This paper represents the results of an interview with a seventy-year-old Caucasian woman named Elma Rose. Research includes her personal background, life experiences and crossroads as well as her beliefs concerning marriage, family and lifestyle.
Elma Rose was born April 13, 1934 in the small Appalachian town of Abingdon in the northwestern corner of Virginia. The youngest of eight children, she now has one surviving sister. Elma Rose has been widowed twice and currently lives alone. She has four children, ten grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren. Her parents were devout Catholics of middle class status who instilled an appreciation of education in their children. However, as Elma Rose explains, this did not mean that she and her siblings all graduated from college or even from high school for that matter. In fact only two brothers graduated from college, while three, two sisters and Elma Rose, graduated from high school. The other three oldest brothers entered the military during World War II and afterward became partners in a successful construction business. The two college graduates entered the teaching profession. Elma Rose and one sister each married the summer after high school graduation. The other sister never married and lived with her parents her entire life. After their death she stayed on to live in family home and is now currently living in an assisted living home. It is she who is Elma Rose's surviving sibling.
Elma Rose was seventeen years old when she married the first time, not an uncommonly young age for the era. Her husband, Phil, was five years older and had been in the military for three years prior to their marriage. In 1952, Phil left the military and entered into the insurance business with his father. That same year, their first child, Patrick, was born, followed by James two years later. Her only daughter, Elizabeth Anne, was born in 1957 and her youngest son Michael in 1961. Her marriage to Phil ended with his death in 1984 due to injuries suffered in an automobile accident. She married again in 1990 to Walter, a retired postal employee. Three years ago Walter died from complications of by-pass heart surgery. Elma Rose lives alone in the house she and Walter owned. She lives a modest existence and does not want for basic necessities.
Elma Rose attends daily mass every weekday, as well as Sundays. She is very much involved in the community programs supported by her church, such as the fishes and loaves for the homeless. The church is her connection to social activity, to interaction with the community at large as well as friendships within the church itself. A cradle catholic, Elma Rose has a strong personal belief system based on catholic doctrine. The church has always been a major part of her everyday life and particularly the milestones through the years. All four of her children were christened and received their first communion in the church as did she. Both of her marriage ceremonies were performed in the church, as were the funeral rites for both husbands, her parents and siblings. Thus the church has been a participate in most major events of her life.
Elma Rose contributes her health and high spirit to her faith and religious beliefs. She explains that it has remained an ever present cushion for the falls of life. She is not alone in contributing mental health with religious practice. One recent study published in 2001 revealed key findings:
"the frequency of church attendance bears a positive association with well-being and an inverse association with distress; the frequency of prayer has a slight inverse link with well-being and a weak positive association with distress; belief in eternal life is positively associated with well-being but unrelated to distress; in general, the net effects of these religious variables are not mediated by the risk of social stressors or by access to social or psychological resources; other religious variables, including measures of church-based social support, are unrelated to distress or well-being; and there is limited evidence of stress-buffering effects, but not stress-
exacerbating effects, of religious involvement. The limitations of the study are discussed, and several implications and promising directions for further research on religion and health/well-being are identified.We find nontrivial and generally salutary effects of religious involvement, especially the frequency of attendance at religious services, on both
distress and well-being. Overall, however, the religious effects appear stronger for well-being than for distress, with the belief dimension (specifically, belief in eternal life) emerging as a significant predictor of well-being only."
Elma Rose believes that an active church life keeps one from dwelling on the insignificant details of life and offers unconditional support during the very significant issues and events that occur day-to-day and year after year. She believes that without this support system an individual is floundering alone with no anchor to keep him from drifting away from his path and purpose.
Raymond Paloutzian writes that religion is among the most powerful of all social forces and has been here as long as there have been human beings, and moreover, shows no signs of going away.
Says Paloutzian, "it has been suggested that humans be thought of as Homo religious because religion has been present as long as there have been Homo sapiens."
Moreover, according to Paloutzian, there has been arguably more interest devoted to "conceptualizing religion and spirituality than to any other topic in the psychology of religion."
Vicky Genia writes that because many potential clients have religious as well as secular concerns, secular counselors and psychotherapists are striving to become more empathic and competent in treating religious individuals.
Although many forms of psychotherapy do not address religious issues, several approaches are noted for their spiritual perspectives on psychotherapeutic healing, such as the various twelve step programs which are based on an individual's reliance on a higher power for assistance in stopping destructive behaviors.
According to Genia, research suggest that strong religious commitment is associated with positive mental health. "High levels of religious involvement predict lower suicide ideology and depression, and greater marital satisfaction."
Moreover, alcohol and drug us tends to be low among individuals who attend religious services frequently as well as an increase in alcohol abstinence and recovery.
Genia recommends to therapists:
"The taking of a family history should routinely solicit information about the family's religious affiliation and level of religious involvement. The family's religious history can assist in understanding
the client's religious concerns or provide clues to unacknowledged psychospiritual issues. For example, adult children of dual-faith marriages may need help in choosing a faith or resolving conflicting religious loyalties.
Clients from religious families that strongly discourage marriage to individuals outside the faith may experience significant distress if their spouse or romantic partner does not share a common religious heritage."
Although her faith is firmly rooted, Elma Rose is not a fundamentalist. She does not oppose divorce, in fact her daughter Elizabeth and youngest son, Michael are both divorced. Elizabeth remarried two years ago, but Michael is still single. Ellma Rose has always supported birth control, however, she does oppose abortion in her personal faith. Yet, she does not voice her opposition to abortion publicly, as she feels it does not belong in the political arena and should truly be between those involved and God. She believes it is for God to judge the circumstances surrounding an abortion, just as He judges those involved regarding matters of war, self-protection and defense. She feels each circumstance is unique and must be judged accordingly by God, not by man-made law.
Elma Rose believes that birth control is the most important issue concerning world population and the spread of HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases. Although she is not college educated, Elma Rose is very well read regarding global problems such as the AIDS epidemic in Africa. She firmly believes the church should encourage birth control and regards their stance as not only female oppression, but human oppression as well. She blames the church for encouraging the spread of ignorance and superstition as regards to birth control.
When her parents' health declined rapidly during the mid-1980's, Elma Rose went to live with them and her sister, Margaret Anne. Grown children and Phil's death had left her suffering from the empty nest syndrome. However, she admits that even if Phil had still been alive she would have gone to help her sister care for their parents and she said that he would have understood and accepted her decision with no questions. The concept of family ran strong on both sides, hers and Phil's. No other obligations were more important than family support.
Darby Morhardt writes in a 2001 article for "Journal of Contemporary Human Services," that the process of becoming 'filially mature' is one of "grieving, mourning, and letting go of previously secure rules and regulations about relationships with parents. parent care can be defined as a positive, growth-enhancing experience, versus the burden-stress model that has previously characterized this experience."…