Loyola University Chicago

School of Social Work

Faculty & Staff Profiles

Holly Nelson-Becker, PhD

Title/s:  Professor

Specialty Area: Aging, Loss/grief/palliative and end of life care, Wisdom and virtue research

Office #:  Maguire Hall 524

Phone: 312.915.7008

Email: hnelsonbecker@luc.edu

CV Link: Holly Nelson-Becker CV

External Webpage: http://works.bepress.com/holly_nelson-becker/

Mission in Action

Promoting strengths-based and healing environments for older persons so they can live meaningful lives undergirds my work.  A life course perspective facilitates transformative social work engagement with people at many life phases and intersectionalities, acknowledging benefits as well as challenges that accrue from a long life. Gerontological social work is important in societies which are also aging and entering new phases in their response to global needs. I teach social workers, nurses, chaplains, and physicians to sustain positive interdisciplinary teams in palliative and hospice care through the interdisciplinary Coleman Palliative Medicine program. In spring 2016, five of my students presented at a national social work hospice and palliative care conference; I have also published with students. A former student suggested that death discussion ambassadors are formed in my loss, grief, and dying well course. These professionals are unafraid to host difficult discussions about end-of-life desires, especially in health care contexts. Serving on national project teams, I have co-created gerontological social work standards and standards to improve spiritual care in palliative care. My book, Spirituality, Religion and Aging: Illuminations for Therapeutic Practice was published by SAGE in 2017. My research and teaching stand as a holistic reflection of my social work values.


Dr. Nelson-Becker holds the rank of Professor in the School of Social Work at Loyola University Chicago. She earned her PhD at the University of Chicago and the MSW at Arizona State University.  She is a recognized expert in social gerontology and a Hartford Faculty Scholar in Geriatric Social Work who has investigated the pathways to resilience and well-being in older adults. Her research areas focus on virtues, aging, spirituality and interprofessional practice with an emphasis on end-of-life concerns and diverse cultural expressions.

She co-authored national standards for spiritual care in palliative care and is past Chair of the Interest Group on Religion, Spirituality, and Aging for the Gerontological Society of America. She served on the National Program Committee for the Hartford Doctoral Fellows Program in Geriatric Social Work and continues to mentor PhD students across the country in various aspects of gerontology and/or spirituality and clinical practice. She was awarded Fellowship in the Gerontological Society of America in 2013. The strengths perspective and positive psychological principles form the foundation for her research and teaching. She is author of the book, Spirituality, religion, and aging: Illuminations for therapeutic practice. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE, published February, 2017. 488 pages. ISBN: 9781412981361.


University of Chicago, PhD

Arizona State University, MSW

Graceland University, BA- Modern Foreign Languages

Graceland University, BA- International Studies

Research Interests

Gerontology: living the best life possible, and loss/grief/end of life concerns

Current project: Interdisciplinary Palliative Care Training-Coleman Foundation

Professional & Community Affiliations

AGE-SW, Gerontological Society of America (GSA)

American Society on Aging (ASA)

National Association of Social Workers (NASW)

Chicago End-of-Life Coalition

International Association of Gerontology and Geriatrics (IAGG)

British Society of Gerontology (BSG)

Society for Spirituality and Social Work (SSSW)

Editorial Board member: Journal of Spirituality in Mental Health

Journal of Social Work in End-of-Life and Palliative Care

Journal of Religion, Spirituality, & Aging

Journal of Ethnic and Cultural Diversity in Social Work

Courses Taught

  • Social Work Practice with Individuals and Families (Foundation year practice) (SOWK 503)

  • Loss, Grief, & Dying Well: Coping with Life Transitions (SOWK 735)

  • Social Work & Aging (SOWK 632)

  • Religion, Spirituality, and Older Adults: Theory and Methods for Social Work (SOWK740)


  • Fellow, Gerontological Society 2013

  • University of Kansas Statland Award for Excellence in Research and Scholarship

  • Outstanding Faculty Member – KU MSW Mutual Aid Society

  • University of Kansas Chancellor Budig Award for Excellence in Teaching

Selected Publications

Journal Editorship-Special Issue

Nelson-Becker, H. (Ed.). (2013). Special Issue. Spirituality and Social Work and End-of-Life and Palliative Care. Journal of Social Work in End-of-Life and Palliative Care, 9(2-3), 111-240.

Nelson-Becker, H. (2013): Spirituality in End-of-Life and Palliative Care: What Matters? Journal of Social Work in End-Of-Life & Palliative Care, 9(2-3), 112-116. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/15524256.2013.794000


Recent Selected Peer-Reviewed Chapters

Nelson-Becker, H. (2018). Spirituality, religion, and aging: Illuminations for therapeutic practice. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Press. Published 2-2017, 488 pages ISBN: 9781412981361

Gesicki, P. & Nelson-Becker, H. (in press). Remission from depression in the DSM: Moving from Rhetoric to Restoration. Clinical Social Work Journal.

Nelson-Becker, H., Atwell, L., & Russo, S. (In press). Lesser known spiritualities: Baha’i, Zoroastrianism, and Rastafarianism. In. D. Vondras (Ed.), Better health through spiritual practices: A guide to religious behaviors and practices that benefit mind and body. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO/Praeger.

Nelson-Becker, H. (2016). Foreword. In J. R. Dudley, Spirituality matters in social work: Connecting spirituality, religion, and practice. New York, NY: Routledge.

Nelson-Becker, H. & Sangster, K. (2015). Spirituality and religious participation in later life. In N. Pachana (Ed.), Encyclopedia of geropsychology (pp.1-11). New York, NY: Springer. doi 10.1007/978-981-287-080-3_71-1

Ko, E. J., Kwak, J., & Nelson-Becker, H. (2015). What constitutes a good and bad death? Perspectives of homeless older adults. Death Studies, 39(7):422-32. doi: 10.1080/07481187.2014.958629

Nelson-Becker, H., Canda, E. R., & Nakashima, M. (2015). Spirituality in professional helping interventions. In D. Kaplan & B. Berkman (Eds.), The Oxford handbook of social work in health and aging (2nd ed., pp.73-84). Boston, MA: Oxford Press.

Chapin, R., Nelson-Becker, H. Macmillan, K. & Sellon, A. (2015). Strengths-based and solution-focused approaches to practice with older adults.  In D. Kaplan & In B. Berkman  (Eds.), The Oxford handbook of social work in health and aging (2nd ed., pp.63-72). Boston, MA: Oxford Press.

Ko, E. J., Nelson-Becker, H., Shin, M., & Park, Y. J. (2014). Preferences and expectations for delivering bad news among Korean older adults. Journal of Social Service Research, 40(4), 402-414. doi: 10.1080/01488376.2014.894356.

Nelson-Becker, H., Ai, L. A., Hopp, F., McCormick, T. R., Schlueter, J. O., & Camp, J. K. (2013). Spirituality and religion in end-of-life care: The challenge of interfaith and cross-generational matters in changing environments. British Journal of Social Work, 1-16. doi: 10.1093/bjsw/bct110

Ko, E. J., Nelson-Becker, H. (2013). Does End-of-Life Decision Making Matter? Perspectives of Older Homeless Adults. American Journal of Hospice and Palliative Medicine. 31(2), 183-188. doi 10.1177/1049909113482176

Nelson-Becker, H. (2013). Resilience in aging: Moving through challenge to wisdom. In D. S. Becvar (Ed.), Handbook of family resilience (pp. 339-357). New York: Springer. doi 10.1007/978-1-4614-3917-2_20

Nelson-Becker, H., Chapin, R., & Fast, B. (2013). The strengths model with older adults: Critical practice components. In D. Saleebey (Ed.), The strengths perspective in social work practice (6th ed.). Boston: Allyn & Bacon.

Spira, M., & Nelson-Becker, H. (2013). Nursing Homes. In J. L. Postmus (Ed.), Encyclopedia of Sexual Violence and Abuse. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO.

Nelson-Becker, H., & Sullivan, M. (2012). Social Care. Oxford textbook of spirituality in healthcare (pp. 409-417). In M. Cobb, C. Puchalski, & B. Rumpold (Eds.). UK. Oxford University Press.

Nelson-Becker, H. (2011). Research in spirituality, religion, and aging: An emerging area. Generations Review. Available online at http://www.britishgerontology.org/DB/gr-editions-2/generations-review/research-in-spirituality-religion-and-aging-an-eme.html

Nelson-Becker, H., & Ferrell, B. (2011). Social work and nursing: Creating effective collaborations. In T. Altilio & S. Otis-Green (Eds.), Oxford textbook of palliative social work (pp. 477-481). New York: Oxford University Press.