Since spiritual direction is a faith-oriented practice, there is no standard regulation or licensing available. So in a practical sense anyone can hang a shingle and start offering spiritual direction. But please don’t do that. It’s a really bad idea because if you don’t have some training—either by apprenticing or attending a formation and training program—you can do significant harm.
I say that because having the word “direction” in our name implies to some that we actively move people along a particular path, giving advice and pulling the reins in here and there. We are not that kind of guide. We are not gurus. And my fear is that those untrained spiritual directors may try to be gurus, thinking they are doing God’s work when in fact all they are doing is satisfying some needy place within themselves.
So, the most ethical and sound way to become a spiritual director is to make the commitment to attend a formation program that trains people in the art.
Most spiritual directors come to training in one of three ways:
- They notice that as they draw closer to God, people in their life come to them for a listening ear. Many say “I was already kind of doing this for people so I figured I’d get trained so I can do it faithfully.”
- They have received so many blessings from being in spiritual direction that they want to offer that blessing to others. (This was my path.)
- The job they now have requires them to work in a capacity of spiritual guide and they want to be more effective at it. (This would include clergy, religious educators, chaplains, some therapists, health care workers and social workers.)
Now “old-school” spiritual directors may look at that list and cluck because it doesn’t include the declaration, “I was called by God to be a spiritual director.” That’s because “call” is a tricky word for many people. It can mean so many different things. I prefer to have people look at their desires and motivations clearly and determine later if they are “called.” I also believe—after 7 years of running a spiritual direction training program—that even if people do not feel “called” to be a spiritual director after attending, the training will make them more spiritually aware human beings. So even if you are not sure about how God is leading you to use these skills, if you want to learn how to be present to another person and listen deeply to their sacred story, training may be for you.
The bottom line is you can be trained without being called, but if you are called, I certainly hope you get trained.
Once you are clear that you would like to train to become a spiritual director, you have to decide where and how. More on that in our next installment.
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.