Although I have written a lot here about training programs for spiritual directors, it is important to note that not all spiritual directors have been through training. You may find an excellent spiritual director who has been working as one for years but never went to Shalem, Mercy Center, Hesychia School or anywhere else. This may especially be true if you are outside the U.S. or Europe.
If you find a spiritual director who hasn’t been doing it forever, it’s likely he or she has gone through training. Years ago, before the explosion of training and formation programs, spiritual directors learned the art from another spiritual director, as an apprentice, and they relied heavily on their God-given gift for listening and asking the right questions. So some of our oldest and best spiritual directors learned “on the job.”
Spiritual direction historically was and still is something a person feels called to do. You either have natural gifts for it or you develop the skills to do it. You may find the world’s best spiritual director simply by looking for a person who has the qualities of unconditional love and acceptance and who is able to listen, help you explore, and encourages you in discernment.
Good directors can be untrained and training doesn’t guarantee that a person will be a good director. In the Western world, we are “certification crazy.” We want to obtain certificates and we look for them in our service providers. But since there is no standard certification for spiritual directors, there is no standard to which all spiritual directors can be held. We in the spiritual direction community are not even sure we want educational standards because there are so many different philosophies about spiritual direction and it is “of the Spirit” so, who would set the standards?
Having said that, I do look for trained directors when I seek one for myself and especially when I look for teachers in the training program I administer. Combine a calling from God with a few natural gifts and good training and you have a spiritual direction who can really make a difference in the world.
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.