Geriatric Spiritual Care Certificate Program

Recommended for healthcare professionals and caregivers who seek to address elders' spiritual needs

Including Nursing Home Administrators, Nurses, Catholic Chaplains, Religious Community Members, home caregivers
and more.

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Now accepting applications for the 2020 program.

Space is
 It’s a privilege to be called to the spiritual care of the elderly - to provide care for their bodies, their spirit and their soul. The right training can either enhance existing skills in long-term care or lead to becoming a pastoral caregiver.

Providing Geriatric Spiritual Care can help residents come to terms with what has happened and what is happening, and how to cope and heal from emotional distress. Distress is often hard for them to express (this is especially true for those with memory impairments such as Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia). To understand spirituality and how it applies to our lives while being sensitive to the ethical concerns of today will help give caregivers a working knowledge of how to provide the best spiritual comfort for our elders.

The Geriatric Spiritual Care (GSC) program consists of 65 classroom hours distributed over 4 weekends and a week of clinical hands-on experience under expert guidance.

Learn more about being a spiritual caregiver with our "Geriatric Spiritual Care Mini Lessons."

Program Outline                  Download Program Flyer


Dynamics of Spiritual Care

Life Review and Assessment; Spirituality; and
Prayer, Ritual and Sacrament

Participants will explore the journey they have taken through a personal life review to better understand the spiritual journey of our elders. This experience will help participants to better understand the spiritual journey of our elders. We need to keep in mind that their spirituality has grown out of their own individual and unique life experiences. Spiritual activities will be offered that are appropriate for the elderly in any setting. The most basic activity is that of prayer and its relationship to the needs and expectations of the elderly. Ritual will also be discussed, with emphasis placed on what is liturgically appropriate. The Magisterium and the Sacramental Life of the Christian will be explored as they relate to the role and activities of the spiritual caregiver.


  • To develop the technique of life review as a source for rendering geriatric spiritual care.
  • To recognize the individuality of spirituality.
  • To acquire an understanding of prayer, ritual, and sacraments in the life of the elderly.


Theology of Suffering

Theological Reflection/Care Partnering; Dynamics of Grief,
Loss and Separation; and
Ministry to Dying

While almost all individuals experience some form of suffering during their lives, it is especially true for the elderly. While suffering is material in nature it also has a spiritual dimension with which the geriatric spiritual caregiver needs to become familiar.
Participants will research this perspective of suffering in both the Old and New Testaments. Here the emphasis will be on the spiritual value of the Paschal Mystery as personified by Christ and theological reflections will be the tool. The impact of loss and separation will be explored, recognizing that grief is a natural process throughout our life cycle. The participant’s ability to deal with death precedes their ability to help individuals deal with loss and bereavement. The presenter will explore skills that can be utilized in dealing with death and dying.


  • To identify Old and New Testament verses as a means of better understanding a theology of suffering.
  • To emphasize the Spiritual Value of the Paschal Mystery.
  • To come to terms with the reality of death and the dying process.
  • To comprehend the dynamics of grief and appropriate responses.


Active Listening

Listening Skills; Communication to Residents with Dementia;
Understanding Dynamics with Family and Staff

Active listening relates to the role of those engaged in Geriatric Spiritual Care. This module involves three interrelated components; the dynamics of active listening, the use of and response to silence, and the distinction between symptom and problem. The presentation will attempt to help the participants explore the technique and significance of active listening. Active listening also involves the ability to recognize different types of behavior in people with dementia. Observation, discussion, and response mechanisms will be addressed. The distinction between symptom and problem will be made. This distinction in spiritual care is essential, since the symptom may be an indication of a existing problem. Signs and symbols will be discussed as a communication tool to elicit response to their faith tradition. Efforts in communication skills with family and staff will be explored, using role playing to demonstrate points. The need for referrals and for a team approach will be explored.


  • To better understand the technique and the significance of active listening in the interactive process with the elderly.
  • To become more comfortable in dealing with silence.
  • To recognize behavior as manifested by people with dementia.
  • To better understand the distinction between symptom and problem.
  • To understand the dynamics with family and staff.


Moral Ethics

Practical Ethics/ Moral Theology; Cultural and Religious Diversity; and Review of Case Studies/ Practical Ministerial Details

We live in a very complex society and confusion tends to rise over what constitutes appropriate ethical behavior. This module contains three components; practical ethics, comparative religion, and case studies as a source for decision making. In covering practical ethics, the question “Why is there confusion over ethics?” will be addressed. The presenter will explore the sources of values, ethics, religious ethics, law, and etiquette. The distinction between ethics and moral theology will be addressed through a basic presentation of major religions. The emphasis will be of the origins and similarities in the major religions. Case studies on ethical issues will be reviewed for use in class. The ethical theories and principles will be used as a support system in providing quality of life. The importance of confidentiality will be stressed. The practices and procedures for ministry will be detailed.


  • To enhance the participants’ understanding of the theories and principles of ethics as a source for a decision making process.
  • To broaden an understanding of the major religions of the world and their influences in creating values within society.
  • To establish a methodology for discovering right and wrong.
  • To utilize case studies as a source of understanding the decision making process.


Palliative Care

Palliative Care; Recognizing Signs when Death is Near; and
Difficult Conversations during the Dying Process

In this session participants will be introduced to the practice of Palliative Care. This approach seeks to provide relief from the five domains of pain that all persons experience when faced with a debilitating diagnosis: physical, spiritual, emotional, psychiatric and familial. It allows each resident to receive the appropriate treatment that brings him/her comfort and the best possible care and can be combined with curative care or with less aggressive care. Palliative Care is not the same as hospice care or end-of-life care which is reserved for those who are clearly dying. Participants will discuss signs that death is near and how to give care during the dying process.


  • To discuss and understand palliative care.
  • To address difficult conversations during the dying process.
  • To recognize symptoms and understand basic medical terminology during the dying process.


Clinical Experience

Each student will be assigned to a nursing care facility serviced by the Carmelite Sisters for the Aged and Infirm. The site coordinator will develop the schedule for each student. They must have 55 hours of clinical time. After completing the 5 modules within the didactic setting, participants will advance to the clinical component of the program.

  • Participants will have the opportunity to interact and apply learned skills with residents with memory impairment and those receiving palliative or end-of-life care.
  • Participants will interact with staff from all departments.
  • Participants have an opportunity to participate in group discussion to reflect on experiences from the day.


Ed Owen, B.S. PGDip, NHA, CASP
I have had the opportunity to be involved with the Avila Institute of Gerontology for a number of years now. I make every effort to attend the annual fall conference. I find the content to be very..


Joanne Hageman, 2009 GSC student
My participation in the Geriatric Spiritual Care Program, at Avila Institute, was truly a gift. Initially, my primary intent for participation was to allow myself an opportunity for personal disce..


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