Therapy and spiritual direction compared

In the certification program that we offer at Perkins one of the questions we explore are the differences between therapy and spiritual direction.  The distinctions are important — both as a means of defining the boundaries between the two endeavors and as a means of further defining the nature of direction.  If you are a spiritual director, or you are a directee, I invite your thoughts about the following comparisons and your own thoughts on the subject:

  • Therapy is specific in its focus.
  • Spiritual direction is comprehensive.
  • Therapy is problem-centered.
  • Spiritual direction is growth centered.
  • Therapy is devoted to managing and coping with life’s problems.
  • Spiritual direction is devoted to intimacy with God.
  • Therapy can cure.
  • Spiritual direction begins the process of healing.
  • Therapy is preoccupied with this world.
  • Spiritual direction is preoccupied with life in this world and life in the next.
  • Therapy can be done effectively without attending to the spiritual.
  • Spiritual direction cannot be done without attending to both the emotional and the spiritual.
  • Therapy can be done effectively without asking why we are here.
  • Spiritual direction begins with asking why we are here.
  • In therapy the practitioner listens to the client.
  • In spiritual direction, the director and directee both listen to God.

About Frederick Schmidt

The Reverend Dr. Frederick W. Schmidt, Jr. holds the Rueben P. Job Chair in Spiritual Formation at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary in Evanston, IL, and directs the Rueben Job Institute for Spiritual Formation. He is an Episcopal Priest, spiritual director, retreat facilitator, conference leader, writer, and consulting editor at Church Publishing in New York. He is the author of numerous published articles and reviews, as well as several books: A Still Small Voice: Women, Ordination and the Church (Syracuse University Press, 1998), The Changing Face of God (Morehouse, 2000), When Suffering Persists (Morehouse, 2001), in Italian translation: Sofferenza, All ricerca di una riposta (Torino: Claudiana, 2004), What God Wants for Your Life (Harper, 2005), Conversations with Scripture: Revelation (Morehouse, 2005), Conversations with Scripture: Luke (Morehouse, 2009), and The Dave Test (Abingdon, 2013). He and his wife, Natalie (who is also an academic and an Episcopal priest), live in Highland Park, Illinois, with their Gordon Setter, Hilda of Whitby. They have four children and four grandchildren: Henry, Addie, Heidi, and Sophie.


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