Observations on Spiritual Direction and Pastoral Counseling

Ref: Galindo, Israel, “Spiritual Direction and Pastoral Counseling,” in Spiritual Direction and the Care of Souls, edited by David G. Benner and Gary W. Moon, 205 – 218. Downer’s Grove: Intervarsity Press, 2004.

Although spiritual direction and pastoral counseling differ in focus, each discipline can benefit from the other. In his essay on “Spiritual Direction and Pastoral Counseling,” Israel Galindo, an author and professor of Christian Education, writes to people who are interested in how different traditions of Christianity approach spiritual direction. His essay discusses similarities and differences between Spiritual Direction and Pastoral Counseling. Foundationally, both disciplines address the needs of the spirit (216) but spiritual direction focuses more on “mutual accountability of directee and director,” the role of the church in the directee’s life, faith orientation and the “legitimacy of conversion experiences,” and the work of the Spirit in the directee’s life (217). The goal of pastoral counseling “is to isolate the problem and remove it” (214).

Though different in focus, the disciplines have commonalities. In both disciplines knowledge of psychology is needed to help a person “come to terms with aspects of the past that hinder growth … or make engaging in mature relationships problematic” (208). Personal history can help us understand a person’s views of God and why walls are erected in the heart. For instance, when I was a child, one of my parents was very critical. This translated into my view of God and made me think that I could never please God. A spiritual director who has knowledge of psychology would have helped me realize the problem and then would have helped me experience the love of God through prayer and spiritual reading. When problems arise, a director and directee can use these experiences to examine the directee’s faith, discern his or her relationships and achieve self-understanding (212).

There has to be a balance between psychology and spiritual direction. One should not rely too heavily on psychology, but one should also take care not to over spiritualize issues. Bad things do not necessarily happen to people because of personal sin. A woman suffering from menopause is having problems because of a physical change in her body. She may not understand this because of the chemicals clouding her brain, but if she is with a spiritual director who knows about “all dimensions of the person’s life structure, body, psyche and spirit” (207), the director can help the woman understand what she is going through and suggest that she see a doctor. A spiritual director with experience in life as Jeannette Bakke suggests, who has faced life’s challenges with honesty, and has an understanding of psychology and spiritual matters is invaluable to a directee.

Galindo writes that people are seeking spiritual direction more because they feel a need for personal growth, want to develop a Christian worldview, and feel that psychology often dismisses spirituality (205 – 206). But are people ready for spiritual direction? Westerners often want quick results. Are people willing to submit themselves to the time consuming direction process? If one feels God’s call to spiritual direction, he or she may need to practice the disciplines of simplicity and solitude in order to obey. It would certainly be worthwhile. W.C. 503.