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Enhancing the spiritual development of adolescent girls.

Spirituality is an important force during a period when institutional religion seems to be losing its hold on adolescents. To enhance the spiritual development of adolescent girls in the school setting, the group experience described addresses authentic identity, relationships and boundaries, managing pain experienced in life, and discovering and utilizing unique gifts.

"Everywhere we look, children are under assault from violence and neglect; from the breakup of families; from the temptations of alcohol, tobacco, sex, and drug abuse; from greed, materialism, and spiritual emptiness. These problems are not new, but in our time they have sky-rocketed" (Whitman & Chetwynd, 1997, p. 24). In many ways, today's teens are presented with a less stable environment than was experienced a decade or two ago. High divorce rates, high adolescent pregnancy rates, and increased geographic mobility of families contribute to this lack of stability (Santrock, 2001). Statistics related to teenage crime, violence, drug abuse, and suicide in our country indicate that youth are struggling to make meaning of their lives (Miller, 2002). Adolescent girls, in particular, seem to wrestle with many more issues than girls did 30 years ago (Pipher, 1994).

YEARNING FOR MEANING

Pipher (1994, 2003) acknowledged that adolescence has always been hard, hut believes that in today's dangerous, sexualized, and media-saturated United States society adolescent girls face incredible pressures to be beautiful and sophisticated. She asserted the most important questions for every adolescent girl to answer are "Who am I?" and "What do I want?" rather than, "What must I do to please others?" Pipher (1944) continued by stating "adolescence is when gifts experience social pressure to put aside their authentic selves and display a small portion of their gifts" (p. 22). Girls who stay true to themselves manage to find some way to respect the parts of them that are spiritual and protect their spirit from the forces that would break it. Can the female adolescent look within to find a core of true self, acknowledge unique gifts, accept her feelings, and make firm decisions about values, meaning, and spirituality?

Benner (1989) described spirituality as a deep and mysterious human yearning for self-transcendence and surrender, a yearning to find meaning and a place in the world. Legere (1984) differentiated spirituality from religion by stating that spirituality focuses on what happens in the heart, while religion tries to codify and capture the experience in a system. Personal religion or spirituality remains an important three in a period when institutional religion is losing its hold on adolescents' interest and participation (Whitman & Chetwynd, 1997).

Helping adolescent gifts find and make meaning in their lives and encouraging gifts to know themselves can help them access the spiritual dimension in their lives (Parsley, 1992). According to Kessler (2002), many of today's teenagers in the United States suffer from a sense of emptiness inside, a sense of meaninglessness that comes when social and religious traditions no longer provide a sense of meaning, continuity, or participation in a larger whole. Her opinion is that teenagers experience a void of spiritual guidance and opportunity in their lives during adolescence. This void contributes to high-risk behaviors, which can be both a search for connection, transcendence, meaning, and initiation as well as an escape from the pain of not having a genuine source of spiritual fulfillment and meaning.

THE SCHOOL COUNSELOR'S RESPONSE TO STUDENTS' SEARCH FOR MEANING

Beginning in the late 1960s, there were movements within the field of education that addressed the experience of living a life of authenticity and meaning. These movements included values clarification and character education (Miller, 2002). However, public schools, once an authority, in the delivery of widely accepted values, were largely silenced by the Supreme Court rulings that put a chill on the teaching of values that could be viewed as religious. However, academic performance itself as well as self esteem, character, and human relationships suffer when the education of the whole person is neglected (Kessler, 2002). A growing number of leading educators (Bottery, 2002; Goodlad, 2000; Noddings, 1995; Palmer, 1998) have recognized that the pursuit of an exclusively academic education leaves students ill-prepared for future challenges both as individuals and as members of society. As a result, spiritual and moral development is now specifically part of the United Kingdom's government education policy and curriculum (Bottery). In addition, educators in the United States have begun to acknowledge the necessity of spirituality in education (Kessler, 2000, 2002; Lantieri, 2001; Miller, 2002).

As violence in schools and around the world continues, questions are being raised about the ethical and spiritual climate of our youth (Knickerbocker, 1999). Because of the division of church and state, spirituality, and moral guidance have been largely absent from the schools over the past several decades. However, as an increasing number of educators and parents in the United States are now realizing, this may have been a mistake. Educators have begun to search for effective ways to provide care, joy, and interconnectedness for their disoriented students (Kessler, 2000; Miller, 2002). Thus, school counselors have a major challenge before them as they collaborate with school staff to address spiritual dimensions and enhance adolescents' optimal development (Miller).

Since school counselors are concerned for wholeness and all psychosocial factors pertaining to a student's development and wellness, they should acknowledge spiritual issues as integral to most issues in students' lives. Witmer and Sweeney (1992) described the core of a person's wellness and wholeness as spirituality and self-transcendence. The quest for self-transcendence appears to be a longing inherent in every person (Maslow, 1970). Persons who are aware of these longings and who are responsive to them are more alive, more fully human, and better off psychologically than persons who have no such awareness (Benner, 1989).

ADOLESCENT DEVELOPMENT

The reason spiritual issues are more of a concern during adolescence than earlier in an individual's life may be due partly to the development of the ability to think abstractly (Piaget, 1967). Adolescents can hypothesize, think about the future, and are less likely to conceptualize everything in either or terms because their thought processes are becoming flexible. They are capable of pondering and philosophizing about moral, social, and political issues (Santrock, 2001).

Piaget (1967) believed that as human beings think more abstractly and discover new information and different understandings, some of which do not fit into their previous idea of the world, inner conflict or disequilibration occurs. Humans are born with the need to resolve inner conflicts and restore equilibrium, either by making changes in their thinking or by assimilating the new ideas into thoughts and beliefs.

Adolescent girls may have a harder time finding equilibrium because of the desire for approval from relationships that are important to them and because of the pressure put on young girls in our culture to be something other than authentic (Brown & Gilligan, 1992; Pipher, 1994). Often, societal roadblocks impede the adolescent girl from blossoming into her true self. One example of this is the value the Western culture places on slimness for women and the consequence of eating disorders experienced by many adolescent girls. While young women may overtly subscribe to the deeply held value to be true to themselves, cultural ideals about beauty could shape attitudes about appearance (Zerbe, 1993).

Piaget (1967) was also interested in how adolescents think about standards of tight and wrong. Since girls are often more tolerant in their attitudes toward rules, more willing to make exceptions, and more easily reconciled to innovations, Piaget considered girls' moral development less developed than boys'. Gilligan (1982) challenged Piaget's concept of morality as it pertained to girls. Gilligan asserted that Piaget did not take into account a girl's different orientation to the world. Gilligan contended that girls are not less developed, but instead are often judged on their moral development based upon a male moral developmental theory of the justice perspective that focuses on the rights of the individual (Kohlberg, 1976). Whereas, Gilligan's theory offers a care perspective that defines people in terms of their connectedness with others and emphasizes interpersonal communication, relationships with others, and concern for others. While females are capable of reasoning within a tradition of law and justice, they most typically do not choose this type of reasoning (Brown & Gilligan, 1992).

In addition to cognitive and moral development, healthy psychosocial development is an important component for spiritual development (Santrock, 2001). Throughout his theory of psychosocial development, Erikson (1968) used the words trust, hope, will, and purpose. Erikson's fifth developmental stage, identity versus identity confusion, is experienced most generally during the adolescent years. Erikson pointed to the uniqueness of each individual's lifestyle as a result of a basic need to find meaning in one's own existence at every stage of life. Brown and Gilligan (1992) reported that in Erikson's stages, identity precedes intimacy, but for the female, identity parallels intimacy, and a female learns and comes to know herself through her relationships with others.

Adolescence is an intense time of change, where maW battles for the self are won and lost. Girls who stay true to themselves manage to find some way to respect the parts of them that are spiritual and protect their spirit from the forces that would break it (Pipher, 1994). One of the ways school counselors can help girls enhance their spirituality and find their truth is to help them develop techniques to protect their own spirit.

SPIRITUAL DEVELOPMENT MODELS

Genia (1990) observed that current theories of spiritual development roughly correspond to and appear logically consistent with models of ego, cognitive, moral, and psychosocial development. Genia has presented a faith developmental model of five stages that expands existing conceptualizations by incorporating psychoanalytic development psychology and object relations theory. After moving through Stage I of Egocentric Faith and Stage II of Dogmatic Faith, it is during adolescence that individuals usually reach the third stage, one of identity crisis and a shift in religious thinking. Genia purported that during Stage III, Transitional Faith, adolescents have the capacity for mutual interpersonal perspective taking, which enables them to transcend their own worldviews and dispassionately apprehend the perspective of others. Individuals in this transitional period of uncertainty and confusion need a great deal of emotional support, as they critically examine their spirituality, in order to successfully progress to Stage IV: Reconstructed Internalized Faith, followed by Stage V: Transcendent Faith. Genia explained that those individuals who reach transcendent faith are more flexibly guided by a universal principled morality, and permeable psychospiritual boundaries.

Another model of spiritual development comes from Fowler (1981) who described faith as a dynamic and genuine human experience, a universal quality of meaning making. Fowler described faith development in six stages with two stages usually occurring during adolescence. The Synthetic Conventional Faith Stage characteristically begins to take form in early adolescence during which the adolescents are able to reflect general meaning from their experiences. Typically, during this time of adolescence, formal operational thinking (Piaget, 1967) emerges and opens the way for reliance on abstract ideas and concepts for making sense of one's world. Therefore, in this stage adolescents engage in critical reflection that often results in clashes with the previously valued authorities or perhaps a rejection of authorities, resulting in atheism. Later adolescence and young adulthood bring forward the Stage of Individuative-Reflective Faith. In this stage, clarity of faith is gained by analyzing meanings and translating them into conceptual formulations. This brings about clarity and understanding about faith resulting in the exercise of responsibility and choice in regard to the spiritual communities to which a person belongs.

In their Spiritual Wellness Model, Chandler, Holden, and Kolander (1992) constructed a model of spiritual wellness that can be incorporated into any stage of faith or spiritual development. The researchers believed wellness could be conceptualized as consisting of six major dimensions: intellectual, emotional, physical, social, occupation, and spiritual. Confrontation with life events can foster a shift in the direction of either spiritual emergence or repression of the spirit. The authors further postulated that a culture that fosters the development of the spiritual component as well as the personal component contributes to the likelihood that its members will achieve higher levels of wellness in all dimensions.

Finally, when looking at different spiritual development models, Harris (1989) offered insight into women's spiritual growth and development and offered ideas on how that can be fostered. Harris asserted that when women give themselves permission to be contemplative and attend to their own needs and be the women they were created to be, rather than what others expect them to be, they can be nourished in a way that nourishes their spirituality.

Considering the major spiritual models outlined above, Fowler (1991) and Genia (1990) characterized the spiritual development stage of adolescence as a time of questioning and doubt, a time of upheaval and intense uncertainty. Both authors realized the need for adolescents to be supported as they question what they believe.

Chandler et al. (1992) stressed the need for spiritual balance and wellness at any stage of spiritual development. They pointed out that such spiritual imbalance can occur, and only by learning to achieve a balance during the different events and stages of life can an individual progress to higher levels of spiritual development.

Harris's (1989) concepts correlated with Fowler (1991) and Genia (1990) in that all authors stressed the need for adolescents to forge their own identity and beliefs in the process of developing spiritually. Harris added to the female's developmental process by not only addressing the need for a secure identity, but by also stressing the need for females to learn to appreciate, nourish, and utilize a unique identity.

CREATING A SUCCESSFUL SPIRITUAL GROUP EXPERIENCE FOR ADOLESCENT GIRLS

Drawing upon the cognitive, social, emotional, and moral development theories of adolescent females and integrating the spiritual development models of Harris (1989), Fowler (1981, 1991), and Genia (1990), the authors offer that the purpose for the spiritual group experience is to enable the adolescent female to become more fully aware of the spiritual aspect of her rife. This includes her willingness to seek meaning and purpose in human existence, to wonder about the underlying meaning of events, and to appreciate the synchronicities which cannot be logically explained or readily understood (Opatz, 1986). The suggested activities and targeted outcomes of this group experience program are meant to serve as a step in the spiritual journey that can enhance the awareness of the spiritual aspects of life rather than a comprehensive guide for spiritual development. Ideally, the 12-session program, as a part of a comprehensive school counseling program, consists of a one and a half hour weekly group experience with 8 to 10 girls who have expressed interest in personal growth. The purpose of the spiritual program encompasses four goals: (1) Discovering the authentic self, to include purposeful meaning in life, (2) Defining relationships and boundaries (3) Managing pain experienced in life, and (4) Discovering, appreciating and utilizing unique gifts.

Discovering the Authentic Self: The First Step of the Spiritual Journey

The road to spiritual development begins with each adolescent girl being able to answer the question "Who am I?" in a safe and inviting environment (Pipher, 1994). An adolescent girl needs to be guided in a process involving looking within to find a true core of self, acknowledging unique gifts, accepting all feelings, and making deep and firm decisions about values and meaning. The activities that follow lead to an outcome for each girl understanding the difference between thinking and feeling, between immediate gratification and long-term goals, and between hearing her voice and the voice of others.

Activity #1. The girls are encouraged to search within themselves to begin the process of uncovering their authentic selves through a reflective discussion of guided questions (Harris, 1989) including:
What are my values?
How would I describe myself to myself?
How do I see myself in the future?
When do I feel most like my true self?
What kinds of people do I respect?
How am I similar to and different from my mother?
How am I similar to and different from my father?
What goals do I have for myself as a person?
What would I be proud of on my deathbed?


Additional processing of this first activity may occur with "Was it easy or hard to answer these questions?" "Did it make you uncomfortable?" and "Did you hear another person's voice other than your own when answering the questions?"

Activity #2. Since behaviors often reflect self beliefs (McGee, 1992), the girls can consider how they live their lives and respond to the following unfinished sentences:
What you talk about
Places you go
People with whom you spend time
Your dreams for your rife
How you spend your time and money
How you manage conflicts


Subsequently, each girl can be challenged to examine whether the authentic self, identified in the exercise in the first activity, is congruent with the behavior she exhibits on a daily basis as exposed by the second activity. "Are you meeting your own sense of who you really are? Or have you rejected your own truth and been riving someone else's truth for you?" The idea of incongruence or disequilibrium can be discussed and "journaled" about as a catalyst for spiritual growth. Each student may begin to identify her authentic self and discover congruence between her behavior and her authentic self. She can begin to unveil this authentic self to others in the group.

Activity #3. These questions (Harris, 1989) and accompanying group discussion may help each girl better understand her unique belief of spirituality:

When you say the word spirituality, what other words come to your mind? When did the word spirituality start to mean something to you?

What specific childhood experiences and people have been involved with your spirituality?

Imagine that you continue to search and uncover more about your spirituality; how are you responding?

Gradually, you uncover what you have found. What is it?

Now imagine yourself returning from your search. How are you different?

Activity #4. In order to accept thoughts and feelings that are part of each girl's authentic self, to become more attuned to her true self, and to learn to trust her own voice, the girls will be taught to experience the process of "centering" each day. Each girl is to fred a quiet place to sit alone daily for 10 to 15 minutes and attempt to work through these "tasks":
Relax muscles and do some deep breathing.
Focus on thoughts and feelings about the day.
Do not judge these thoughts or direct them.
Allow flee-flow thinking.
Observe your thoughts and feelings, respect them,
and record them in your journal.


Relationships and Boundary Setting: The Second Step on the Spiritual Journey

As adolescent girls search for their identity and strive to find equilibrium, they come to know themselves through relationship with others (Gilligan, 1982). Emotional support is critical in helping the adolescent girl examine this aspect of her spirituality. To make meaning out of her life, the adolescent girl needs to explore her place in the world and in her relationships to discover her unique individuality and talent. By doing this, her life begins to take on new meaning as she seeks to enhance the spirituality of not only herself, but of those around her. The outcome of the following suggested activities is that a group member is able to identify what relationships are in her best interest and learn to structure those relationships in accordance with her ideas and needs. She can also learn to set limits about her time, activities, and her companions.

Activity #5. During the group session, each girl begins to identify how the opinion of others affects her behavior. By means of contemplating and discussing the questions below (McGee, 1992), each group member can begin to understand which relationships are beneficial to her and promote her own growth, to include spiritual growth.

Consider how the expectations of others can affect you:

1. -- would be happier with me if I would --.

2. -- is proud of me when I --.

3. -- tries to change me by --.

4. Things I do or say to get -- to approve of me include --.

5. I highly value --'s opinion.

6. How do you view yourself as compared to how other people view you?

7. How does what others think of you affect how you think of yourself?

Activity #6. Each group member is encouraged to identify what differentiates a healthy relationship from an unhealthy relationship. As a result, each girl can contemplate her relationships and how these relationships have affected her.

1. List some relationships that make you feel better about yourself.

2. List some relationships that have made you feel badly about yourself.

3. Now, brainstorm characteristics of a healthy relationship and an unhealthy relationship, as you consider your relationships.

Activity #7. As each girl reflects upon her relationships, the following questions (Berliner, 1992) can be answered by each group member for others in the group. Thus, each girl receives perceptions of others about her self-care and can understand that it is positive to take care of herself and create opportunities for self-expression and creativity.

1. What will happen to my world and relationships if I begin to include myself in the caring?

2. What will happen if I begin to see myself as strong instead of weak and dependent?

3. How can I better listen to what speaks to me and what feels congruent and right?

The Third Step: Managing Pain along the Journey

Harris (1989) contended that spirituality happens in its own time, happens from within and cannot be hurried, but certain experiences in life set the stage. In the language of psychology, these are often called crises (e.g., divorce, death, illness. However, a crisis can also be a natural transition. The onset of adolescence is a crisis that can lead to self-consciousness, weight-consciousness, and body-consciousness. By sharing and identifying some of the painful moments in each one of the group member's lives, each girl may find positive ways to manage pain that can turn her suffering into a means of spiritual growth. Thus, as an outcome of the following activities, a girl can learn that pain is a natural part of life and respond to pain in ways that promote spiritual growth.

Activity #8. To ease into a discussion on painful experiences and assist each member in realizing that pain is universal, the following sentence completion exercise is suggested based upon Carrell's (1993) work.

1. My biggest fear is ...

2. When others put me down ...

3. What I distrust most in others is ...

4. I get angry when someone ...

5. One thing I really dislike about myself is ...

6. I feel sad ...

7. One of my most painful childhood memories is ...

8. One of my scariest memories is ...

9. I failed ...

10. I can't understand why ...

Activity #9. The girls are asked to consider a very painful situation with the result of listening to what it may tell them, rather than running from the pain. The group leader supports the girls through the process by saying: "Think of all the circumstances in the situation. Try and feel the pain and identify it in your body. Describe the pain in your body. Listen to the pain and hear any messages it may be giving to you about your life. Acknowledge the pain and describe it in your journal. Ask whomever you wish for guidance, 'What do you have to teach me at this moment?' Record your experiences in your journal."

Activity #10. With the intent of understanding what is most useful in dealing with pain in constructive and meaningful ways, have group members brainstorm ways they currently handle their pain. As a group, identify helpful and not so helpful ways of dealing with pain. Each group member is encouraged to find the best way to process her pain, either by writing, exercising, talking, reading, creating poems, art, music, helping others, etc.

Discovering, Appreciating, and Utilizing Unique Gifts in Step Four of the Journey

Spilka and Bridges (1989) asserted that a sense of God's presence may be tied to feelings of self-worth, and if a person can perceive God's influence along the dimensions of presence, wisdom, and power, therapeutic change is more likely. They continued by stating "Meaninglessness, powerlessness, and low self-esteem are correlates of cultural realities that deprive people of opportunities to realize their potential" (p. 347). Within the small group experience, the girls can discover what unique gifts and qualities they possess which can be offered to enrich the lives of their families, friends, school, and society.

Activity #11. By means of this activity, each girl begins to understand and express what truly gives meaning to her life. Imagine that you are 90 years old and on your deathbed. Close your eyes now and consider your answers to the following questions:

1. What about your life are you the most proud?

2. Do you have any regrets? What are they?

3. How do you most want to be remembered?

Activity #12. Because of this final activity, each girl receives support and feedback from other group members as well as celebrates her unique gifts and spiritual connections.

1. Please bring to our next group session an object that represents you. I do not know what it might be. Surprise us with something that is meaningful to you and shows off your unique qualities.

2. During the next session, each member shows her object and describes how it represents her and the gifts she can give to herself and others.

3. Other group members then can express appreciation, validate each other for their unique qualities, and celebrate their spiritual connections.

EVALUATION OF THE GROUP EXPERIENCE

Spiritual health and well-being is something almost impossible to define much less measure precisely (Veach & Chappell, 1992), but some form of evaluation is necessary for personal growth and to assess the effectiveness of the group experience for the participants. One essential assessment is the weekly check-in. The counselor asks for a wellness check at the close of each week's activities to help members learn to maintain their own spiritual wellness and balance, and to offer assistance to any member in need of follow-up support. Other formative assessments can include discussion of confidential journal writings that the girls may choose to share, results from group discussions, and the counselor's direct observation as well as information that parents and teachers may offer.

At the completion of the group process, it is important to have members evaluate the overall effectiveness of the group on their own spiritual development with reflection about each of the four goals. In addition, counselors may conduct a follow-up session after a few weeks to allow members to discuss their progress and offer continuing support for each other.

POSSIBLE OBSTACLES AND ETHICAL CONSIDERATIONS

At first, there may be apprehension and suspicion directed toward school counselors who propose to address a spiritual void that society has not successfully filled for its youth. However, this should not deter a counselor from attempting to meet student needs by addressing the spiritual dimension. AS evident, the authors are not proposing that religious practices or traditions be brought into the school learning environment. Instead, diverse expressions of spirituality can help students look within for a soulful response to a materialistic society. Often, it has been left to society to mold our young and teach them the psychosocial skills necessary to become contributing adults. Therefore, society has wanted the schools to concentrate on teaching only the basics of reading, writing, and arithmetic. But as society fails to meet these psychosocial needs, schools are asked to find the answers to cure what ails our youth.

Schools are now required to address health issues such as AIDS prevention, safe sex techniques, and nutritional information to our young people in an effort to join the parents, churches, and communities in meeting these needs. Federal funds are provided to schools through the Safe and Drug Free Schools Act to teach drug and violence prevention to our young people. Many of these funds are only released when there is proof that the community is also committed to the cause. As has been mentioned, adolescents need the involvement and concern of all caring adults in their world--a caring community. Parents, religious and spiritual leaders of the community, other community members, neighbors, and schools have to work together to promote the spiritual development of their youth in this increasingly complex and challenging world. This caring community" includes school counselors who must he wise and strategic hi their planning, development, and presentation of a group program for spiritual development in the schools, while considering the culture of their community.

Another vital strategy is for the counselor to enlist the support of parents, administration, school board, staff, and the counseling advisory board in forming and conducting any group within the school setting. Since not all school schedules easily accommodate the time needed for group sessions, the school counselor must work carefully with the teachers and other staff members to collaboratively plan the timing of sessions, to specifically acknowledge their support, and to identify what benefits may occur that would justify their extra time and energy regarding students' missed academic assignments and learning experiences. School counselors must also give special attention and thoughtfulness to parents who are paramount when considering a group addressing spiritual needs. Appreciation to the parents for their family values and relationships may help ease the fears of parents who worry that the counselor is trying to take over the role of the parents. Rather, the school counselor can emphasize teaming with the parents in order to support their youth and encourage healthy student inquiry in a society full of pressures and expectations. Therefore, the school counselor should obtain parental permission with full disclosure; the group experience curriculum can be open for anyone to view, and special consideration may be given to clarifying for all stakeholders how soulfulness and spirituality are to be brought into the learning environment.

Reassurance to all stakeholders regarding the counselor's definitions and intentional diffErentiation between spirituality and religion is another essential strategy. Careful presentation of the group's purpose and goals that are congruent with the community's culture can also be useful. Theme titles for the group experience such as Life with Purpose, Caring and Compassionate Leadership, or Personal Empowerment may be more acceptable than Spiritual Growth and Development to the counselor's cultural community.

Because this is a group process that is unusual within the school setting, where it has been stressed for the past several decades that church and state should be kept separate, a group leader must believe in the importance of spiritual development and growth in the lives of adolescent girls. Ethically, one of the most important personal prerequisite for a group leader of a spiritual development and growth group in the schools is for counselors to be comfortable with their own spirituality, confront their own feelings of meaninglessness, address their needs for self-care, and not be afraid to address the spiritual side of life (Miranti & Burke, 1995).

Another important ethical consideration for a counselor leading a spirituality development group is to enter the client's personal spiritual belief system with constant awareness, understanding, support, care, and respect. In this way, a counselor can help the group members clarify and apply personal beliefs that facilitates the group members' expression of their own spirituality, in a way that is conducive to the members' overall psychosocial development. Spirituality and religion are inherently value-laden, and a client's values tend to move toward those of the counselor during the course of intervention (Kelly, 1995). With this ethical concern in mind, it is especially important for the group leader of a spiritual development group to give the group members the freedom to choose their own values and to reassure parents and all stakeholders of this respectful level of support and acceptance (American Counseling Association, 2004; American School Counselor Association, 2004).

As mentioned earlier, times of disequilibrium can lead to spiritual growth. A school counselor must be comfortable with creating times of mild disequilibrium for group members to facilitate their growth, helping adolescents understand they can disagree strongly with another person without giving or taking offense. Fortosis and Garland (1998) stated that the group counselor must allow the members to express themselves honestly in a non-threatening environment with plenty of give and take between leader and members. The researchers continued by discussing how the counselor may sometimes have to confront group members with questions and statements designed to stimulate the girls to take a solid position and understand what and why they believe the way they do. It is important for adolescents to realize that someone who creates disequilibrium in their lives may actually be a positive force.

SUMMARY

Adolescents who sense meaning and purpose in their lives, who are at peace with themselves, and who have a healthy perspective about living in a confusing, rapidly changing, and frightening world are quite unusual (Lantieri, 2001). The attitudes and moods of a nation's youth reflect the attitudes and moods of its adults. The prevailing mood in our young today is hopelessness, helplessness, and despair that reflect "the ideals and tension of the culture at large" (Miller, 2002, p. 37). Our youth need to receive messages of hope, encouragement, and spiritual connections.

Even children are aware of the most basic questions asked by human beings. They are aware of death, the need for meaning, the threat to their freedom, and being alone. Parents need to offer support and guidance in helping children find answers to some of life's existential questions, and yet both father and mother often work outside the home and return to the family with depleted energy and emotional resources. Because of our mobile society, many families are separated from their normal support system of extended families. In the past, many young women had the support from their parents as well as a beloved neighbor, a kindhearted aunt, or a nearby grandmother. Women reported that when they were adolescents they had someone they could really talk to who encouraged them to stay true to who they really were, to be authentic (Pipher, 1994). However, today in our fragmented chaotic world, fewer girls have that option.

School counselors can play a vital role in giving girls a voice, giving them an opportunity to tell their stories and being forever changed by the experience. Gilligan (1982) emphasized how counselors can play an essential role in assisting girls by mentoring, facilitating, and advising. Adolescent girls who choose and seek access to a nonparent adult are choosing to augment and strengthen their voices and personal development. Pipher (1994) boldly stated that pathology comes from failure to realize all one's possibilities. Helping girls discover the unique gifts with which each one has been blessed and learning to utilize these gifts for the benefit of others is one of the greatest callings a school counselor can fulfill.

The purpose for conducting a spiritual development group for adolescent girls within the school setting is to counteract the cultural changes that pressure girls to ignore their authentic selves and their spiritual dimension. By unlocking and enhancing their spiritual development, girls may be equipped not only survive the teen-age years, but live them joyfully and productively. As they become more fully alive understanding their spirituality, they can begin to experience a deeper connection to themselves, others, and the wholeness of life. Kessler (2002) contended that a generation of young people is yearning for adults who are willing to give as much importance and care to their hearts and souls as to their academic success and athletic prowess.

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Mary Alice Bruce, Ph.D., is an associate professor and school counselor educator at the University of Wyoming, Laramie. E-mail: mabruce@uwyo.edu Debbie Cockreham is a professional school counselor at Wheatland High School in Wheatland, WY, and a Professional Life Coach. E-mail: dcockreham@hotmail.com
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Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 1, 2004
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