As burnout reaches a new high, faculty member’s new book asks, "Who is helping the helpers?"
WACO, Texas – In her new book, The Soul of the Helper, Holly Oxhandler, PhD, LMSW, combines solid research with practical application to show how giving attention to both our mental and spiritual health can lead to greater healing. Oxhandler, associate professor and associate dean for research and faculty development at Baylor University’s Diana R. Garland School of Social Work, focuses specifically on the needs of those in helping positions (parents, pastors, teachers, healthcare workers, caregivers...), who are currently experiencing alarming levels of burnout due to the stress of the pandemic.
Helpers and caregivers frequently exhaust themselves in the service of others. Oxhandler invites them to slow down, reconnect with the stillness in their souls and renew their capacity to help others by helping themselves. Throughout the book, she provides a number of helpful tools and practices for readers to begin caring for their spiritual and mental health and begin to thrive again.
Coming from a background in spirituality integrated mental health, Oxhandler teaches helpers a seven-step process to slow down and reconnect with the stillness within themselves. That stillness— what Oxhandler calls the “sacred spark”— is the seat of the soul. By allowing themselves to exist in that stillness for a time, caregivers will come to understand that they, too, are worthy of care. What’s more, they will be able to see freshly the sacred spark that dwells inside everyone else, including the person or persons for whom they’re caring.
Recognizing this spark within is woven into what Oxhandler calls Namaste Theory. While studying mental health care providers, Oxhandler noticed a pattern in her data. The more motivated they were to live out their faith (whatever they believed), the more likely they were to consider their clients’ spirituality in treatment. This is significant because research shows that when clients’ religion or spirituality is ethically considered in mental health care, the treatment outcomes tend to be as effective and often more effective than when this area of clients’ lives is avoided.
“The result of noticing this pattern included publishing a grounded theory called Namaste Theory, based on my humble understanding of the Sanskrit term, namaste. Although the literal translation means ‘I bow to you,’ it’s often generally interpreted to mean ‘the Sacred within me honors the Sacred within you.’ Or, as the mental health care providers more deeply recognize the Sacred within themselves, they tend to recognize the Sacred within their clients and consider this area of clients’ lives in treatment,” Oxhandler said.
That stillness— what Oxhandler calls the “sacred spark”— is the seat of the soul. By allowing themselves to exist in that stillness for a time, caregivers will come to understand that they, too, are worthy of care. What’s more, they will be able to see freshly the sacred spark that dwells inside everyone else, including the person or persons for whom they’re caring.
Over time, Oxhandler realized this theory was not only for mental health care providers but for helpers in general. As helpers see and serve the Sacred within themselves, they are more likely to see and serve the Sacred within others. This includes paying close attention to the intersection of spirituality and mental health within our own lives so we can hold that space for others from a place of “sacred groundedness”.
“Shortly after developing Namaste Theory, I reached a point at which I could no longer not write this book, even if I wasn’t sure what this book would fully end up becoming when I began writing it,” Oxhandler said. “Especially seeing this theory’s relevance for everyday helpers, I wanted to make this information as accessible as possible, including the research on the intersection of spirituality and mental health as well as the seven stages that emerged from contemplating and living into the research findings.”
Edward R. Canda, PhD, professor emeritus of social work at the University of Kansas, noted how Oxhandler marries her own spiritual journey with mental health research and contemplative theology in an effort to guide helpers and caregivers in transformational healing and growth.
“Dr. Oxhandler’s presentation of Namaste Theory nurtures awareness of the Sacred within ourselves and those we help in a wise, heart-ful, humble, and skillful way. She extends her deep faith to embrace the diversity of everyone’s spiritual paths. As a result, her approach joins head with heart and contemplation with active service while honoring the Sacred in all,” Canda said.
Oxhandler has written extensively for top professional journals within social work and psychology, and her research has been featured in the Washington Post, Religion News Service and more. She also co-hosts the weekly podcast CXMH: A Podcast on Faith and Mental Health.
“The opportunity to write this book was honestly a transformative gift for me along my own journey, and to offer it to other fellow helpers with open palms alongside Templeton Press is a humbling honor for which I’m deeply grateful,” Oxhandler said.
Oxhandler offers a free Companion Guide to pair with the book that can be found here.