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Scholars Discuss Spiritual and Psychological Responses to Illness


Scholars Discuss Spiritual and Psychological
Responses to Illness

John J. Cecero, S.J., discusses the intersection of positive psychology and spirituality.

Photo by Joseph McLaughlin

Several tenets of positive psychology—

creativity, love, forgiveness, gratitude and

hopefulness—are closely related

to spiritual values.

By Joseph McLaughlin

While most people think of psychological trauma as creating only hardship, John J. Cecero, S.J., sees it as an opening for positive transformation.

“We have the opportunity—not to get better, as it were—but to flourish,” said Father Cecero, associate professor of psychology. “This is about transformation; we can become better people.”

An advocate of positive psychology, which seeks not only to lessen sadness, but to increase happiness, he was one of several authors who spoke on Oct. 27 at a book signing and discussion on the Rose Hill campus.

The book, Spiritual and Psychological Aspects of Illness: Dealing with Sickness, Loss, Dying and Death (Paulist Press, 2010), contains 20 essays, many of which were written by Fordham scholars. It was co-edited by Beverly A. Musgrave, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Graduate School of Religion and Religious Education.

After the signing, several authors gave presentations in the Keating First Auditorium on the chapters they contributed.

In “From Healing to Wholeness: A Psycho-Spiritual Approach,” Father Cecero offered ideas about how several tenets of positive psychology—creativity, love, forgiveness, gratitude and hopefulness—are closely related to spiritual values. He also linked positive psychology with the practice of spiritual coping in the service of promoting wholeness.

That wholeness, when achieved, can extend to family members and other caregivers. “Because illness affects the whole family system, there are opportunities for transformation at the group level,” he said.

In his presentation, “Illness and the Paradox of Power: A Spirituality of Mortality,” Kieran Scott, Ed.D., associate professor of theology and religious studies, said working on the book allowed him to stretch intellectually and spiritually.

“It helped me in two ways,” Scott said. “It invited me out of my compound—my own specialization—to cross boundaries I had not crossed before. It also helped me to walk through, very contemplatively, the issues of illness and death.”

His goal in the chapter was to look at sickness, loss and death from the standpoint of power, he said.

“What I tried to do in the essay is indicate that ‘power’ is one of the richest words in the English language. It can be interpreted in completely opposite directions,” Scott said.

“More often than not, power is associated with force, coercion and influence. But it also can stand for possibility—the capacity for action,” he explained.

Scott decided to look at power as a form of receptivity, and in doing so, developed a “spirituality of mortality” that advocated receptivity, vulnerability and openness toward sickness and death. When this posture is adopted, an individual can retain power over his or her illness.

“Human forms of power begin with receptivity,” he said. “That is the greatest strength we have—the ability to be open.”

Other Fordham authors who contributed chapters include Musgrave, as well as Robert J. Giugliano, Ph.D., adjunct assistant professor of counseling psychology; Janna C. Heyman, Ph.D., assistant professor of social work; and Yvette M. Sealy, Ph.D., assistant professor of social work.


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