Spiritual Direction: What Is It?

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Spiritual direction is a very ancient practice and service that clergy would offer to their parishioners. It was designed and offered to help the faithful grow in religious depth and commitment. Many traditional faiths still offer such a service in the context of the individual religion.

In these modern times, many more people identify themselves as “spiritual but not religious.”  There has never been a time in our history where so many people are disengaged from the religion of their childhoods.  Baby boomers have, in record numbers, sought out “alternative” spiritualities. They birthed the New Age movement, which in and of itself spawned hundreds of thousands of prior “alternative” philosophies, psychological and spiritual methodologies of exploration, and books. Angels, channeling, past-life regression, A Course in Miracles, modern shamanic techniques, Transcendental Meditation (even the Beatles tried it!) and the mother of all retreat centers, Esalen in Big Sur, offered a new view of getting in touch with the Divine. In our time, we are slowly learning — and accepting — that there are many ways to reach out to and connect with our spiritual selves. It seems the summons of the soul persists.

Spiritual direction first is noted in the early centuries A.D. most notably in the Christian faiths. Catholicism still uses spiritual directors to tend to their faithful. The Jewish faith offers their congregations a form of spiritual direction as well. All of these traditional modes of spiritual direction were designed to help the faithful grow and deepen their relationship with God.

But what about the “spiritual but not religious” crowd? Where are they to go to receive support and reassurance for their doubts, joys, ecstatic glimpses of the divine? Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have someone companion you on your spiritual journey? Thus, modern “non-traditional” Spiritual Direction was born. With an unprecedented number of people “waking up,”  solid spiritual direction has never been more important than now.

One important thing to note is that spiritual direction is not therapy.  

According to the OCC Church group:

“It should be noted that there are distinctions between spiritual direction and therapeutic relationships. In general it might be said that therapy and counseling deal primarily with problem areas of one’s life and attempt to bring healthy resolution to issues. Spiritual direction is concerned with finding and responding to God (in the midst of pain or disorder as well as in the rest of life). Problem/issue solving is not the primary focus of direction.

The following list, developed by Karin Grosscup, a Spiritual Director herself, summarizes the chief differences between Therapy and Spiritual Direction. The Covenant between Director and Directee will also speak to these differences.

Therapy:  Problem Solving, Healing Mental Illness, Developing the ego, Goal Directed, Changing Behavior Patterns, Focus of Interaction between Therapist and Client, Challenge of Misperceptions, Change.

Spiritual Direction: Embracing the struggles, Listening to the teaching of one’s pain, Letting go of the ego, Moving toward surrender to Spirit, Detaching from behavioral patterns, Focus of Interaction between Directee and God, Discovery of inner wisdom, Transformation.”

Qualified, trained Spirtitual Directors will make certain to refer their clients to another source of help if psychological issues emerge.