be kind, conducive to the good, the benefit, the welfare of all beings — that doctrine believe and cling to, and take it as your guide. – Buddha

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