What Spiritual Direction can do for you

At its best, spiritual direction can help you become more aware of where God is active and moving in your life. It’s designed to help you savor and remember God’s goodness and discern how it is you are being invited to follow God into a broken and hurting world. Spiritual direction is also helpful for people moving through tough spiritual questions that arise when your image of God is malformed or arrested in time, or when someone is recovering from past religious abuse. Questions and doubts about a powerful religious experience are welcomed and nurtured in spiritual direction.

One of the most helpful aspects of spiritual direction is assistance with discernment. Christian spiritual discernment is most simply described as “making faithful choices.” It involves listening—in prayer and reflection—to insight from God, insight from our intellect and insight from our bodies about a choice we are facing. Listening in silence for clarity around a question is a key component of discernment. Spiritual directors, especially those trained in discernment processes, make excellent sounding boards for people facing important crossroads in life.

Finally, spiritual direction can be a wonderful complement to psychological counseling. Although some psychologists are attuned to the spiritual aspects of life, most are not trained as spiritual directors. Some counseling patients find they want to take certain insights from counseling into spiritual direction for exploration. This works well as long as it is understood that spiritual direction is a complement to therapy, not a replacement for it.

In our next session, “what spiritual direction cannot do for you.”

For more about spiritual direction as I practice it, check out my website. If you have questions or comments about the content of Spiritual Direction 101, please let me hear from you in the reply section below.




About Teresa Blythe
  • rob

    I was wondering if you could speak to how psychodynamically informed (i.e. paying attention to the unconscious) Spiritual Direction and psychotherapy do or do not intersect?

    • http://www.teresablythe.net Teresa Blythe


      Great question. Spiritual directors are wise to be aware of the importance of the subconscious and the unconscious but we generally do not delve into those aspects of a person’s personality. We leave that to psychotherapy, for sure. Many times the way it appears in spiritual direction is during silence. When people begin to meditate or observe silence (true inner silence) in their daily lives, all kinds of thoughts, insights, troubles and fears may come up. Spiritual directors can help people face those (“meet, greet and welcome what surfaces”) and figure out what God may be revealing in the midst of them. That’s about the extent of what we can safely do. But that is a lot, and it can be very helpful for people.

      The best spiritual directors know enough about psychology to know its importance and to encourage directees who may need that kind of help to find a therapist. The work of spiritual direction overlaps a bit with therapy in that we–like some therapists–listen and ask important questions. However, we do not diagnose, try to “fix,” or give advice.

      Thanks for taking the time to comment on this blog!

      • rob

        Thanks for your response, that was helpful. I guess what I was getting at is the blurring sometimes of SD and psychology. Here’s an example: the reason why someone may not be able to recognize, or be aware of, the presence of God in their lives is because of unconscious God-images that were formed in them from relationships with mother/father, church leaders, etc. Sometimes what brings people to SD is that their faith container no longer works for them, and one of the reasons could be a God-image that needs to be shed. Is the discovery of the unconscious God-image that is at work in them in the realm of SD or therapy, or both?

        • http://www.teresablythe.net Teresa Blythe

          You just described my life experience perfectly! And my answer is BOTH. I have needed both spiritual direction and, at times, therapy to discover the unconscious God-image at work in me. But, for me it began with spiritual direction. What usually happens is that a directee gets “stuck” and when the director has done all he or she can do with the non-directive method and prayer, then the director may gently recommend counseling or therapy. It can sometimes be hard to find a therapist who is open to God talk but it’s becoming more acceptable. More and more therapists are getting spiritual direction training so they can help people who come in with spiritual questions.

          I enjoy your question. Thanks for expanding on my work here!

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