As a spiritual director, I get this question all the time.

My go-to response is to say that counseling (or therapy) is where we go when we’re in “crisis mode” but that spiritual direction is meant to be an ongoing part of our lives.

By way of example, I’ve seen counselors or therapists at several key points in my journey:

  • To process the eye-opening “Who am I, and how did I become this person?” questions every 19-year-old asks
  • To try to save my first marriage
  • To heal from the dissolution of my first marriage
  • To process and heal from an abuse incident that happened in my teen years

Each of those therapy experiences were focused on a key presenting issue and had a starting and ending point. God was present there, yes, and even came up in conversation often, but there was a primary reason I was there: to get help with a specific area of life presenting itself as a crisis.

Conversely, I’ve been meeting with my current spiritual director every month for nearly five years and have every intention of continuing to see her as long as she’ll have me — and to continue spiritual direction as a part of my monthly routine the rest of my life. (Speaking of which, I know some people who have seen the same spiritual director for 20 years — how incredible is that?)

Meeting every month for years on end with someone who has a listening charism is nothing short of a great and incredible gift. This person, over time, learns the landscape of your journey and the tenor of your relationship with God. They bear witness. They help you remember. They help you see. They hold sacred space as you engage with God. It is truly spiritual companionship.

As one friend put it recently, therapy is like the chemo that beats a specific area, while spiritual direction is like the regular wellness checkups we need for day-to-day health.

Is this clarification helpful? Do you have additional questions? Are there ways you’ve personally experienced the difference between counseling and spiritual direction?

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Christianne Squires, M.A., is a writer and spiritual director who lives in Winter Park, FL, with her husband and their two cats. Called to work at the intersection of spiritual formation and digital connectivity, she maintains Still Forming, a website offering contemplative reflection and online spiritual direction to seekers around the world. In 2013, she was named a New Contemplative by Spiritual Directors International.

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