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Spiritual Direction or Counselling?

Are you wondering what the similarities and differences are between counselling or therapy, and spiritual direction?

After all, they both use many of the same active listening skills in working with people. Both offer a safe and supportive space for the person to talk about their lives. Indeed, they both can cover very similar ground in that in spiritual direction the person can share anything from their life experience that is with them at this time, not just their prayer or sacramental life. For both there may also be a sense of 'wholeness' as being the aim of the process. However, at their heart, there are some important differences that may help you understand the distinctions:

This table highlights some key differences, although it has to be said there are a few forms of transpersonal therapy that work in closer ways to spiritual direction than most forms of counselling.

Ultimately, for me, what I am aiming to do in spiritual direction is not help people solve their problems as such, but help them to notice, listen to and discern the movement of God within those experiences - tuning in to the 'still, small voice' within that is a loving guide.

In this way, it is about the person seeking to draw closer to God and learning to flourish right in the midst of life's challenges; the focus of spiritual direction being to foster a person's connection and responsiveness to God's work in their life. Problems may be addressed, and may indeed be what brings a person into spiritual direction, but they are not the focus of the relationship.

Neither is it an 'either or' between spiritual direction or counselling. Indeed, some people may receive both at the same time if they are travelling through times where they need to work through and resolve specific issues with a counsellor or therapist. The counselling relationship tends by nature to be short term, centered around a specific problem. In contrast, the spiritual direction relationship may be either temporary or long term. The frequency of appointments may ebb and flow, but the spiritual director often remains a trusted long-term companion to the unfolding of the person's life.

A spiritual director or companion may also occasionally offer resources to support the person in their spiritual journey - different forms of prayer, spiritual writings, scripture, theological ideas, poems, sayings, meditations, books and so on, that directly relate to wherever the person finds themselves at that time. People are entirely free to take these up or not as they wish. Moments of prayer may also sometimes be encompassed within the spiritual direction session, if appropriate and welcomed, always tailored to the individual's preferred approach, and always only with their consent.

Different spiritual directors may work in different ways according to their background and training. My approach is rooted very much in the grounded realities of life, drawing on all my wide experience and study into spirituality, and seen through the lens of my understanding of working with the human psyche and spirit as a psychologist. I am particularly aware in my approach of the psychological processes that underpin the spiritual journey as we engage with our chosen path.

Please click on the orange link for more information on different aspects of spiritual direction work.

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