Expanding the Mind and Body: Educating Social Work Students on Yoga as a Complementary Practice to Traditional Therapeutic Approaches

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Doctor of Social Work (DSW)
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complementary and alternative medicine
social work
integrative mind-body-spirit
Social and Behavioral Sciences
Social Work
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Social work practice has prided itself in supporting a holistic approach to treatment which considers the dynamic interactions between the biological, psychological, and social aspects of human discourse. Despite being grounded in this theoretical approach, literature has revealed that formal social work education and practice have insufficiently incorporated complementary and alternative approaches to treatment. In response to the growing demand to consider and incorporate complementary and alternative methods with more traditional treatment approaches, and the potential efficacy of these methods, this dissertation seeks to develop a graduate level social work course that integrates yoga as a complementary therapy for treating individuals with diverse mental health diagnoses. A comprehensive literature review and findings from a survey conducted by the National Association of Deans and Directors (NADD) on Integrative Mind-Body-Sprit (I-MBS) in social work practice informed the design of this 14-week MSW elective course on yoga as a complementary therapy. The proposed curriculum explores central aspects of yoga philosophy and practice, provides a brief introduction of complementary and alternative treatment approaches, offers a historical overview of yoga, and discusses yoga as it relates to specific mental health services including the treatment of trauma, anxiety, depression, and psychosis. The curriculum is grounded in the biopsychosocial approach, utilizing yoga as a way for social workers to focus on the well-being of the whole person physically, mentally, socially, and spiritually, and offers both academic perspectives on and direct experiences with yoga. The intended learning outcomes for this course are to augment students’ knowledge of the benefits associated with using yoga to complement traditional therapeutic approaches, and to think critically about traditional and alternative approaches to social work practice.

Marcia Martin, PhD
Lina Hartocollis, PhD
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