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.

Starts 2018

One weekend, January-April and a week in May.

Space is
 It’s glorious 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.

Read our Post "What is a Spiritual Caregiver?"

Program Outline                  Download Program Flyer


Weekend #1: January 26-28, 2017 | 15 hours

Dynamics of Spiritual Care

Life Review and Assessment
Prayer, Ritual and Sacrament

Participants will explore the journey they have taken through a personal life review. 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 would be 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 Magesterium and the Sacramental life of the Christian will be explored as it relates to the role and activities of the spiritual care giver.


  • 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.


Weekend #2: February 16-18, 2018 | 15 hours

Theology of Suffering

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

Almost all individuals experience some form of suffering during their lives; this 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, and efforts will be made to recognize 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.


Weekend #3: March 16-18, 2017 | 15 hours

Active Listening

Listening Skills
Communication to Residents with Dementia
Understanding Dynamics with Family & Staff

This module involves three inter-related components: the dynamics of active listening, the use and response to silence, and a distinction between symptom and problem. The emphasis is on non-verbal communication, which involves body language. It promotes an understanding of the need of the elderly to verbalize and the absence of a need to be preached at. 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. 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. Role playing will be utilized as a means of demonstrating this point.


  • 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.


Weekend #4: April 13-15, 2018 | 15 hours

Moral Ethics

Practical Ethics/ Moral Theology
Comparative Religions
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. First, in covering practical ethics we will attempt to address the question: Why is there confusion over ethics? 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 on 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.


May 13-18, 2017 | 55 hours

Clinical Experience

Each student will be assigned to Carmel Richmond Center in Staten Island, NY. The site coordinator will develop the schedule for each student. They must have 55 hours of clinical time. After completing the 4 modules within the didactic setting, participants will advance to the clinical component of the program.

  • This experience within the clinical setting will afford participants the opportunity to interact with residents in the memory care unit, and those receiving hospice or palliative care and apply the skills they learned (i.e. active listening, the dynamics of spiritual care and the mystery of suffering) in the didactic setting.
  • Participants will work closely with staff from the Nursing, Pastoral Care and Social Work Departments where they will specifically focus on the needs of the dying and their family.


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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