When an individual comes in for counseling, that individual is the client. When a person comes in for spiritual direction, their relationship with God is the client. Counseling and therapy focus more on solving a person’s problems and spiritual direction encourages a person to notice God’s activity in their lives in the midst of life’s problems and joys.
In both counseling and spiritual direction, the energy of the work may be experienced as an invitation from God. But in counseling, that invitation would be in the service of healing and a higher functioning life. In spiritual direction that invitation would be in the service of a deeper experience of relationship with God.
For those people of faith who are either in vocational ministry or who live a missional life, the ministry of spiritual direction has potential to create a space that interrupts the rhythm of ministry output. The role of a spiritual director is to hold open that sacred space for a fresh type of contemplation to happen. Any given session may include talking and questions, reflecting on recent or past events, listening prayer, prayer ministry, or periods of silence. Some evaluation of spiritual practices may be helpful as often individuals find that disciplines that were once life-giving have become dry. Overall, the “direction” in spiritual direction is not the leadership of the spiritual director, but rather the direction of God’s Spirit, which is to be discerned together. Typically directors and directees meet once every three to six weeks.
I’ve had three different spiritual directors. One I worked with for ten years until he transitioned into another ministry. Another I worked with for just one year as a part of my own spiritual director training. Now I see a wonderful Carmelite nun who I felt God provided especially for me in the midst of questions that happened to be an area of particular depth in her. My experience with the three of them has been varied, but I believe my description above holds true for each of them. They held open a sacred space for me to pause and notice God’s action in my life.