B E R N A R D   M O S S 

15 Bernard Moss   15 Labyrinth

I have always enjoyed teaching, especially with a ‘hands-on’ experiential approach, so when I was given the opportunity to teach communication skills on the social work programme at Staffordshire University I jumped at it! I then branched out to explore how to help students engage with grief and loss in their professional practice and to develop an understanding of the relevance of spirituality in both secular and religious contexts to their professional social work practice. Now I am Emeritus Professor of Social Work Education and Spirituality at Staffordshire University and a Principal Fellow of the Higher Education Academy UK.


I chose labyrinth because:

… the labyrinth is in itself a fascinating object spanning as it does many cultures and many traditions, secular as well as religious. At heart (unlike a maze) it is a single pathway which weaves in and out until it reaches its centre point. If you trust the path ahead, albeit with all its twists and turns, it will bring you to the centre, and back again, without getting lost or feeling you are somehow ‘doing it wrong’.

I have used this beautiful canvass labyrinth in my social work education teaching in several ways. Giving students (and colleagues) time and opportunity to walk it can be a stress-busting moment in their busy, at times frenetic, lives. Just to take time to walk on this safe, contained space enables people to find themselves. It has also been beneficial when looking at specific social work themes such as dealing with grief and loss, both in themselves and in those who they seek to help. The journey to recovery is rarely straightforward: sometimes you seem to be going back in the direction you came from, and meet others on a similar path facing different directions. It takes persistence and resilience to maintain a direction of travel when compass bearings seem so unreliable.

The labyrinth is also a valuable experience when thinking about one’s social work career, whether that be in training or at various stages on one’s career trajectory. At times when we – or our service users – feel most distant from our goal (the centre point of the labyrinth walk) we may in fact be closer than we realise. Conversely, at times when our goal is tantalisingly within reach, we find ourselves swept by our path to a faraway, sometimes lonely and scarey, place. The opportunity to reflect on this challenging and varied journey is of crucial importance lest we – or those with whom we work – feel lost in a bewilderment of uncertainty. Sometimes therefore the courage to stay on the path even when we are unsure of its final destination is a mark of true ‘grit’ both personally and professionally. As such it is a powerful metaphor for social work.

If you are interested in reading more about the labyrinth please see Sellers J. & Moss, B. (summer, 2016) Learning with the Labyrinth: Creating Reflective Space in Higher Education, Basingstoke, Palgrave Macmillan.

One thought on “Labyrinth”

  1. This would be a rich and interesting conversation, even debate: How does the social workers’ spirituality – which cannot be categorized as a skill, knowledge or behaviour and be included in the PCF -, add value to the social work profession? Is spirituality a form – one of the various forms- of intelligence? The intelligence interested in the big questions, uncomfortable questions, about existence, death, the meaning of life? Does it find its way to understanding life and existence, better than other forms of intelligence would do? Is this the ability to find great joy and enthusiasm from the beauty of a field of poppies, contemplated whilst riding the bike?
    Religions rely a lot on the spoken words and written texts (or at least the major, monotheist religions), which are labyrinths of images/metaphors, contradictions or cul-de-sacs for the readers. Some will cling to ‘words as they are’ and force existence to fit into these scripts. Spiritual guides are then needed to help decipher the meanings, draw out the meanings from this complicated Kaleidoscope (Simon’s metaphor), which is life, not just a sacred text. Some of these guides are ‘fake’, they can mislead, or harm people. Other times we are not ready to approach even our most inner self, and prefer to be immersed in doing things, keeping busy every moment, pausing just to eat and sleep…
    This lead me to think that social workers can be ‘guides’ on the twisted paths of social exchange of information and meanings. When we are trying to understand a situation, we look at all possible options and alternatives; the meaning for ‘this or that’. But what if there is something like a true, One meaning for every ‘thing’ that happens to us at one moment in time? And if there is such meaning, pushing its way (sometimes hidden or slowly) towards the Centre (again, what could that be?), even if we don’t ‘get it’, we could feel less guilty, knowing that in the big Universe, things are moving fast or slowly, so that things will be all right.


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