Research is ‘truly wholehearted’ in Baylor School of Social Work

October 26, 2023

As part of an R1 institution, two professors in the Diana R. Garland School of Social Work shared their experience with research and how it benefits the people around them.

Dr. Jocelyn McGee, assistant professor in the School of Social Work, said her research focuses on Alzheimer’s and dementia patients as well as their caregivers. McGee specifically looks into how having hope affects patients and caregivers’ resilience.

“If that person has hope, then that can impact stress and make them feel less burdened and more positive,” McGee said. “If having hope is a mechanism for helping a person deal with a challenging disease and family circumstance and help them to feel positively about life, that’s really important.”

Dr. Holly Oxhandler, associate dean for research and faculty development in the School of Social Work, said she conducts research on the role of spirituality in mental health treatment. McGee said she has found that patients mostly desire to have spirituality integrated into their treatment, but they don’t know how to bring it up during treatment.

“[Spirituality is] just a part of their culture and identity and the way in which they cope with their life circumstances and the things that are bringing them to seek mental health treatment,” Oxhandler said. “And they not only want to talk about it, but they oftentimes want the provider to be the one to bring it up.”

McGee and Oxhandler both said they believe research is integral to the work they do in the field of social work. They said it not only gives them a better understanding of the world but also gives them practical steps to better serve those around them.

“I’ve seen amazing things happen when people start to believe that they mean something and also that their interests are renewed,” McGee said.

According to Oxhandler, Baylor is a place that provides freedom and resources for professors looking to participate in research, and she is grateful to be at an institution that values it so much.

“I think that several, if not all, of our faculty are engaged in research for purposes that are deeply meaningful to them, whatever that may look like — whether that’s tied into their own personal journey, whether it’s tied to them wanting to just get back, maybe it’s tied to their faith journey,” Oxhandler said. “I see this work as truly being wholehearted for our folks across campus, and I love that at Baylor.”

McGee said she has had many experiences through her research that have shown her what her work means to others. One experience was when McGee stayed with an Alzheimer’s patient whose caregiver was running late to pick them up. The patient had not spoken in years, but when McGee started singing “Jesus Loves Me,” the patient started singing along.

“It was like she had been touched, and in a way that maybe hadn’t happened in a very long time,” McGee said. “And I was able to let her family know that. … Until she passed away, they were able to utilize music … and were able to communicate with her in that way.”

According to McGee, it is experiences like this that make research important and help pave the way toward understanding each other and serving one another better.

“One of the most important parts of research to me is that when we start to understand, that means that we can develop strategies based on that research to make long-lasting positive outcomes for people,” McGee said.

Similarly, Oxhandler said her research helps her advocate for those who are unable to speak up for themselves and support that advocacy with quantitative proof.

“I see research as a way to humbly and wholeheartedly serve those who we seek to serve, … to mature the stories and experiences of those who … may not have those opportunities to share those experiences or stories,” Oxhandler said.

Story originally published in the Baylor Lariat.