Academic journal article Journal of Psychology and Theology

Spiritual Direction: Meaning, Purpose, and Implications for Mental Health Professionals

Academic journal article Journal of Psychology and Theology

Spiritual Direction: Meaning, Purpose, and Implications for Mental Health Professionals

Article excerpt

This article introduces the first of two special issues on spiritual direction and mental health. Attention is given to providing a broad understanding of the meaning, purpose, and scope of spiritual direction, and discussing factors concerning resistance to spiritual transformation. It then explores: the diversity of roles assumed by spiritual guides and directors; contemporary contrasts between spiritual direction and psychotherapy; and critical issues concerning the integration of spiritual concepts and practices into the process of counseling and psychotherapy. It is asserted that the present climate of increased dialogue between soul care practitioners provides unprecedented opportunity for the enhancement of understanding concerning the process of spiritual transformation and its implications for the mission of both church and clinic.


Carolyn Gratton (2000) uses the following story in introducing her book, The Art of Spiritual Guidance. It's about a wise fish.

It seems that there once were some fish who spent their days swimming around in search of water. Anxiously looking for their destination, they shared their worries and confusion with each other as they swam. One day they met a wise fish and asked him the question that had preoccupied them for so long: "Where is the sea?" The wise fish answered: "If you stop swimming so busily and struggling so anxiously, you would discover that you are already in the sea. You need look no further than where you already are." (p. 5)

For Gratton, the wise fish represents a spiritual director--or that deepest part of a human being--that is in touch with the omnipresence of God. The search is for life in his kingdom; hurry is the devil.

Cultivating an awareness of God's transforming presence as foundational for spiritual direction is a common theme in the literature of devotional theology. In the words of Richard Rohr (1999), "My starting point [for prayer as part of spiritual guidance] is that we're already there. We cannot attain the presence of God. We're already totally in the presence of God. What's absent is awareness" (p. 28).

These images provided by Gratton and Rohr bring to mind the mission of the ultimate spiritual director, Jesus, and his advice to all who would listen: [Crudely paraphrased] Slow down, be at peace, listen to my words, and you will become aware that the no swimming sign has been removed from the "springs of living water" (see Matthew 6:25-34; John 4:14, 10:10, & 14:27).

The profundity of the simple notion of learning how to experience the presence of God was recently highlighted for me while participating in a roundtable discussion on the topic of Christian spiritual formation. Each person present had two things in common: a long history of involvement in the evangelical world, and a recent, personal captivation by the process of spiritual formation.

The juxtaposition of these two common factors should not be missed. These were long--term, card-carrying members of evangelicalism who had spent their lifetimes in Christian study and service. But only recently, it seemed, had each enrolled in Christianity 101--ongoing enjoyment of the love and presence of God.

Toward the end of our time together, one of the group members mused the following, which seems an appropriate summary to that discussion and an introduction to this one. "Could it be that it [the process of spiritual formation] is simply becoming aware that God is everywhere and then learning how to be with him--in the presence of divine love?" Several heads nodded "yes." None "No."

I'm not picking on Evangelicals; Catholic or Orthodox Christians--I believe--could have just as easily encircled the table. The point is this; it seems that many in the Christian world have recently reawakened to the truth that wearing the label, "Christian," is not synonymous with experiencing the intimate, moment-by-moment, relationship with God that souls were designed to enjoy, and have begun to place hope in the practice of spiritual direction as a methodology for finding the way to more abundant living. …

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