Spirituality and Young Women in Transition: A Preliminary Investigation

By Livingston, Kimberly A.; Cummings, Anne L. | Counseling and Values, April 2009 | Go to article overview

Spirituality and Young Women in Transition: A Preliminary Investigation


Livingston, Kimberly A., Cummings, Anne L., Counseling and Values


This study contributes to the growing body of knowledge about spirituality and life transitions. Through qualitative investigation, 9 young women in professional education programs described their definition of spirituality, their spiritual activities, and how they used their spirituality to cope with life transitions as they prepared to enter the. These women viewed spirituality as including connectedness and a special relationship with a Being outside of themselves, Their spiritual activities were private and nontraditional (e.g., meditation, prayer, being in nature), and most of them reported that their spirituality helped them deal with their life transition.

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There is growing interest in the role that spirituality may play in the lives of young women who are at a life stage of change and transition. Coping skills are needed to deal effectively with the many stressors accompanying such life changes, and there is the potential for spirituality to be one of these coping strategies. Spirituality is often understood to be a highly individualized, ongoing, and integrative process of the self (body, mind, and soul) and, ultimately, a way to gain communion with a Higher Being (James & Samuels, 1999; Musgrave, Allen, & Allen, 2002; Nino, 1997). Although considerable research has focused on various aspects of spirituality in the university population (e.g., Buchko, 2004; Love, 2002; Schafer, 1997), the meaning of spirituality to women going through a life transition in young adulthood is not clear. The goal of the current study was to examine women's experiences and understandings of their spirituality during a life transition from university (in professional education programs) to professional practice. Women were chosen for the study because research indicates that they tend to participate in spiritual practice more often than do men (Buchko, 2004).

Spirituality in University Students

Previous research on spirituality in the university population has focused on the impact of spirituality on psychological wellness (Adams, Bezner, Drabbs, Zambarano, & Steinhardt, 2000), stress (Fabricatore, Handal, & Fenzel, 2000; Graham, Furr, Flowers, & Burke, 2001; Schafer, 1997), coping with childhood abuse (Weber & Cummings, 2003), ethnic identity (Chae, Kelly, Brown, & Bolden, 2004), comparisons between cognitive and spiritual development (Love, 2002), and spiritual differences between college men and women (Buchko, 2004). These topics of research suggest that spirituality interacts with a broad range of issues in students' lives.

Fewer studies have focused on distinguishing spirituality from religiosity in this population. Berkel, Armstrong, and Cokley (2004), in their examination of an African American university sample, found that intrinsic motivation for practicing religion was related to strong spirituality in participants. This finding suggests that spirituality is related to religion, but it is more than religious affiliation. A similar study (Bryant, Choi, & Yasuno, 2003) examining early adulthood transition into the 1st year of college found that a strong sense of spirituality was related to family connection and activities that involved self-reflection. These longitudinal data showed that some students became less religiously active and saw themselves as less spiritual people by the end of their 1st year, but they had an increased commitment to including spirituality in their lives. Although the researchers concluded that there is a tendency for postsecondary students to alter their spiritual beliefs and practices, the influential factors that accounted for this shift have not yet been clearly delineated. If Bryant et al.'s findings regarding family influence are valid, then Buchko's (2004) suggestion that spirituality during the university years begins to develop away from familial traditions could be relevant.

Spiritual Framework of Coping

Because of the complexity of spirituality and life transitions, two theoretical frameworks were used in combination as the basis for the current study. …

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