This blog is part of a series on Spiritual Direction designed to answer questions about the practice of Spiritual Direction. Click here to see the full FAQ series.
When we first hear the words spiritual direction, and perhaps begin to engage in a conversation about this practice with others, questions of how it fits into a spectrum of care offerings emerges. Is it similar to life coaching but specifically about your spiritual life? Is it like going to counselling or therapy, but with your faith as the lens everything is filtered through?
Naturally, we try to categorize this practice with other modalities we’ve heard of or have experienced. Often, in an extremely oversimplified way of offering some distinction in these moments of short conversation, I share that life coaching is about moving you forward, counselling and therapy often work through the past, and spiritual direction is about your current relationship and awareness of God. We see the past, present, future way of distinguishing between these practices.
Let’s break it down a bit more.
Counselling and Therapy vs Spiritual Direction
- Counselling often involves working with a mental health counsellor on a specific issue for a limited amount of time while giving you tools to move forward and take into your daily life. For example, meeting with a marriage counsellor, a grief counsellor, or working with a counsellor to learn tools to manage and stress, etc.
- Therapy is often more long-term focused and focuses on how you see the world, your thoughts, your behaviours, and your underlying patterns of why you do the things you do. Therapy is often where you work through past trauma and experiences that are still impacting you today to find healing strategies.
In both counselling and therapy, your professional is there to listen well, truly hear you, and then offer strategies and solutions.
- Spiritual direction is focused on deepening your relationship with God, self, and those around you. While spiritual direction holds space for you to share about your life and what you are going through, the role of the direction isn’t to offer healing strategies or tools, but to direct your attention to your experience with God. Spiritual direction can be short-term or long-term and it is not uncommon for one to meet with a director for 10 or 20 years.
- In spiritual direction, your director is there to listen well, truly hear you, and ask questions to help you more fully engage with your experience of self and God.
Life Coaching vs Spiritual Direction
I was once asked if spiritual direction was like life coaching but with Jesus. It was a great question since both life coaching and spiritual direction use questions as the foundation of the practice.
- Life coaching is the practice of powerful questioning to help an individual feel empowered to move forward towards the life they desire to live. A life coach will often work with someone who is discovering a sense of desiring something more for their life, or who knows they want more for their life but they aren’t quite sure how to move forward. A life coach helps their client uncover what is holding them back, and asks them powerful questions to help them feel confident to move forward into the life they desire. A coach will often work with someone for a shorter period of 3 to 6 months.
- In life coaching, your life coach may also have moments of mentorship where, with the permission of the person they are coaching, they can share from their own lived experience if they think sharing will be helpful.
- Spiritual direction is also question based but instead of getting a person to move forward, we help the person more fully notice their current experience to see where they may be sensing the spirit. Often the practice of awareness in a session impacts how a directee notices the spirit in their daily lives, which is a powerful tool.
- In spiritual direction, aside from introducing a directee to spiritual disciplines or practices during a session, which they may enjoy as tools during their own time, a spiritual director does not share of their own experience. We understand that people’s own unique lived experiences mean that while we may feel we can relate based on what has been shared, each person lives unique lives and our relating may dim the experience of the directee.
Each of these modalities has their place. For healing from past trauma and working through current trials, therapy and counselling is the most beneficial. If you’re feeling like you desire more from life, or have goals but aren’t sure why you can’t seem to move forward, life coaching would be beneficial. If you’re looking to deepen your faith, spiritual direction can offer the safe space to explore and grow. One does not replace the other, and all offerings has an appropriate place in your life.
I often describe spiritual direction as an add on to what people are already doing to care for their wellness. For mental health, one seeks therapy and/or counselling. For physical health, one may go to the gym, get regular dental check ups, or get a yearly eye exam. For social wellness, one may join a club or volunteer. For spiritual wellness, we may seek out a spiritual director or a faith-community. As we seek well-rounded and healthy lives, we find a support system that helps us achieve this, understanding that no one area is better than the other, and that all areas of wellness have their place.
If you think spiritual direction might be for you, click here to book a meet + greet and we can chat about spiritual direction, I can answer any questions you have, and we can see if we would make a great fit.