On today’s Postdoc Superheroes series, we have Dr. Jo Mensinga. Jo is a social worker with substantial experience who decided to take up a PhD challenge later in her career. Jo speaks about how academics include their body and embodied ways of knowing in their professional roles and so much more.
Enjoy the read!
|Quick notes on Jo:|
|Name||Dr Jo Mensinga|
|Countries she has academic experiences from||Australia|
|Jo in keywords||Flexible, introvert, curious, professional, happy to make mistakes|
|Jo as a scientist/researcher/academic||Experienced, qualitative, narrative inquirer, creative|
|Currently excited about:||A Podcast of One’s Own with Julia Gillard|
|Jo’s typical day:||Wake up very early, meditate, go for a walk, coffee and breakfast, work, chat at the end of the day, dinner, quiet time, sleep.|
|Contact Jo at:||Insta: @somatic_social_work_australia|
Hi Jo, thank you for agreeing to take part in this interview!
Could you introduce yourself briefly?
Hi, my name is Jo Mensinga and I currently live and work in Cairns, in far north Queensland, Australia. It is a beautiful part of the world to live in, suiting my love of nature and a warm climate.
I am a social worker by training and have worked in the welfare sector and in academic settings for the past 40 years. Yes, you read right… 40 years!
I am currently working as a lecturer with James Cook University and completed my PhD in 2016. I also have a great love of yoga and have been doing it since I was 14 years old.
What kind of student/pupil were you as a kid?
Well, it was a long time ago for me, but I was a good student who hoped to excel so that I could go on to become a social worker. I focused my attention on subjects in the humanities and always had a keen sense of social justice.
Why and how did you decide to go into a PhD?
For me, deciding to do a PhD was based on necessity. I was already employed in the university sector and required a PhD if I wanted to remain in my position.
The exciting part for me was being able to decide on my own topic (combining my two great loves, social work and yoga) and using a narrative inquiry as my research approach.
Narrative inquiry is a qualitative research approach that explores the stories people tell about their lived experiences. It unpacks the different layers of identity and social influences that emerge in the stories people tell. As such, it provides the researcher a better understanding of the meaning-making processes participants employ to make sense of a “common” lived experience.
What could be better then, than to explore social workers’ stories about using yoga and embodied practices in their work!
What was your PhD program experience?
Because I worked full time while completing my PhD program, I did feel pressured and didn’t particularly enjoy the experience as much as I could have done. There were many times I saw it as a necessary burden that needed to be completed to keep my job.
However, on one of the many occasions, I thought about giving it all up, I also considered the question
“what I would regret if I died tomorrow?”
On asking this question, my reply came back as quick as a flash: “not completing my PhD”. Of course, there was no longer any argument about whether I should give it up or not, and I completed my dissertation on time.
It’s interesting that we often regret things we did NOT do. 😉
Could you briefly describe what your research was about?
I explored the stories human service workers told about using their body and embodied ways of knowing in their professional lives (e.g., understanding that a cough may indicate a need to cry or including yoga postures to help someone cope with trauma).
Initially, I had a more focused question about workers’ use of yoga, but it became clear that many human service workers felt uncomfortable about discussing this aspect of their work because there weren’t any professionally endorsed theoretical perspectives they could draw upon to do so.
What advice would you give your “younger”-self starting a PhD program?
Enjoy the opportunity and don’t be afraid to explore what you are really curious about. There will never be another time to research what you really want to as a researcher as funding will often require a focus on more conventional topics.
I know that you have had spent a substantial time in professional practice, could you speak to that?
I spent 15 years as a social worker before moving into academia. I worked in a variety of agencies but mainly focused on individual, family, and relationship counseling. This experience fostered my love of stories and highlighted how important meaning-making is in people’s lives.
As a speaker I heard once said,
I came to see that it isn’t what happened to us that necessarily caused our trauma, but rather how we reacted to the experience and the meaning we made of it.
This is not to blame ourselves for our reactions, as we always respond in the best way we know how at the time, but rather it highlights that we can change the meaning of the experience and its impact on our lives.
However, working in the sector also highlighted how particular discourses and stories are afforded more power than others which can detrimentally impact people’s wellbeing.
For example, in the West the notion that yoga is a fringe activity with no credible scientific evidence has meant, until recently, that professionals have been discouraged in exploring it as a healing modality (e.g., Van der Kolk’s work in “The Body Keeps the Score”) when there is much evidence available in Eastern cultures and individual experience to highlight otherwise.
Understanding this, is what buoyed my interest in embodied ways of knowing in professional practice. While the notion of evidence-based practice is important, people hold and carry many important stories in their bodies (habits, family and cultural imprints) that need to be acknowledged and accounted for if sustainable change and good practice are to be achieved.
What have you decided to do after your PhD and why?
I haven’t fully “decided” what to do after my PhD, except that I want to raise awareness about the impact of embodied ways of knowing in professional decision-making, and on our personal experiences of the world. As such, I am still working at the university (at the moment on a part-time basis) so I can encourage students to consider this additional layer of human experience.
However, I have also started a private business in the hope of getting this message out to more people and to support human service workers and academics include their body and embodied ways of knowing in their professional roles (e.g., making use of other senses beyond that of seeing and hearing such interoception; using yoga to develop these senses and encouraging body-mind integration, somatic experience, including neurobiology into their practice).
What are you the proudest of?
I am probably most proud of having completed my PhD later in my career.
It was a big commitment, but having done so, I appreciate the practical wisdom I had gained in the intervening years which enable me to conduct and complete my research in the way that I did.
If you could teach people one thing, what would it be?
That their body is as important as their mind and that they would do well to befriend themselves.
Of course, yoga is a great way to do this – not as an exercise regime, but as a practice in which we allow ourselves to make choices and relax into any physical posture we take up.
People who I have worked with in this way, particularly those who have experienced trauma, comment that their body reactions are no longer overwhelming and that they are able to work with the body rather than fight for control of it.
Who was/is the most influential person in your SOCIAL science journey, and how so?
There are many people who have been influential, but the one that gave me permission to listen to the body rather than tell it what to do, is a yoga teacher named Diane Long. She was a student of Vanda Scaravelli who taught that practicing yoga is better served by an interest in, and sensitivity to the body, rather than allowing the mind dictate how the body should perform.
For me, this message was not only important to how I practiced yoga, but also how I came to understand my research and the importance of the body in professional decision-making.
How people can learn more about you and your work?
Jo’s research portfolio
Some of Jo’s publications:
Mensinga J (in press) A narrative inquiry exploring social workers’ understanding of yoga and its application in professional practice. Australian Social Work, DOI:10.1080/0312407X.2020.1828957.
Mensinga J (2017) ‘No coughing for me, but I’m okay!’: a human service worker’s narrative exploration of her own and other workers’ body stories told in a domestic violence service. Children Australia, 42 (2), pp. 87-92, DOI:10.1017/cha.2017.16.
Lynn R and Mensinga J (2015) Social workers’ narratives of integrating mindfulness into practice. Journal of Social Work Practice: psychotherapeutic approaches in health, welfare and the community, 29 (3), pp. 255-270, DOI:10.1080/02650533.2015.1035237.
Mensinga J (2011) The feeling of being a social worker: including yoga as an embodied practice in social work education. Social Work Education, 30 (6), pp. 650-662, DOI:10.1080/02615479.2011.586562