New Associate Dean of Research

Garland School of Social Work names new associate dean of research and faculty development, Namaste Theory at core of her research

Dr. Oxhandler

In recent years, Baylor University has worked tirelessly towards becoming a Tier One research institution; the Garland School of Social Work has embraced the same determination to focus on research by naming its first-ever Associate Dean for Research and Faculty Development, Dr. Holly Oxhander.

“I’m humbled and excited by the opportunity of this new position!” Dr. Oxhandler said.

“I genuinely view research as being one of many tools God uses to communicate with us to better understand existing needs, strengths, and experiences of those around us; to develop culturally-sensitive interventions, programs, or policies to help meet the needs of others; and to disseminate our findings to the broader community,” she continued, showcasing her passion for research.

Oxhandler joined the Garland School of Social Work faculty in 2014 after finishing her PhD at the University of Houston.

Dr. Oxhandler has greatly loved working with students and faculty on research initiatives in her time at Baylor so far, so it’s only natural for her to step into the position as Associate Dean of Research.

“It’s an honor to walk alongside and support faculty, staff, and students in their meaningful work,” she said. “I’m also grateful that I’ve received incredible mentoring over the years, and to give that back in this role by serving those who serve others––especially in research––is truly a gift.”

Her work, “Namaste Theory: A quantitative grounded theory on religion and spirituality in mental health treatment was published in the August 2017 issue of Religions. She investigates factors that affect how mental health care providers integrate clients’ religion and spirituality (RS) into treatment. The theory focuses on how practitioners’ RS, or lack thereof, affects how they perceive their clients’ RS.

Dr. Oxhandler summed up the theory well, stating in the abstract, “As the helping professional recognizes the sacred within him or herself, s/he appears to be more open to recognizing the sacred within his/her client.” This theory was birthed from her national survey of licensed clinical social workers.

Regarding the results of this study, Dr. Oxhandler said, “It was interesting to see that nearly half of the respondents (43.9%) freely indicated in their open-ended response that their personal religiosity (including their RS journey, RS belief system, RS practices, and RS curiosity) helped them to consider their clients’ RS in practice.”

She also found in previous research on this topic that practitioners with RS beliefs were more likely to use RS interventions, self-disclose RS beliefs, and view RS as appropriate for discussion in therapy.

Getting to the bottom of the term Namaste, Dr. Oxhandler said, “Nambiar describes Namaste as a combination of two Sanskrit words: Namah (to bow or bend) and te (to you), with the two influences behind this word being ‘Matter and Spirit.’* He explains the secret of Namaste is the ‘blending of matter with spirit or the mortal body with the immortal soul, as demonstrated by the folded hands,’* and that the ‘gesture is an expression of humility: “I recognize God in you”…a feeling that almost becomes an instinct.’”

Taking the concept of “Namaste” and applying it to mental health treatment opened up a new way of thinking about incorporating RS into practice for Dr. Oxhandler. She found “the more practitioners are reflective and aware of their own intersectionality, including how a variety of unique elements of diversity influences them as individuals, and the more practitioners take the time to deeply understand who they are, it may then be that those practitioners are more likely to recognize such intersectionality in clients’ lives.”

Toward the end of “Namaste Theory,” Dr. Oxhandler acknowledges one of the key findings in her research and driving factors for why she is passionate about RS being integrated into mental health treatment.

“It is important that practitioners be well trained to effectively and ethically assess for and integrate clients’ RS while setting appropriate boundaries related to their own RS beliefs and practices. As Canda noted, practitioners’ beliefs ‘may intentionally or unintentionally be a direct or indirect party to…harmful practices,’”** Dr. Oxhandler said.

She believes even more through this research that practitioners’ personal RS cannot be ignored.

In future research, Dr. Oxhandler acknowledged that it will be important to use more consistent measurement tools to get reliable results and offered suggestions. She went on to state that more efforts to gather qualitative data and practitioners’ stories on this topic will be helpful in investigating more deeply. Dr. Oxhandler also suggested having practitioners frequently journal about their RS beliefs and practices to gain a better understanding of their belief systems and how their RS affects their clinical practice. She is also interested in better understanding what individual practitioners mean when they say they have a “religious or spiritually-sensitive clinical practice.”

Dr. Oxhandler is eager to continue looking into this topic and is driven by her desire to see change regarding RS in education and practice.

 “My hope is that this theory will provide a clearer understanding of the role of the helping professional’s religious or spiritual beliefs in the helping relationship, especially in graduate education, but also in practice,” Dr. Oxhandler said. “If we avoid talking about the role of the therapist’s religious/spiritual beliefs, we run the risk of students not knowing how to ethically assess for clients’ religious/spiritual beliefs or practices.”

Dr. Oxhandler is working on looking into this more in a forthcoming paper along with MSW student Kelsey Moffatt.


By Connor Watkins, GSSW Marketing Communications Intern


* Nambiar, A. K. Krishna. 1979. Namaste: Its Philosophy and Significance in Indian Culture. Delhi: Spiritual India Publishing House.
** Canda, Edward. R. 2008. Spiritual connections in social work: Boundary violations and transcendence. Journal of Religion and Spirituality in Social Work 27: 25–40.