What is spiritual direction?

I’ve just come from discussing what on earth spiritual direction really is and remain none the wiser. Despite completing a two year training in the subject and working with people and having seen a spiritual director for many years the boundary between spiritual direction and counselling remains blurred. It’s certainly not psychotherapy as the dynamics such as the transference and counter transference are not consciously worked with. However, if you just adopt a rather woolly definition of spiritual direction then the practice can itself become rather woolly. If spiritual direction is religious education in the sense of discussing reading material, liturgy, and prayer life then that’s a clear definition but in my experience it’s not certainly not that especially away from the monastic setting. Even between the novice and the spiritual director based in the monastery there would have been a certain amount of counselling. If spiritual direction is about accompanying someone on their spiritual journey then the psychological very much comes to the fore and that was emphasised on the training I did. It therefore becomes extremely difficult not to move into the more therapeutic approach.

In my own experience of being spiritually directed there was a definite emphasis on what was happening in my life not just my spiritual life though of course in many ways it should be separate anyway and often on my state of psychological well-being – or not. However the last spiritual director whom I saw for many years remained unaware of the unconscious and the power of the shadow side which made any exploration rather difficult. In my own practice as a spiritual director I do see that focusing on the more religious education aspect is unbalanced so there needs to be awareness of psychological but a clear sense when the person needs to go for counselling or psychotherapy separate from their commitment to spiritual direction. It remains a mystery!