Academic journal article Journal of Counseling and Development : JCD

Spirituality and Religiosity: Factors Affecting Wellness among Low-Income, Rural Women

Academic journal article Journal of Counseling and Development : JCD

Spirituality and Religiosity: Factors Affecting Wellness among Low-Income, Rural Women

Article excerpt

Women compose more than half of all individuals living in poverty in the United States (U.S. Department of Agriculture [USDA], n.d.). In rural communities, where poverty rates are higher than in the general population, more than 3.75 million women, living alone or as heads of households, are poor (USDA, n.d.). These women experience challenges concomitant with rural poverty, including multiple risk factors for physical and mental health related to economic (United Nations, 1995; Wilson & Peterson, 1993), social (Amato & Zuo, 1992; Haynie & Gorman, 1999), familial (Amato & Zuo, 1992), and individual (Reutter, Neufield, & Harrison, 2001) circumstances. Myers and Gill (2004) presented the Cycle of Poverty and Compromised Wellness "as a conceptual framework for understanding the mental health needs of young, rural, poor females" (p. 235) in response to these important and pervasive life challenges. They also suggested that counselors could use this model to provide effective, strength-based interventions to help rural women develop more positive lifestyles.

An examination of the Cycle of Poverty and Compromised Wellness (Myers & Gill, 2004; see Figure 1) reveals a complex, negative cycle of interacting factors. Not shown in the model, however, are strategies for interrupting this cycle and promoting positive lifestyle choices. For example, although both spirituality and religiosity have been established as coping mechanisms for stressful life circumstances for people in general (Koenig & Larson, 2001), few studies of these factors among rural populations have been conducted. A notable exception was Barusch's (1999) study of older, low-income women, in which a link between religion, adversity, and well-being was established for some of the study participants. England and Finch (1991) identified religious beliefs and behaviors as being particularly important for rural and midlife women; however, their sample was small and not representative of the general population. The results of these studies suggest that both spirituality and religiosity may affect wellness among poor, rural women. Nevertheless, the relationship between these factors and holistic wellness has not been examined.

The present study was undertaken to explore the relationships among spirituality, religiosity, and wellness for low-income, rural women. The following research questions were addressed: (a) What are the relationships among spirituality, religiosity, and wellness for low-income, rural women? (b) Are there differences in spirituality, religiosity, or wellness among subgroups of this population on the basis of race/ethnicity? (c) What percentage of variance in wellness can be accounted for by spirituality and religiosity? and (d) What specific components of spirituality and religiosity predict wellness? Before exploring these questions, we provide a brief review of the literature for each variable, including definitions that are important for understanding the relationships among the variables as well as implications for counseling.

Spirituality

Cashwell and Young (2005) observed that spirituality is difficult to define, given that it is both universal (e.g., 96% of the American population report a belief in God) and highly personal. Numerous authors from faith traditions as well as psychological sciences have attempted definitions, in many cases as the foundation for assessment of multidimensional spiritual concepts such as spiritual wellness. For example, Myers (1990) defined spiritual wellness as "a continuing search for purpose and meaning in life; an appreciation for depth of life, the expanse of the universe, and natural forces which operate; a personal belief system" (p. 11). Myers and Sweeney (2005a) defined spirituality as "an awareness of a being or force that transcends the material aspects of life and gives a deep sense of wholeness or connectedness to the universe" (p. 20). Moberg and Brusek (1978) included inner resources, meaning-giving center, and concerns and values of individuals as components of spiritual well-being. …

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