Personal Statement from
Social Work Graduate candidate and scholarship awardee
Stephanie Han

As a social work graduate student, I counseled, connected to community resources, and advocated for clients who were experiencing homelessness and life-threatening conditions. Some of my clients also struggled against the often crippling effects of trauma, whether from the sudden loss of a job or home, terminal illness, parental abandonment, death of a loved one, or physical injury. As part of an effort to alleviate their suffering and help them regain mastery over their lives, I utilized evidence-based methods like cognitive behavioral therapy, complimenting my approach with mindfulness-based techniques, which researchers are increasingly recognizing to be powerful in managing a gamut of disorders, physical and psychological. Indeed, Dr. Bessel van der Kolk (2014), an internationally known leading trauma specialist, expounds in his book The Body Keeps Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma the promise of therapies that cultivate present-moment awareness through intentional movement—yoga and martial arts examples of such restorative practices. Exercises that cultivate self-awareness, Dr. Bessel van der Kolk believes, enhance emotional self-regulation, helping trauma victims become more attuned to how their bodies process memories and gradually release “sensations” and “impulses” they may have blocked in order to survive (2014, p. 209). Through the marrying of meditation, movement, and mindfulness, trauma victims can learn to feel at home in their bodies, achieving a sense of peace and safety that once seemed so elusive (van der Kolk, 2014).

Yet, even as I read journal articles about yoga’s various health benefits, growing more confident in its clinical efficacy, even as I steeped myself in instructional material to deepen my understanding of asanas, or poses, and pranayama, or yogic breathing exercises, so that I could teach them to patients, I found myself wanting to expand my knowledge of body-oriented therapies. After all, a skilled social worker should possess a wide range of competencies, in order to be able to deliver treatments responsive to the needs and preferences of diverse populations. It moreover was apparent that a one size fits all approach would not be viable. Physical injuries that could not be circumvented through modified poses, for instance, prohibited some people I knew from fully accessing the benefits of yoga. Others remained skeptical, despite research documenting yoga’s health benefits, daunted by its unfamiliarity. Still others became dedicated yogis and yoginis, the fruits they attributed to yoga inspiring them to learn about other mindfulness-based therapies.

Wanting to serve as a better resource for these people and others, I feel compelled to take this course and share the knowledge and skills I will have acquired as a Tai Chi student. Ultimately, I hope to help advance the mission of the social work profession, to “enhance human well-being and help meet the basic human needs of all people, with particular attention to the needs and empowerment of people who are vulnerable, oppressed, and living in poverty,” through a creative approach that melds Western and Eastern healing traditions (National Association of Social Workers, 2008). Tai Chi, a centuries old Chinese form of mind-body exercise scientists have shown to enhance biopsychosocial functioning, represents a martial art I consider essential to learn, in order to provide comprehensive, holistic, and multiculturally sensitive interventions to future patients.

Works Cited

Lowell, S. (2015). Why T’ai Chi? Retrieved from

National Association of Social Workers. (2008). Code of
ethics of the national association of social workers.
Retrieved from

Van der Kolk, B. (2014). The Body Keeps Score: Brain, Mind,
and Body in the Healing of Trauma. New York, NY: Penguin
Publishing books.