Women and Spirituality: An Experiential Group for Female Graduate Students

Article excerpt

Spirituality has received increasing attention as an area to be considered in counseling and college student development, but little has been written about specific interventions to address college students' spiritual needs. The authors present the format, content, and outcomes of an experiential group that was established to facilitate women's spiritual exploration and development.

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Currently, significant national attention is being paid to the role of spirituality in people's mental health and well-being (Bullis, 1996; Favier, Engersoll, O'Brien, & McNally, 2001; Fukuyama & Sevig, 1999, 2002; Kelly, 1995; W. R. Miller, 1999; Richards & Bergin, 1997, 2000; Sperry & Shafranske, 2005). Coinciding with this trend, there has been a growing interest in addressing college students' spiritual needs and development (Love, 2001; V. W. Miller & Ryan, 2001; Rogers & Dantley, 2001). This has included an increased awareness and dialogue within and among staff at college counseling centers about the ways to address spiritual matters when treating student mental health needs. For example, a survey of college counselors found that more than 70% were open to the discussion and use of the topics of religion and spirituality in counseling (Weinstein, Parker, & Archer, 2002). Also students in counseling programs have supported the need for training in this area (Souza, 2002).

College students have a clear need for counselors who are open to addressing their spiritual concerns. The literature in this area suggests that religious and spiritual concerns are a focus for many college students and may often be related to psychological distress. A recent study reported that of 5,472 undergraduates and graduate students, 26% reported considerable distress related to religious or spiritual matters. These spiritual concerns were also significantly associated with distress about loss of a relationship, sexual assault, confusion about values, homesickness, and suicidal ideation, all typical issues addressed by counseling center staff (Johnson & Hayes, 2003). Schafer (1997) explored the relationship between religiosity, spirituality, and distress among college undergraduates. He Sound that students who placed a high importance on religion had higher personal distress than did those who placed less importance on religion. Students who believed more or less strongly in God had higher distress than did those who were ambivalent or unsure about the existence of God. And finally, students who had a sense of meaning had lower distress than did students who lacked a sense of meaning.

Despite the need for counseling services and programs to address spiritual concerns (Weinstein et al., 2002), there is little information about clinical interventions in use that have a spiritual focus. The only information we found on a specific intervention was a brief article from 1990 describing a group on spirituality conducted at a college counseling center (Genia, 1990). This interreligious/spiritual exploration group offered at the University of Pennsylvania was an unstructured, 10-session group designed to provide a supportive and spiritually diverse forum for students to address their personal concerns in the areas of religion and spirituality. The author of the study did not specify whether the group intervention included undergraduates, graduate students, or both of these student populations (Genia, 1990). In the current article, we describe the process, format, and content of an experiential group that was developed and implemented for graduate women interested in exploring spiritual identity issues at a college counseling center, and we examine the themes and outcomes that resulted from this group's sessions. The facilitators chose to limit the group to graduate students because of their potential developmental differences from undergraduates in their spiritual identity (Parks, 2000). Also, we decided to focus the group on women because of the literature suggesting that the paths and challenges posed in women's spiritual development differ from those of men (Anderson & Hopkins, 1991; Christ, 1995; Gilligan, 1993). …