The word metaphor as a term means, using a word for another word instead of its own meaning. That is, words generate metaphoric concepts interacting with each other (Sloane, 2001: 493-495). As is seen, the functionality of metaphor is argued in different dimensions (Booth, 2003: 14). The most important function of the metaphor is that information contributes to the process of progression (Goodman, 2003: 65). Another function of metaphors besides bearing both subjective and objective meanings, is to create depth of thinking in individuals who use metaphors. This plays an important role in enabling individuals to understand the outside world through cognitive processes (Arslan and Bayrakçı, 2006: 103; Pawlowski et al. 1998: 83).

Metaphors try to explain what is hidden and what is not explained. In the social work discipline, metaphors have been used in different functions. While working with clients, metaphors have the function of identifying the problem and keeping the communication channels open. It is also known that metaphors has an important place in the training of social worker candidates in social work education. With these perceptions and definitions, it is possible to determine what kind of social work implications will be made for intervention or advocacy. Along with this, spirituality has had an important place since the early periods of the social work discipline whose focus was serving for people. It also has been an important aspect of human experience since the existence of him/her. Social work puts human at the centre and supposes to help him/her. The person who is the subject of this profession that develops on the basis of helping is accepted as spiritual because of its nature whatever belief he/she has.

Individuals who arrive at social work departments to become social workers also develop a variety of personal attitudes about social work discipline and profession, depending on the experiences as a result of their informal observations during their childhood, and their interactions with different lessons they have about social work. From this point of view, it is important for the instructors during social work education to reveal the perceptions developed by the students about the “social work” phenomenon. In this respect, the general aim of this research is to reveal the perceptions of social worker candidates about the concept of “social work” through metaphors. In the context of this aim, answers to the following questions were sought:

  1. With which metaphors social work undergraduates explain their perceptions about “social work” concept?
  2. On the basis of their common characteristics under which themes can the metaphors generated by the students related to social work discipline be collected?
  3. What are the spiritual metaphors developed by students in relation to the discipline of “social work”?

It is also hoped that the metaphors and reasons generated by the students for the concept of social work in the study will guide academics working at the university level on how to relate these concepts with real life situations. This research reveals how social work students perceive social work discipline and profession through metaphors that help to express what is desired to be expressed in the most practical, creative and lasting way.

This research has been carried out within the scope of phenomenology which is one of the qualitative research designs. It is aimed to reveal the individual perceptions by entering into the phenomenological field of the individual by metaphor analysis in qualitative researches. In this research, the perceptions of social work students about the concept of “social work” were examined and interpreted. All the undergraduates of Bingöl University Social Work Department during the fall semester of the 2018-19 academic year were selected as the study group. The research was carried out with 192 volunteer participants. The data collection tool of the research consists of two parts. The first part consists of the demographic questions of participants’ class level and gender, while the latter part consists of an open-ended question aimed at examining the perceptions of students about the concept of social work. Students were asked to use metaphors for us to understand their perceptions of social work. The obtained data were analysed by content analysis technique. The analysis of the metaphors used by social work students/participants was completed in four stages: (1) coding and elimination, (2) theme and category development, (3) validity and reliability, and (4) transferring the data to virtual environment.

According to the findings, students have defined the concept of “social work” with many metaphors. A total of 76 different metaphors produced by 168 students for the concept of social work were evaluated as valid. This situation shows the relative semantic depth that social work creates in individuals. All the metaphors obtained were examined and taking into account their common characteristics; they were collected under nine conceptual themes such as ‘spiritual’, ‘illuminating’, ‘radical’, ‘vital’, ‘protective’, ‘helpful’, ‘epistemic’, ‘advisor’ and ‘professional descriptions’. Metaphors intensifies mostly in the theme of the ‘spirituality’. In the data obtained from the students, it is seen that the spiritual metaphors (21%) are used more than the other themes. The spiritual metaphors produced by the social work students about the concept of social work were collected in two different categories. Participants most commonly used the “Non-Theistic” (f=23) dimension when producing spiritual metaphors. This is followed by the “Theistic” dimension (f=16). The most frequently repeated metaphor in the non-theistic category is the ‘conscience’ metaphor. The social conscience metaphor follows the personal conscience metaphor. The subcategories of “theistic approach” respectively are; angel, charity, Hızır, confession, Jerusalem, miracle and people of heaven.

It is accepted that the metaphors used by the students are meaningful in their lives. Such metaphors can serve as an important bridge between students and social work. Thus, it can be deduced that most of the students defined social work proceeding from spiritual feelings in their minds.

In conclusion, the findings of this study provide important information that metaphors can be used as powerful tools to reveal the relation between social work and spirituality utilizing personal perceptions of social work students about spirituality. In this study, it is stated that social work is expressed through different forms of metaphors.

Keywords: Spirituality, Metaphor, Social Work, Social Work Students