THERAPY OR SPIRITUAL DIRECTION-WHAT DO I NEED?
Sonia Kurian helps us to understand why spiritual direction is an important aspect of our Christian journey
Spiritual Direction has been in the church from it’s very beginning. We see in the Bible, Timothy, who looks to St Paul for guidance and St. Phillip who guides the Ethiopian. Even among the saints, we see a rich tradition of spiritual directors and directees, who journeyed along the path of holiness. From St. Augustine who looked to St Ambrose, St Peter Alcantara who guided St Teresa of Avila and, St. Jane Frances de Chantal who was guided by St. Francis de Sales. In fact, saints like Teresa of Avila, wrote extensively on the subject of spiritual directors and how one can pick them.
To an outsider who has never heard of Spiritual direction, it may be a strange concept to grasp in modern times, where all forms of counseling, therapy, and coaching are widely prevalent. It may even prompt people to ask why one might find a need for spiritual direction, if one is already availing therapyor other forms of counseling. Now, while there is a definite role and space for coaches and therapists, it is important to distinguish that spiritual direction has a completely different aim in mind than therapy or counseling. The goal of spiritual direction is to unite the person, with the will of God and to help them grow in communion with those that surround them
Of course, there is a place for therapy and counseling apart from spiritual direction. For those who experience a genuine need in their lives for advice and help from an experienced counseling professional, psychologist or psychiatric help, this is the apt venue to go through. Psychology, counseling, and psychiatry can help you process through problem areas, and allows you to build a better quality of life.
Counseling focuses on specific issues, is short-term and is designed to help a person address a particular problem; for example an addiction or stress management. The focus maybe on problem solving or on learning specific techniques for coping with or avoiding problem areas. Psychotherapy is more long-term than counseling and focuses on a broader range of issues. The underlying principle is that an individual’s pattern of thinking and behavior affect the way that person interacts with the world. Depending on the specific type of psychotherapy that is being used, the goal is to help people feel better equipped to manage stress, understand patterns in their behavior that may interfere with reaching personal goals, have more satisfying relationships, and better regulate their thinking and emotional responses to stressful situations
A psychiatrist is a medical doctor (M.D. or D.O.) who specializes in preventing, diagnosing, and treating mental illness. They are trained to differentiate mental health problems from other underlying medical conditions that could present with psychiatric symptoms. If you are working with a psychiatrist, a lot of the treatment may be focused on medication management. Licensed psychologists are qualified to do counseling and psychotherapy, perform psychological testing, and provide treatment for mental disorders. A mental health counselor is qualified to evaluate and treat mental problems by providing counseling or psychotherapy.
Physical and mental health are just two parts of a person as a whole. As Christians, we recognize that we are made for a life beyond matter and life itself- a life made for the eternal reality of spiritual union with God. Of course, as beings made for communion, our mental and spiritual health are vital to not just living our own lives to the best of our abilities. We also need to be physically and mentally healthy, to be fully able to live for and love the neighbor, whom we have been commended to love by Christ himself. While good mental and physical health enables you to live life well, it would be a moot point, if that life were also not directed towards where we are all heading – to eternity. This is precisely what spiritual direction focuses on achieving well. This is also why spiritual direction is not replaced by mere mental health counseling alone.
We live in a culture obsessed with exercise, therapy, and self improvement. It may be valuable to contemplate the ultimate point to all this self improvement though, since it may not matter much to be the Christian bionic man/ woman, if she in turn fails to enter into heaven. Spiritual Direction is the perfect way to focus in on how to get to heaven, in the most effective way and be coached along the process. This is what the saints were attempting to do, through being guided and leading others through the pitfalls and highs of the spiritual journey.
We should clarify that in the spiritual life, none of us are masters or students, we’re all on a level playing field. Because each of our calls are so unique, it is difficult to directly map someone else’s spiritual path, onto your own journey exactly. This is why it takes some on the outside, who sees the things we cannot see and patterns we don’t recognize, and also someone who knows us and our story personally, to show us where our own unique strengths and weaknesses lie.
The point of spiritual direction is not to cheer lead alone or, to punish with criticism either, it is allowing the directee to become self aware and thus better armored to enter the arena of spiritual battle. So that in the moments where we are all alone and face a temptation, we can recognize the pattern of our responses and thoughts, and be better prepared with the answers to fight our concupiscence and act virtuously. We all need an objective eye and a brother/ sister who can lovingly walk the path with us and, help us grow in our sainthoods. And if it was good enough for the saints, it’s good enough for me.