Facts about Spiritual Direction

​​1. What is the difference between spiritual direction and therapy? The word therapy comes from the Greek word, therapia meaning “to nurse.” By definition a nurse offers the necessary care to restore an ill person to health. Psychological therapy focuses on psychological illnesses or problems that keep someone from living as a healthy human being. Rather than focusing on problem solving, spiritual direction offers ongoing support for someone wishing to deepen their relationship with God through prayer and other spiritual practices. While therapeutic and transformative, the intent of spiritual direction is to develop a heightened awareness of God’s presence.

2. When is therapy more appropriate? Directors and directees need to be open to the fact that some therapeutic work may be necessary to address specific wounds, blocks or problems in the life of the directee. The process of discovering these needs is often a normal part of the spiritual direction relationship and should be taken seriously. If both people involved agree that therapy would be more appropriate, the director should be prepared to make a referral and help the directee make a transition into the therapeutic relationship. Confidentiality in spiritual direction should be treated in the same formal and legal manner as any other form of counseling. If appropriate boundaries are maintained by those involved, direction and therapy can go on simultaneously and could be complimentary aspects of a person’s inner work.

3. Who goes to a spiritual director? Anyone who wants to deepen their relationship with God by meeting with one who is willing to walk the journey with them, listen to them, pray for them and respond to them with prayerful compassion.

4. Aren’t all pastors by definition spiritual directors? Spiritual direction is a specific ministry where-by one is called into a one-to-one relationship of prayer and support with another person. While pastors nurture the spiritual lives of individuals and churches, not all pastors are called to be spiritual directors and many spiritual directors are not pastors.

5. How are spiritual directors paid?  Because spiritual direction is a formal professional relationship of nurture, time, support and presence, it needs to be valued accordingly by both people involved. It is often true that paying for this kind of on-going support deepens the commitment of the directee. However, in some cases the spiritual director will not seek to be paid. Arrangements regarding the appropriate amount and timing of payments should be discussed during an initial meeting before a commitment to on-going spiritual direction is made. Payment to the spiritual director is often made at the beginning of each session. Some directors are part of a religious community and prefer payment to be made to the community.

6. How often does one go for spiritual direction? This decision should be made at the initial orientation meeting. Many have found a once-a-month pattern works well.

7. How long does a session usually last? The orientation meeting could last one and one half hours. A regular spiritual direction session usually lasts one hour, but often is much longer as the Spirit moves on Kairos and not Chronos time.

8. What if I don’t click with my spiritual director?  Since God is revealed in the spiritual direction process, each experience is an invitation to growth and development. Talking openly and honestly with a spiritual director about the challenges and discomforts in the relationship can lead to insight, transformation and growth. If, however, both people involved feel they have come to the end of their relationship, a session to celebrate their work together should be planned and the directee joyfully sent into a new season of their spiritual life with someone else.

9. What if I can’t find a spiritual director?  Spiritual Directors International is an organization devoted to providing resources to those who offer spiritual direction. Based in Seattle, they maintain a data-base of spiritual directors across the country. Contacting a monastery or convent in your area would be another good place to find a director or a referral.

10. How are spiritual directors supervised and held accountable? Most spiritual directors are encouraged to be in supervision. Often this is with their own spiritual director or in a supervision group. At the orientation meeting with a potential spiritual director, it is appropriate to ask if he/she is in a relationship of supervision.

11. How are spiritual directors trained? Many programs around the country offer education for spiritual directors. Those who complete these programs are simply given a “certificate of completion.” Since spiritual direction is a personal calling, education and skill development is offered – certification by an organization is not. At the orientation meeting with a potential spiritual director, it is appropriate to ask how he or she felt called to this ministry and if they have had any formal education?

12. Can my pastor be my spiritual director? If you feel drawn to the pastor as your spiritual director, it is important to honor and explore that desire. As we all know, many pastors in local churches function in multiple roles and have extraordinary demands on their time. For this reason, it is often impossible for the pastor to offer personal spiritual direction to the members of the congregation.

13. Should all pastoral leaders have a spiritual director? Yes. Pastors cannot assume that spiritual leadership and personal spiritual growth are the same thing. The critical nature of inner work must be respected. In order to mature in their relationship to God, all pastors should have a spiritual director.

14. Are spiritual direction and supervision for pastors the same thing?  No, but both are important. Spiritual direction is designed for personal growth. Supervision is designed for accountability in leadership. Patients, clients, congregants, and others seeking help are especially vulnerable to abuse by authorities in whom they have placed their trust. In recent years, society has set up structures of accountability to protect those involved in these vulnerable relationships. Psychotherapists, doctors, social workers and others in helping professions are expected to be mature people and have supervision in their work. Because of the importance placed upon the separation of church and state, pastoral work has been largely unregulated. Pastors and others in positions of spiritual leadership should be in supervision for accountability and should work with a spiritual director for personal spiritual growth.

15. Is it appropriate to go to a director outside my denomination or faith group? Since spiritual direction is concerned with a person’s experience with God, issues of doctrine and theology take a secondary role. In other words, the ideas that separate us are less important than discovering how the presence of God transforms us. For this reason, it can be beneficial and transformational to work with a spiritual director whose life in God and whose experience of prayer and are different than our own.

© 2000, Brad Berglund