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Spirituality, Religion, and Aging

Spirituality, Religion, and Aging
Illuminations for Therapeutic Practice

February 2017 | 488 pages | SAGE Publications, Inc
This highly integrative book was written for students, professionals in aging, ministers, and older adults themselves. Readers will gain the knowledge and skills they need to assess, engage, and address the spiritual and religious needs of older persons.  Taking a fresh approach that breaks new ground in the field, the author discusses eight major world religions and covers values and ethics, theories, interventions, health and caregiving, depression and anxiety, dementia, and the end of life. Meditations and exercises throughout the book allow readers to expand and explore their personal understanding of spirituality. Referencing the latest research, the book includes assessments and skill-based tools designed to help practitioners enhance the mental health of older people.   

About the Author
Chapter 1 • The Importance of Spirituality and Religion for Gerontology
Aging in a Postmodern Time  
Practical and Orienting Definitions  
Portrait of Religion and Aging in the United States  
The Demographics of Old Age  
Intersectionalities Among Spirituality, Gender Identity, and Older Age  
A Brief History of Spirituality Across Disciplines  
Assumptions About Religion and Spirituality  
The Legacy of Aging in Modern Times  
New Directions  
Clinical Aspects of Later-Life Spiritual Journeys  
Questions for Discussion  
Introduction to Meditation Exercises  
Meditation: Breath  
Exploring Your Spirituality: Introduction  
Exploring Your Spirituality: Basic Questions  
Exploring Your Spirituality: Connect With Nature  
Chapter 2 • Defining Religion and Spirituality: Professional and Practical Philosophies
Shifting Foundations  
Religion and Spirituality: What Do They Mean?  
Who or What Is God?  
Professional Definitions of Religion  
Background of Spirituality and Its Relevance for Aging  
Other Aspects: Existential Well-Being, Spiritual Well-Being, Spiritual Suffering, and Spiritual Care  
Spirituality, Standards of Care, and the Professions  
Case Study: Spiritual Suffering and Spiritual Crisis  
Questions for Discussion  
Meditation: Relaxation, Also Known as Body Scan  
Assignment: Interview an Older Adult  
Exploring Your Spirituality: Objects of Meaning and Memory  
Recommended Reading  
Chapter 3 • Values and Ethics With Older Adults
Empathy, Compassion, or Sympathy  
Virtue Ethics  
Religion and Ethics  
Spiritual and Existentialist/Humanist Ethics  
Nonviolence and Interreligious Harmony  
Ethical Theory for Practice in Brief  
Value Dimensions for Practice  
Boundaries in Ethical Practice  
End-of-Life Ethics  
End-of-Life Case  
Intergenerational Ethics  
The Rights of Older Adults  
Madrid International Plan of Action on Aging, 2002 and Beyond  
Generosity, Spiritual Wealth, and Service  
Questions for Discussion  
Meditation: Changing of the Seasons  
Exploring Your Spirituality: Spiritual-Ethical Will  
Exploring Your Spirituality: Vision  
Exploring Your Spirituality: Scent  
Recommended Reading  
Chapter 4 • Religion and Spirituality in Theory
Why Does Theory Matter?  
Social Gerontology Perspectives and Theories  
Theories of Individual Behavior  
Developmental and Transpersonal Theorists  
Transpersonal Psychology  
Theories of Positive Aging, Successful Aging, and Strengths  
Theory Integration  
Case Study: Letha Bainbridge  
Questions for Discussion  
Meditation: The Tree That Was Planted the Day You Were Born  
Exploring Your Spirituality: Developing a Spiritual History  
Exploring Your Spirituality: Defining a Peak Experience  
Recommended Reading  
Chapter 5 • Religion and Older Adults
American Indian Religion/Spirituality  
Integration of Religious Philosophies and Aging  
Questions for Discussion  
Assignment: Framing the Landscape of Religious Ritual  
Assignment: Sacred Spaces Exercise  
Meditation: Present Moment Awareness  
Exploring Your Spirituality: Rhythm and Movement  
Exploring Your Spirituality: Pilgrimage  
Recommended Reading  
Chapter 6 • Spirituality and Religion in Clinical Assessment
What’s Important About Religion and Assessment?  
Mental Health Assessment  
The Clinical Assessment Process With Spirituality  
Clinical Assessment Protocols  
Rapid Assessment Instrument Protocols  
Spiritual Distress Assessment  
Questions for Discussion  
Meditation: Focused Attention  
Exploring Your Spirituality: Discernment  
Exploring Your Spirituality: Emotional Mindfulness  
Exploring Your Spirituality: Composition of the Place  
Recommended Reading  
Chapter 7 • Religious and Spiritual Interventions With Clients
Section 1: Philosophical Approaches to Therapy With Older People  
Section 2: Mid-Range Interventions of Care  
Section 3: Micro-Level Individual Spiritual Care Activities  
Questions for Discussion  
Meditation: Bringing Yourself Together  
Exploring Your Spirituality: The Labyrinth  
Exploring Your Spirituality: Building Intentional Spiritual Places  
Recommended Reading  
Chapter 8 • Spirituality, Religion, and Health
Definitions of Health  
Aging and the Body: Failing Health  
Historical Views on Religion and Health  
From Holistic Historical Renderings to Modern Cultural Health Considerations  
Views of Health From Religious Perspectives  
Research on the Intersections Between Religion and Health  
Prayers, Rituals, and Symbols  
Hope, Meaning/Purpose, and Mental Health  
Case Study: Health and Spirituality  
Questions for Discussion  
Meditation: Taste  
Exploring Your Spirituality: Touch  
Exploring Your Spirituality: Taste and Savoring  
Recommended Reading  
Chapter 9 • Spirituality in Emotion, Depression, and Anxiety
Emotions and Their Meaning  
Emotion and the Sacred  
Indicators and Etiology of Depression  
Depression Types  
Depression as Cultural Marker  
Other Depression-Like States: Demoralization, Desolation and the Dark Night of the Soul, and Despair  
Research Related to Depression and Religion  
Spiritual Interventions and Depression/Desolation  
Anxiety Interventions  
Case Study: Depression and Spirituality  
Questions for Discussion  
Meditation: Self-Compassion With Movement  
Exploring Your Spirituality: Regret  
Exploring Your Spirituality: Fighting Fear  
Exploring Your Spirituality: Gratitude  
Recommended Reading  
Chapter 10 • Memory, Dementia, and Spiritual Care
Memory and Growing Older  
Types of Dementia and Behavioral Indicators  
Delirium, Depression, Thyroid, Vitamin Deficiencies, Alcoholism, and Other Temporary Causes of Dementia  
Prevalence of Dementia  
Disclosure of AD and Related Dementia: A Counseling Concern  
Another Perspective on Dementia  
Spirituality and the Self  
Understanding Need-Driven, Dementia-Compromised Behavior  
Literature Related to Spiritual Aspects of Dementia and Dementia Care Practice  
Religious and Spiritual Practice Principles for the Person With Dementia  
Arts-Based Interventions  
Questions for Discussion  
Meditation: Walking  
Exploring Your Spirituality: Sound  
Exploring Your Spirituality: Tonglen Practice to Increase Compassion  
Recommended Reading: Information for Professionals  
Recommended Reading: Memoirs on Dementia  
Chapter 11 • Spirituality at the End of Life
The Nature of Dying  
Spirituality at the End of Life: Historical Context  
Older Adults in Hospice Care  
Modern Palliative and Hospice Care  
National Consensus Project Guidelines  
A Spiritual Care Model  
Spiritual Care at the End of Life: Spiritual Practices  
Communication at the End of Life  
Questions for Discussion  
Assignment: Spirituality, Religion, and Loss  
Meditation: Refreshing the Senses  
Exploring Your Spirituality: Creating Your Own Obituary— An Opportunity for Reflection  
Exploring Your Spirituality: Plan Your Memorial or Funeral Service  
Exploring Your Spirituality: A Meeting With Death  
Recommended Reading  
Chapter 12 • Integration
Integration of Religion and Spirituality With Professional Practice  
Functions of Religion  
Trends in Spirituality  
A Practical Philosophy or Practical Theology  
Spiritual Orientation Dissimilarity Between Client and Practitioner  
Working With Spiritual Unease and Distress in Disasters  
Interprofessional Practice and Spirituality  
Self-Care and Mindfulness: Spiritual Awareness  
Contemplative Practices for Renewal  
A Personal Note on the Challenge of Spiritual Integration  
Questions for Discussion  
Meditation: Color  
Exploring Your Spirituality: Balance and Equipoise  
Exploring Your Spirituality: Self-Integration  
Recommended Reading  
Chapter 13 • Lessons for Building Spiritual Resilience and Epilogue
Section 1: Lessons For Building Resilience  
Section 2: Epilogue  
Parting Thoughts  
Questions for Discussion  
Assignment: Visioning  
Meditation: A Meditation With Music—The Great Bell Chant  
Meditation: A Meditation With Movement—Five Ages Dancing  
Meditation: A Meditation Using Hands or Fingers  
Meditation: MBSR Mindfulness Eight-Week Course  
Exploring Your Spirituality: Working With Light  
Exploring Your Spirituality: Participation and Reciprocity  
Exploring Your Spirituality: Laughter and Joy  
Recommended Reading  
Appendix: Older Adult Definitions

"Professor Holly Nelson-Becker’s groundbreaking book provides a holistic framework of knowledge, values, and clinical practices that promote gerontological practitioners’ comfort and competence to address spirituality and religion. Her subtitle key word ‘illuminations’ is apropos. Nelson-Becker deftly integrates understandings from social work, nursing, psychology, counseling, health sciences, chaplaincy, and other fields to craft an interdisciplinary approach that is sensitive to the vulnerabilities and strengths of aging and dying that reveal, as she said, “openings for light.” She synergizes profound insights with practical daily life realities. She presents these insights with scientific acumen and poetic sensibility. All of this is supported by her extensive experience as a clinician, researcher, educator, and pastoral minister. The resulting approach to gerontological practice respects diverse religious and nonreligious expressions of clients’ spiritual journeys and supports the professional and spiritual growth of clinicians. I enthusiastically recommend this book."

Edward R. Canda, Director of the Spiritual Diversity Initiative
The University of Kansas School of Social Welfare

"Religion and spirituality play an important role in the lives of older adults. This book will be an important resource to aid helping professionals to become more aware of this fact and integrate this awareness in their work. The book will also be helpful to clergy and chaplains who frequently provide care to older adults and their loved one but rarely have any training in gerontology. The book includes helpful discussions of important topics including spiritual assessment, care for those with dementia and care at the end of life."

George Fitchett
Rush University Medical Center

“Spirituality is a vital part of aging and this book is a comprehensive resource providing both theoretical and clinical insight to understand the complex aspects of spirituality for older people. The text is an outstanding guide for all disciplines.”

Betty Ferrell
City of Hope Medical Center

"In this essential and insightful book for our times, Holly Nelson-Becker draws upon current research and scholarship regarding spirituality, religion, and aging from a range of disciplines and shares stories, examples, and anecdotes from her own work with older adults and their families. Readers will appreciate this approach of bringing together findings from scientific research and insights from practice and presenting them in an easy to understand language and style.  One of the key strengths of this book is its accessibility and applicability for practitioners.  Although high-quality research is being conducted and published, oftentimes this work is not reaching health practitioners, social workers, and therapists who are serving older adults and their caregivers. This book has the potential to connect research and practice audiences around these important topics.   

Given the continuing increase in the population of older adults from varied ethnic and cultural backgrounds and the spiritual and religious challenges they experience, the book includes a continuing discussion of diverse faith traditions and their implications for mental health practitioners. Another important strength of the book is its emphasis on active learning. Each chapter includes discussion questions, meditation exercises, spiritual exercises, and case studies aimed at engaging readers in using what they are learning. Internet and other resources are also included to help interested readers in obtaining additional information on topics of their interest. These pedagogical features further contribute to the books’ overall goal of preparing students and health care providers to address psychological and spiritual needs of older people from varied ethnic and cultural backgrounds.  This text is a timely and relevant contribution to the growing body of work on spirituality, religion, and aging that has the potential to further knowledge, have meaningful impact for multiple audiences, and ultimately improve the lives of older adults."

Chandra M. Mehrotra, PhD
The College of St. Scholastica

Occasionally, I read a book that illustrates what can happen when clinical experience meets research and scholarship meets compassion and wisdom.  When these all come together, you have a work that appeals to practitioners, educators, students, and those we seek to serve. Each of the chapters could stand alone as a journal article—taken together, they provide a blueprint for spirituality in older adults.

Stanley G. McCracken, Ph.D., LCSW, RDDP
The University of Chicago
Key features


  • An integrated, interdisciplinary approach prepares future mental health professionals to work on teams and bring the best of their disciplinary knowledge to contexts of transdisciplinary practice.
  • A standard chapter format helps readers develop a deeper understanding of spirituality and religion in aging and includes questions for discussion; a suggested meditation; exercises; related websites; and recommended readings.
  • Important core information on aging includes necessary foundational gerontological content and the latest concepts and published research in spirituality and religion within aging communities.
  • Seven fully developed case studies help students consider important issues in working with clients’ spiritual and religious beliefs, values, and practices.
  • Detailed examples of clinical strategies prepare mental health professionals to support personal strengths and help clients cope with spiritual struggles.


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