The first time I heard about spiritual direction was through Dr. Susan Phillips at Regent College. “God is the true director…Therefore we are servants of the holy, listeners with the job of being attentive to God, with and for the sake of another. Both director and directee listen for the One who promises, ‘Call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you” (Phillips, S., 2008).
I like the way David Benner (2002) describes spiritual direction as a prayer process, because director and directee meet together in the presence of God. “I understand prayer as attunement and response to God’s presence…Conversation becomes prayer when both the director and the directee are aware that they are in God’s presence” (Benner, D., p.94).
What are some differences between Christian Counselling and Spiritual Direction?
Often, Soma clients ask about the difference between Christian counselling and Spiritual direction.
In short, spiritual direction is spirit-centered – helping people find the direction that the Holy Spirit is moving in the moment. A classic question during a session is “Where is God in the midst of this experience?”. Here, discernment is based on the intimate engagement of two people walking into the sanctuary of God. Research shows that for spiritual direction to be effective, it presumes some degree of psychological wellness in one’s life (Barry, W. & Connolly, W., 2009).
Christian counselling on the other hand, facilitates a person’s growth to greater personal integration and freedom of choice through self-awareness and a renewed understanding of God’s healing grace. When people go to counselling, it is often because they want something to be different in their lives. They may want to solve a particular problem, make a decision, or better understand their lives or themselves. Together with the counsellor, the client can explore feelings, concerns and the changes that they want to make.
Christian counsellors can focus on a client’s life experience (past and present), events, thoughts, relationships, feelings, especially areas of pain, family of origin; all these seen in light of God’s calling. Counsellors can be found using a variety of counselling techniques such as self-disclosure, immediacy, empathetic listening, observation, clarification, interpretation, and reflection on God’s love and forgiveness.
Spiritual directors tend to use more questions, clarifications, and reflection on patterns of prayer and on the creative, redeeming, and sanctifying action of God. In spiritual direction, God is the agent of healing and spiritual directors help point clients toward Christ-likeness.
Who, then, should seek spiritual direction?
1) Anyone who desires to deepen his or her relationship with God should consider seeking spiritual direction. It is perhaps more beneficial to those who have been on the faith journey for a while. “Spiritual direction is the contemplative practice of helping [Christians] to awaken to the mystery called God in all of life, and to respond to that discovery in a growing relationship of freedom and commitment” (Keegan, J., 2011, p.3).
2) Christian leaders who are susceptible to the dangers of isolation and loneliness should consider spiritual direction. Spiritual direction can offer space for reflection, unmasking, and accountability. “In spiritual direction, the director helps [Christian leaders] notice God in the most ordinary life circumstances, and provides an environment where spiritual healing can take place” (Fryling, A., 2009, p.20).
In conclusion, Spiritual Direction:
Meets a real and deep need to share the Christian journey with a trained individual who can help reflect back God’s particular and personal work of love in our lives
Is the coming together of heart knowledge and head knowledge which helps develop and nurture our personal relationship with God
Upholds an important truth about the Christian faith – that our faith is a shared faith, not a solitary one…to become aware of what God is doing so that we can all respond to it and participate and take delight in it (Peterson, E., 1993).
My life’s journey is too difficult to experience on my own.
Through crisis and life’s challenges, my Christian counsellor has grounded me and helped me explore areas of trauma and pain. I have a greater degree of self-awareness and understanding of myself and others. As a result, I feel better about myself and who God has created me to be. Counselling helps.
Through conversation and prayer, my spiritual director has cared for my ‘soul’ and has helped me to pay closer attention to what God is doing in my life. She has taught me how to better hear God’s voice in my life over other voices, and heightened my awareness of God and his grace for me. Spiritual direction helps.
Having personally experienced counselling and spiritual direction, I have found both helpful and vital for different parts of my Christian journey. I would not be who I am today without one or the other.
References and Further Readings:
Barry, William & Connolly, William. The Practice of Spiritual Direction. HarperCollins, 2009.
Benner, David. Sacred Companions: The Gift of Spiritual Direction and Friendship. Downers Grove, IVP, 2002.
Fryling, Alice. Seeking God Together. Downer’s Grove: IL, IVP, 2009.
Guenther, Margaret. Holy Listening: The Art of Spiritual Direction. Boston: Cowley Publications, 1992.
Keegan, James. What Is Spiritual Direction? Listen: A Seeker’s Resource For Spiritual Direction, 2011, Vol 5, Issue 4.
Peterson, Eugene. The Contemplative Pastor. Grand Rapids: Wm B. Eerdmans, 1993.
Phillips, Susan. Candlelight: Illuminating the Art of Spiritual Direction. Spiritual Directors International, 2008.