There are two basic styles of spiritual direction you can choose from, and it’s important to know which you prefer. These two styles are non-directive (also known as evocative) and directive.
If you want a lot of spiritual directors to choose from and if you need someone trained primarily in non-judgmental listening, this is the style for you. As I’ve stated many times in this blog, most training programs teach this non-directive style, and as you know if you’ve read my work, this is the style I prefer. It is considered highly effective, safe and it puts responsibility for a directee’s spiritual path and choices squarely in the hands of the directee. This style, however, is directee-centered, so if you are not prepared to be engaged regularly in a spiritual practice or if you do not know what you are looking for in spiritual direction, you may be frustrated. I think it is preferable for a directee to stay with the non-directive director by adopting a regular spiritual practice and figuring out what his or her questions along the path are, however, if you find the non-directive style too uncomfortable then it is better to find a director that can help you than to go it alone or stay with a director that isn’t right for you. You may need to be with someone who is more of a teacher.
If you want to be taught, need or want homework and exercises that you will be responsible for doing and reporting back on, then you should look for a director who will give you all that. Perhaps you want to explore your path in the context of the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius. This is a nearly 500 year old program you can do with a specially trained director over the course of a 30-day retreat (at a retreat center) or you can find a director who will offer these exercises “in daily life.” If such a specific program is what you are going for, be prepared to spend time searching for this person and program. Do an internet search for “Ignatian Exercises” and when you find a program you want to be part of, ask if you can interview the person who will be directing. From what I have heard from many people who have done these exercises, the director can make it or break it for you, so you want to find someone you have a good rapport with. Most of these will be either Jesuit priests or spiritual directors with extensive training in the Ignatian method.
If a lot of guidance and teaching is what you think you need, you might consider a discipleship program or a class in spiritual practices. Another option is to find a spiritual director who may be trained in the non-directive method but is willing to try a more directive style for a period of time (I have done that with a few directees, and it has worked well). The two of you could together craft a program that has you trying a number of spiritual practices until you find one you can do on a regular basis.
I do recommend that after a period of intense learning, you return to working with a spiritual director who is not invested in anything more than helping you listen to where the Spirit is leading you. We need fewer gurus in the world and more deep listeners and the best teacher in the world is the one Quakers call the Inner Teacher, also known as God’s Holy Spirit.
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.