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Counsel vs. direction
July 4, 2011
by Fr. Tom Balluff, St. Mary of Czestochowa Church, Delano

Some of the insights that I gleaned from my time at IPF (the Institute for Priestly Formation) last May, were centered around the similarities and differences found between what we call spiritual counseling and spiritual direction.

When someone wants to talk to a priest/pastor, it usually centers on spiritual counsel, where issues are expressed and talked about. Spiritual direction, on the other hand, is much more formal and meant more to be a direct experience of God and His love through the director.

Here are some of the thoughts from the program.

Similarities between spiritual counseling and spiritual direction include that both talk about the life experiences of a person, and neither uses an authoritarian (my-way-or-the-highway) approach.

Both facilitate an individual’s growth in freedom, and both favor development and process rather than abrupt change or precipitated change.

Both require trust, as well as careful listening, empathy, care, and interest on the part of counselor and director.

Defense mechanisms, such as resistance, transference, and counter transference, occur in both.

Insight and healing occur through both, and both look to change an attitude, obtain a better outlook on life, find inner peace, and resolve a conflict. Both extend over a period of time.

Differences may include that in counseling, insight and healing take place through relationship and dialogue between counselor and client; while in spiritual direction, insight and healing occurs primarily through the relationship and dialogue between God and directee, and secondarily through the relationship between director and directee.

In counseling, an awareness of God’s presence need not be there at all. God’s presence may be in the background, but may not be brought into the session in a conscious way.

Spiritual direction has a contemplative atmosphere (contemplation being attentiveness to and absorption in God). There is conscience and affective (emotional or personal) awareness of God’s presence . . . in other words, a savoring, reliving, or entering into experiences of God.

In counseling, there is more reflecting upon, talking about feelings and issues, making connections. Spiritual direction is noticing, savoring, reliving, and helping the person share feelings about God and be attentive to God’s presence; sharing from feelings, but not only about feelings.

These insights can be found in “Growing In Love and Freedom” by Maureen Conroy.

Please remember that what is really the most important thing in life is our faith – our relationship with God. I hope that this is in some way helpful with insight into who God is and how we can gain access to Him in friendship.