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Holly Oxhandler, Ph.D. - Baylor University . Waco, TX, US

Holly Oxhandler, Ph.D. Holly Oxhandler, Ph.D.

Associate Dean for Research and Faculty Development, Assistant Professor, Diana R. Garland School of Social Work | Baylor University


Oxhandler studies how to ethically & effectively assess and discuss clients’ religion/spirituality within health and mental health treatment






loading image Holly K. Oxhandler, Ph.D., L.M.S.W., assistant professor and associate dean for research and faculty development, Diana R. Garland School of Social Work, Baylor University loading image




Holly K. Oxhandler joined Baylor University’s Garland School of Social Work in Fall 2014, upon completing her Ph.D. at the University of Houston. Her research focuses on the intersection between ethical and effective integration of clients’ religion/spirituality and the evidence-based practice process in mental and behavioral health treatment. She developed the Religious/Spiritually Integrated Practice Assessment Scale, which assesses mental healthcare providers’ (social workers, psychologists, counselors, marriage and family therapists, and nurses) attitudes, perceived feasibility, self-efficacy, behaviors, and overall orientation toward integrating clients’ religion/spirituality in practice.

Dr. Oxhandler has clinical and research experience working with older adults with anxiety and depression at the Baylor College of Medicine, which included co-authoring a cognitive behavioral treatment manual and counselor workbook that integrates clients’ religious/spiritual beliefs into practice. Though the integration of clients’ religion/spirituality in mental health treatment is her primary area of scholarly interest, her scholarship has extended to or intersects with evidence-based practice, serious mental illness, social anxiety disorder, virtual reality, mentoring, and social work practitioners’ professional identity.

Dr. Oxhandler’s research and training have been generously supported by the John Templeton Foundation, the Gulen Institute, and the Fernando J. Zuniga y Rivero Foundation. She is grateful for these sources of support, but is especially thankful for the invaluable mentoring she has received over the years. Because of her exceptional mentors, Dr. Oxhandler deeply enjoys paying it forward by mentoring students (BSW, MSW, and PhD) outside of the classroom with regard to professional development.

She is married to Cory Oxhandler, and the couple is both proud of and grateful for their two children, Callie (2012) and Oliver (2016).

Industry Expertise (2)



Areas of Expertise (7)

Religion and Social Work

Religion and Spirituality in Clinical Practice

Evidence-Based Practice Process

Scale Development

Mental Health (primarily Anxiety and Depression)

Mentoring and Professional Development

Mental Health

Education (3)

University of Houston: Ph.D., Graduate College of Social Work

University of Houston: MSW, Graduate College of Social Work

University of Houston: B.S., Psychology

Media Appearances (5)

Study: Discuss Religion, Spirituality When Treating Young Adults with Severe Mental Illness

Baylor Media Communications  online


A majority of young adults with severe mental illness – bipolar disorder, schizophrenia or major depression – consider religion and spirituality relevant to their mental health, according to a new study from Baylor University’s Diana R. Garland School of Social Work.

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Namaste Theory

Blog: Holly K. Oxhandler  online


Practitioners who have higher levels of intrinsic religiosity – those who deeply recognize the sacred within, or that which they consider sacred, such as their spirituality – tend to recognize the sacred within their clients more. The Hindi term, Namaste, which literally translates to “I bow to you” and acknowledges the divine/sacred within both individuals, helped to bring order and understanding to what I saw emerging in the data regarding the role of the therapist’s spirituality in considering the clients’ spirituality. This wasn’t just in my research, but this pattern echoed across helping professions with elements of practitioners’ religion/spirituality influencing whether they considered their clients’ religion/spirituality.

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Social workers want to talk religion — but they don’t

Washington Post  online


"More than 60 percent of social workers surveyed in a recent study reported feeling they could competently incorporate a client’s beliefs in treatment.

'I was really surprised to see that they were so confident in their ability to talk about this area of clients’ lives, being able to integrate the clients’ beliefs into clinical practice,' said Baylor University professor Holly Oxhandler, co-author of a study of 442 social workers, published in the May issue of the journal Social Work..."

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Social workers struggle to talk religion and spirituality, study says

Baptist News Global  online


"And it’s that disconnect that has the study’s co-author, Baylor Assistant Professor of Social Work Holly Oxhandler, perplexed.

Oxhandler told BNG that she never expected such a disparity between attitudes and action.

The gap between knowledge and practice includes a desire by both client and practitioner to explore religion and spirituality, but neither really knows how to initiate that conversation, Oxhandler said..."

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Why social workers aren't discussing religion, spirituality with clients

Science Daily  online


"New research by a Baylor University professor shows that licensed clinical social workers (LCSWs), who account for the largest number of clinically trained helping professionals, believe that discussions about their clients' religion and spirituality can often lead to improved health and mental health, but practitioners are not integrating these conversations into their counseling sessions.

'It's that big elephant in the room,' said Holly Oxhandler, Ph.D., assistant professor in Baylor's Diana R. Garland School of Social Work. 'If we ignore it, we're ignoring a huge component of their lives that may be tied to the clinical issue...'"

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Articles (8)

Religion and Spirituality Among Young Adults With Severe Mental Illness Spirituality in Clinical Practice

Holly K. Oxhandler, Ph.D., L.M.S.W.; Sarah C. Narendorf, Ph.D., L.C.S.W.; Kelsey M. Moffatt, M.S.W.


Young adulthood (18–25 years old) is a period in which the onset of mental illnesses peaks. For young adults with serious mental illness and histories of adversity, access to appropriate, culturally sensitive care is critical. Religion and spirituality (RS) are interwoven into many individuals’ culture and are increasingly recognized as important constructs worth considering in the assessment and treatment of mental illness. This study examined data from a qualitative study of 55 young adults with serious mental illness who had used crisis emergency services to explore (a) how vulnerable young adults in psychiatric crisis talk about RS and (b) how religion/spirituality emerge in the narratives of their experiences, understanding and management of their mental health problems. Thirty-four of the 55 youth described RS organically within their interview. Across these interviews, four themes emerged: positive RS coping, negative RS coping, relationship with God, and implications for RS and mental health. Further, RS was described as a very complex topic for this sample, suggesting training is necessary for mental health care providers to appropriately assess and integrate this area of young adults’ lives. Implications and considerations for future studies are discussed.

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Revalidating the Religious/Spiritually Integrated Practice Assessment Scale With Five Helping Professions Research on Social Work Practice


This article describes the validation of the Religious/Spiritually Integrated Process Assessment Scale (RSIPAS) across five helping professions. The RSIPAS was originally developed to measure clinical social workers’ self efficacy, attitudes, perceived feasibility, behaviors, and overall orientation toward integrating clients’ religion and spirituality in practice. The current study examines the internal consistency and criterion, discriminant, convergent, and factorial validity of this instrument with a sample of clinical social workers, psychologists, nurses, counselors, and marriage and family ...

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The Integration of Clients' Religion and Spirituality in Social Work Practice: A National Survey Social Work


This article describes the results of a cross-sectional study of licensed clinical social workers’ (LCSWs’) views and behaviors related to integrating clients’ religion and spirituality in clinical practice. A total of 442 LCSWs from across the United States who advertised their services on the Internet provided anonymous responses to an online administration of the Religious/Spiritually Integrated Practice Assessment Scale. The results indicate that LCSWs have positive attitudes, high levels of self-efficacy, and perceive such integration as feasible, but report low levels of ...

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The Development and Validation of the Religious/Spiritually Integrated Practice Assessment Scale Research on Social Work Practice


This article describes the development and validation of the Religious/Spiritually Integrated Practice Assessment Scale (RSIPAS). The RSIPAS is designed to assess social work practitioners’ self-efficacy, attitudes, behaviors, and perceived feasibility concerning the assessment or integration of clients’ religious and spiritual beliefs in clinical practice. After establishing content validity of the RSIPAS with a group of nationally known experts in the area of religion/spirituality and behavioral health, a national sample of master’s social workers (N = 482) was randomly selected to assess ...

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Social Work Field Instructors’ Views and Implementation of Evidence-Based Practice Journal of Social Work Education


This article presents the results of a cross-sectional study of social work field instructors’ views of and implementation of the evidence-based practice (EBP) process and compares their responses with non-field instructors. A total of 688 National Association of Social Workers/Texas members (107 of which were field instructors) anonymously responded to an online administration of the Evidence-Based Practice Process Assessment Scale–Short. The results suggest generally positive attitudes among field instructors and high levels of familiarity but lower levels of perceived ...

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Feasibility of Virtual Reality Environments for Adolescent Social Anxiety Disorder Research on Social Work Practice


This study assessed the feasibility of virtual reality (VR) exposure as an assessment and treatment modality for youth with social anxiety disorder (SAD). Forty-one adolescents, 20 of which were identified as having SAD, were recruited from a community sample. Youth with and without SAD were exposed to two social virtual environments—party and public speaking—and two neutral virtual environments. All youth reported significantly higher ratings on ...

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Social Work Practitioners' Integration of Clients' Religion and Spirituality in Practice: A Literature Review Social Work


Emerging research on religion, spirituality, health, and mental health has begun to catch the attention of helping professionals. Some clients are expressing a desire for their health and mental health practitioners to initiate discussion of their religious or spiritual beliefs as they relate to their case. Social workers are the most represented group among personnel providing mental health services, so it is important to understand their attitudes, views, and behaviors regarding integrating clients' religion and spirituality (RS) into practice. Few studies have assessed such an integration; those that are available focus primarily on practitioner characteristics and use of specific helping activities to integrate clients' RS in treatment. This article discusses how RS have been integrated into social work practice and education and reviews instruments used to assess such practices. In addition, the findings from previous studies examining social workers' integration of clients' RS are compared with those of other helping professions. Finally, implications for education and practice are discussed.

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Social Work Field Instructors’ Integration of Religion and Spirituality in Clinical Practice Journal of Social Work Education


This article describes a national sample of social work field instructors’ responses to a cross-sectional survey of social workers’ orientation toward integrating clients’ religion and spirituality into practice and compares their responses with those of nonfield instructors. Four hundred sixty-nine social workers, including 69 MSW field instructors, anonymously responded to an online version of the Religious/Spiritually Integrated Practice Assessment Scale. Field instructors reported high levels of self-efficacy, positive attitudes, and few barriers to integrating clients’ religion and spirituality, yet fewer reported engaging in behaviors related to this area of practice. Compared with non-field instructors, few differences emerged across items; however, field instructors reported higher behavior sub-scale scores, compared with non-field instructors. Implications and future considerations for social work field education are discussed.

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