Social Work Interventions
Social work has always taken a holistic approach to treating the person in environment considering the many interconnected aspects of a client’s life in assessment and treatment planning and empowering clients with social work interventions that work best for them.
As substance abuse of pharmaceutical drugs continue to rise, many social workers are expanding their horizons in the search for alternatives to medicating in the treatment of common mental health disorders such as anxiety and depression.
Embracing the health benefits of labyrinth-walking is a pleasant intervention option for those social workers hoping to offer clients an effective, active, and natural way to treat mental illness.
Social Work Intervention: What is a Labyrinth?
Unlike a maze, a labyrinth is a series of pathways that lead in a singular path toward a central point. Labyrinths can be built out of many different types of materials and on any walkable surface. They are large circular designs whose pathways are often painted, tiled, or otherwise demarcated on a flat surface.
Labyrinths have ancient roots and have been used as meditative tools across numerous cultures for many centuries.
Some of the earliest known labyrinths were discovered in Peru and Greece, and they can now be found in medieval cathedrals in Europe, as well as contemporary places of worship and outdoor spaces and healing centers throughout the world.
Social work intervention: Labyrinths are used for walking – from the entry point to the center and back out again.
While the labyrinth’s many twists and turns might obscure the path’s ultimate destination in the center, one cannot get lost in a labyrinth – the path begins at a designated point and ends at the labyrinth’s center.
One is not trying to escape a labyrinth, but simply walk its path into and then back out of it, with no need to think about where one is going.
Labyrinth Walking Basics
Precisely because walking a labyrinth does not require thinking ahead about where to go, but is a practice in following the designated path, labyrinth-walking is a relaxed activity that can be practiced by anyone.
There are various interpretations of what meaning a labyrinth walker can create or discover in the practice, but the basics are the same: the walker enters the labyrinth and follows the winding path until she reaches the labyrinth’s center, then follows the same path back out of the labyrinth.
The idea is to remain in the moment, being consciously aware of each step and staying focused on the slow and steady movement of the walk. This is “a very practical tool to help people in relaxing, stilling the mind, transitioning after treatment, or just as a way to reduce stress1.”
Making Walking Meaningful
Beyond merely walking the labyrinth, many health practitioners, spiritual leaders, and labyrinth walkers suggest a mindful, meditative practice to incorporate into the labyrinth walk.
Social workers can recommend that clients include mindful practices in their labyrinth walk as a way to work through feelings of doubt, fear, mistrust, stress, or anxiety.
The following are suggestions for making a labyrinth walk more meaningful or mindful:
- Before entering the labyrinth, think of a question, uncertainty, or worry to hold in your mind as you walk toward the center. Staying focused on the journey, the idea is to arrive at the answer when you reach the center of the labyrinth. Pause for a moment in the center and open yourself to a sense of clarity or peace. Then, hold the new feeling or thoughts of certainty and calmness in your mind as you follow the path back out of the labyrinth.
- Use a prayer or mantra during your entire labyrinth walk, repeating it in your mind as you walk toward the center. When you arrive at the center, let your prayer or mantra rest, and then pick it back up again as you walk back out.
- While walking, stay in the moment, focusing consciously on each step without trying to look too far forward or behind. Make a conscious effort to trust that the path will lead you where you need to go. Allow disruptive thoughts to melt away as you maintain your awareness on the walk.
- At the center of the labyrinth, pause and reflect, bringing your arrival at the central destination into focus. Sit and meditate for a few minutes, or simply stand and take a few slow, deep breaths. Center yourself and check in with your feelings. Recognize the ways in which you feel different from the beginning of the walk, and strive to hold any positive feelings you’ve gained as you walk away from the center.
Labyrinths are proving to be effective tools in promoting relaxation, reducing stress and anxiety, and creating a sense of peace and calmness while providing several benefits in physical health as well.
As one of the holistic social work interventions, labyrinth walking is a treatment option or personal practice from which many clients stand to benefit.