Online religious counseling for older adults
Studies have demonstrated the importance of online activities to wellbeing, especially in later life. The present study seeks to determine whether and how online religious counseling can improve the wellbeing of older believers. A six-month qualitative study was conducted with a group of Orthodox Jewish older adults (N = 26, aged 70-96) who manifest various types of age-related distress. The participants were home trained to use a dedicated, accessible online platform featuring religious questions and answers (Q&A). Data were collected through netnographic observation, monthly online inquiry and in-depth interviews with counselees and counselors alike. Analysis indicated that online spiritual Q&A for the elders are characterized by unique content, types and styles of discourse. Their variety reflects the heterogeneity of needs, areas of interest and worldviews among older religious adults. Participation in online religious counseling provided them with numerous religious, intellectual and social rewards. At the same time, their counselors—six rabbis that volunteered in this project—gained religious, communal, professional and psychological benefits from the opportunity to share their knowledge and advice. Anonymity, asynchronicity, digital literacy and types of questions were identified as issues that may have opposite effects on the experiences of participants and counselors, respectively. Although some factors may delay and/or diminish positive contributions, involvement in online religious counseling appears to promote wellbeing in later life. This service is particularly beneficial to Orthodox older adults with detrimental health conditions whose use of online religious Q&A helps them cope with the difficulties they face and maintain their enjoyment of life.
Old age; online counseling; Q&A; religion; spirituality; wellbeing
Department of Communication Studies, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Israel
Department of Communication Studies and The Center for Multidisciplinary Research in Aging, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Israel
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