David Hodge makes very clear in his writings, and this is not at all surprising or unusual, that there is no “one size fits all” tool for assessing clients. That is why he discusses multiple tools, as well as provides the strengths and limitations of each instrument. Social workers routinely encounter a wide variety of individuals; there may be underlying patterns that result in these individuals’ interactions with social services agencies, for example, substance abuse, histories of broken families, endemic poverty, and so on, but the individuals and families themselves are certainly unique in their own ways, especially with respect to spirituality. In his 2005 article “Developing a Spiritual Assessment Toolbox: A Discussion of the Strengths and Limitations of Five Different Assessment Methods” [National Association of Social Workers], Hodge focuses on five assessment tools each designed to facilitate the proper categorization and handling of individual cases, all from the perspective of spiritual awareness. There is no one “best” tool, however; different circumstances call for different tools. As he notes in the above referenced article, “Both clients and social workers have a variety of needs and interests in any clinical context; consequently, some assessment approaches will work better in some situations.” For example, application of oral spiritual histories, as he notes, can be an ideal system for assessing individual cases, but only when the client is what Hodge calls a “verbally oriented” individual or family. Having the client orally trace his or her life and relationship to spirituality can provide the most accurate and useful data for drawing an assessment. As Hodge writes,
“Conscience relates to one’s ability to sense right and wrong. . .conscience conveys moral knowledge about the appropriateness of a given set of choices.”
Hence, by drawing out of the client his or her spiritual history, the social worker can presumably gauge extent to which that client understands basic concepts of right and wrong – in other words, how rational is the client, especially a client with a record of criminal misconduct.
As noted, however, oral spiritual histories are only useful when the client is willing to openly discuss his or her personal history, including the role of religion or traditional beliefs. In other cases, and they are numerous, one or more of the other tools may be more appropriate. Hodge himself is particularly fond of “spiritual ecomaps,” which focus less on personal history and more on current spiritual relationships. As with his other tools, including “spiritual lifemaps” and “spiritual genograms,” ecomaps decline in usefulness in direct correlation to the willingness of the client to speak openly of spiritual relationships. Lifemaps represent the most direct opposite to oral histories, and require the social worker to painstakingly portray in illustrative format the client’s spiritual history – a difficult exercise in the absence of verbal communication with the client. Genograms constitute a more useful approach to assessing clients in that they are multigenerational – in contrast to ecomaps – and provide a more useful picture of the client’s personal history and relationships within a particular social context.
In conclusion, there is no one “best” tool for assessing clients. It is all case-dependent. Clearly, oral spiritual histories provide the best means of assessing an individual’s state of being and requirements for corrective measures. Absent a willingness or ability on the part of the client to provide such a history, though, ecomaps and genograms are the most useful alternatives in most cases.