Friday, April 4, 2014

Counseling and Spiritual Direction

Counseling, a topic of great interest in Korea and the focus of a recent article in the Kyeongyang magazine,  discussed the differences  between counseling and spiritual direction, and the benefits of each. Even in Catholicism the interest in counseling has grown so that it's not uncommon for parish bulletins to list locations where these services can be found.

In  counseling, also known as psychotherapy, deeply troubling problems that people find difficult to solve by themselves will often be solved, or at least mitigated, by seeking the help of a counselor. In spiritual direction the aim is to help the Christian to grow in their spirituality; they are both interested in the growth of the client. They are similar in that one person is trying to help another, but both methods have different ways of dealing with the clients.

The basic difference, according to the magazine article, is that in therapy the person is the center; in spiritual direction God is at the center. The motivation of the counselor  and the spiritual director is also different. In therapy the effort is made to solve the problems faced by the client, to enable them to adapt to their daily life while the believer in spiritual direction is trying to find out what the will of God is for them and what is the  spiritual meaning of their lives. They are looking for ways to discern how God exists and becomes present in their daily lives. From the time of the Desert Fathers to the Middle Ages spiritual directors have had exemplary teachers to follow.        

There is  a difference also in the therapeutic counseling received from a Christian therapist. In the past, says the priest-writer, the counselor would avoid getting into the spiritual, but this has changed precisely because the  person is made up of body, mind and soul.

Those who come for spiritual direction, unlike those looking for therapy, are not having difficulty with problems in their lives. This doesn't mean they don't have problems, but they are not there for that reason, but to have a different relationship with God. In spiritual direction the relationship with God is all important; they feel when they do not have that close relationship with God the soul will be sick.

Those who are counseling in spirituality without requisite knowledge of the spiritual life will find it  difficult, for it is not the  area of their concern. The therapist who considers that human  autonomy is the sign of maturity will be working with their  psychological theories; those who have been trained in spirituality go beyond human autonomy, believing that being dependent on God is not a negative, but this can be overlooked by the therapist. Those that have the training in both spirituality and therapy will not be making this mistake.

Many therapists say that people with a good foundation in religious faith are greatly helped to live meaningful lives.  Those with a strong faith life also find it much easier to be helped by therapy than those with weak faith or none at all. Which means that the therapist should take this into account when working with clients with a faith life.

When the therapist takes no account of the person's spiritual life the result will be diminished, and the counseling will frequently be terminated suddenly.  The therapist with a knowledge of spirituality, however, will have an easier time solving problems, regardless of their origin, when he is approached by those with a genuine interest in being helped.   

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