It is important to recognize the attributes of each discipline so that we may distinguish which model we need at a particular time.
There are very real similarities between counseling, therapy and spiritual direction and it is natural to be confused by what these disciplines “do.” To begin, we acknowledge that spiritual direction can be deeply therapeutic just as counseling can be spiritually enhancing. However one cannot replace the other: spiritual direction is not adequate if we need the direct insights and strategies of therapy and counseling. In a similar way we may be dissatisfied if we attempt to explore our spiritual longings through therapy.
In some ways the phrase “spiritual direction” is a misnomer. Spiritual direction does not “direct.” The process of spiritual direction is a welcoming of what shows up and a practice of helping us look at what may be at the heart of feeling disconnected from our best selves. Spiritual direction doesn’t employ researched strategies even if they could elicit healing experiences. Spiritual direction is a compassionate checking in and an ongoing exploration of the spiritual dimension of our human lives. Solutions may arise to current challenges but they are not the focus of a spiritual direction session. Spiritual direction provides a sort of global view of our lives and relationships, and helps us to pay attention to our spiritual longings and to what is sacred and meaningful to us.
The role of the therapist or counselor is to help us identify, manage and understand our thoughts and feelings, often created or stirred up by crisis, trauma, and difficult life situations. It is goal oriented. It helps us to see how emotions, thoughts, feelings and behaviors affect our lives. Counseling motivates or facilitates change while helping us to face problems within our personal lives.
Spiritual direction is also not financial counseling or advice. There are times when financial issues may arise within the context of spiritual direction, and they would be discussed in the confidentiality of a session, but a spiritual director would not offer specific solutions to financial questions.
Another important distinction is cost. A session of spiritual direction is generally less expensive than therapy. It is usually scheduled once a month or every six weeks while therapy and counseling generally take place weekly or several times a month in response to more time sensitive crises. This difference may compel someone to seek spiritual direction believing it would be more cost-effective but that would be short sighted. If we are facing a specific crisis or challenge it is best to seek the support of a therapist or counselor. Additionally, spiritual direction is not covered by insurance.
In an ideal situation, we can find a therapist who values the role of cultivating the spiritual aspect of personal health and who will work in connection with our spiritual director. It is important to note that spiritual directors are trained to refer a directee to therapy when circumstances arise. Making referrals is within the code of ethics for spiritual directors. Receiving the insights of these two professionals will help us to connect our psychological health with our spiritual well-being.
Spiritual direction and therapy each take place within a confidential and trusted relationship and each holds the health of the seeker (or patient) as its focus. The gift of the differences between therapy, counseling and spiritual direction is that there is more than one choice for finding the care we need.