Thursday, September 11, 2014

Frequently Asked Questions About Spiritual Direction

I've received a few questions lately about spiritual direction, and it seemed worthwhile to address some of the most common I've heard and even asked myself the past few years in one place. This list isn't exhaustive, but hopefully it hits most of the obvious ones.

What is spiritual direction? Spiritual direction is helping another nurture his or her relationship with God. They do this by making suggestions regarding prayer practices, listening to and helping name another's experience, and celebrating, honoring, and respecting how the person and God are relating to each other. For a much longer explanation, read this.

How is spiritual direction different from meeting with a pastor for counseling? People seek pastoral counseling for a variety of reasons. Sometimes it's for advice about a difficult life situation, sometimes it's for resources regarding a faith question, sometimes it's for a referral to some other service that could help address a need. And only sometimes is it for help with the sort of awareness mentioned in the last answer. Whereas pastors may be considered general practitioners, one approaches a spiritual director for the more specialized reasons mentioned above. And, on the other hand, spiritual directors are not meant to provide the other things for which one may seek a pastor.

How often does one typically meet with a spiritual director? For more open-ended, less structured types of spiritual direction, the most common setup is monthly. However, if one wishes to take on a prayer retreat such as journeying through Ignatius' Spiritual Exercises, meetings would likely be more frequent such as daily or weekly depending on context.

How do I find a spiritual director? One of the easier ways to find a spiritual director might be to peruse the website of Spiritual Directors International. They have a "Seek and Find Guide" where you can type in your location and see where spiritual directors registered with that organization are located nearby. Another possibility might be to Google certification programs near you, as they may be able to refer you to people who have completed their program. Local retreat centers might also have directors with whom they work or who regularly make use of their facilities.

Are there fees involved? Some spiritual directors engage in this ministry to make a living, either full-time or bi-vocationally. Others use it for supplemental income. Regardless, spiritual direction is a helping vocation that requires an investment of time and resources on the part of the director in order to provide a service to directees. There are no standard rates for such a service, but directees should probably anticipate a conversation about this during their first session with a director. Some have rates that they work with, but most take into account the financial reality in which their directees live and adjust accordingly.

Are there different kinds of spiritual directors? There is no uniform training program or list of requirements for becoming a spiritual director; thus, spiritual directors come from a variety of religious backgrounds and are trained in a variety of traditions and practices. For instance, my background is United Church of Christ, but I am certified through a Catholic program that focused on the thought of Ignatius of Loyola. In similar fashion, other directors will work primarily through other practices or thinkers. Even though the background and training of each is different, a spiritual director is meant primarily to listen and respond to the experience of each individual directee rather than attempt to conform him or her to the tradition out of which the director comes.

Does someone have to be certified in order to be considered a spiritual director? Like most everything else nowadays, one is perfectly free to do some studying and practice on one's own and could probably call themselves a spiritual director. However, one who has gone through a formal program has been through an intensive and intentional time of study that has included theology, technique, and professional ethics. If a mentor or incredibly spiritually insightful friend can be helpful to you, then they could in some sense be considered a spiritual director to you. But a spiritual director who has been through an official program has been trained to approach your needs in a formal capacity, and is more accountable to his or her peers as well.

How can I be certified as a spiritual director? Much like how to find a spiritual director above, the SDI website has a page to search for formation and training programs. Similarly, a Google search or inquiry to local centers might also yield some leads. As mentioned, no two programs are alike: each will have different requirements, emphases, and backgrounds. It might be worthwhile to weigh several options, although that might not be possible in all cases.

What could I expect to experience in a typical spiritual direction certification program? Again, this will vary. Mine took two years and several thousand dollars in tuition, not including the cost of books. Spiritual direction programs aren't exactly on every street corner, so you're probably in for a commute as well. In terms of content, you can probably expect an introduction to the tradition(s) and practice(s) you'll be working with the most, some theology, some sessions on boundaries and ethics, some paper writing, and a supervised practicum. The specifics will be different for each program.

Will you be my spiritual director? I'm not really ready to hang out my shingle just yet, which is why I haven't joined SDI. I'm taking each request as it comes, but right now time won't allow for me to take more than a handful of directees at the most. That, and I'm limiting myself to the immediate area. So basically, probably not. But asking wouldn't hurt.