Spiritual Direction

What you can expect from a spiritual guide

Written By Linda Douty

There seems to be an explosion of interest in the ancient spiritual practice of spiritual direction. In response, the following questions and answers may prove helpful.

Q: In Spiritual Direction, does someone "direct" my spirit by telling me how to conduct my spiritual life and practice?

A: Despite the way "spiritual direction" sounds, it is not one person telling another what to do. Rather, it is one person helping another listen to what the Spirit of God is already doing in his/her life. There is a shared premise between the director and the directee that in actuality GOD is the Spiritual Director and is already active in that person's life. The task is to pay attention to it, learn to sense the dynamic presence of the Spirit, and learn to distinguish the "still small voice" from the competing voices present inside us. God works with each of us uniquely, so much of the work of spiritual direction involves learning to listen to one's Life in the company of a director who is in effect attempting to listen to God on that person's behalf.

Q: Why do people seek spiritual direction?

A: Sometimes it is because the person is experiencing a feeling of imbalance between the head and the heart—a yearning for "something more" or some unnamed yearning to deepen one's connection with God. Most of us live our spiritual lives in the mind—thinking, believing, analyzing, judging, evaluating—but not actually experiencing the reality of a relationship with God. Trust, faith, relationship are just words unless they are experienced from the center of the heart and soul. Sometimes people are seeking discernment regarding a particular life issue. They want to learn how to be in harmony with the Divine will. In direction, they tend to get better acquainted with their own deep desires and gifts in an orientation toward God.

Q:What happens during the hour?

A: The director may open with a prayer, then there is an easy, flexible reliance on the Spirit of God to set the agenda. Since spiritual direction is about the presence and action of God in one's life, there is an effort toward identifying the lessons and actions evident in relationships with others, with work, with the body, with the institutions and groups to which the directee belongs, and with simple day-to-day life. There is a movement toward authenticity and wholeness in God, becoming aware of letting go of whatever blocks that process. Discussion of one's prayer life, beliefs, and spiritual practices are also relevant. The director may suggest different ways of praying and make helpful suggestions for a variety of ways to nurture the spiritual life. Dreamwork is also a rich tool for spiritual formation, if the director is trained in working with dreams. At the end of the hour, there is usually a benediction directed toward the directee's needs.

Q: Can I feel safe and secure regarding the director's confidentiality?

A: Trained spiritual directors are taught to maintain a high level of confidentiality. You should feel free to discuss this issue thoroughly at the outset.

Q: How is spiritual direction different from therapy and counseling?

A: Generally speaking, therapy and counseling are problem-oriented —that is, one seeks help to resolve a particular issue. By contrast, spiritual direction has as its goal the discernment of God's presence and action in one's life.

Q: Where do spiritual directors receive their training? Do they have to be ordained clergy? A: There are a number of creditable institutions that train directors, such as the Shalem Institute for Spiritual Guidance in Washington, D.C., the Stillpoint Center in Nashville, and others. Some directors are clergy; however, many are laity with a special interest and training in spiritual formation.

Q: How often do you meet and what does it cost?

A: Usually, the sessions are every 2 to 4 weeks, depending on the wishes of the directee. Most directors have "mutual assessment" times every 3 months or so. In any event, the directee need never feel "trapped" into a long commitment. Continued involvement in the process is at the discretion of both parties. A few churches (mostly in the Midwest and Northeast) employ a trained spiritual director on the staff. In that case, the person is free to make a contribution to the church. Directors with a private practice usually charge on a sliding scale between $25 and $75 per hour. In short, spiritual direction is nonjudgmental listening to whatever is going on in a person's spiritual life—as a gentle companion on one's journey with God.

Copyright ©2002 Linda R. Douty