Which Method of Spiritual Direction is Best?

Dear Fr. Bartunek,
I am in the process of looking for a new spiritual director. While meeting with a prospective director the priest explained that he approaches direction from a “contemplative” approach and explained this to me after I asked about it. My sense is that he is generally asking me about my prayer life and relationship with God in prayer and living. Apparently there are other “approaches” or methods used in spiritual direction as well? I was trying to do research on this subject (including your site) but have not been successful finding much of anything. It seems there may be at least 2 other approaches: evocative (asking questions that are more specific or direct during direction) and didactic (sounds a lot like “catechesis” or teaching the faith). In trying to understand the 3 approaches I may be more confused now. Would you explain the different approaches or methods of spiritual direction? Do I have all of them identified? Are all or some of them appropriate to use? Are they totally separate approaches or can/should they
be used in combination? If all are viable to use, are there any pros and cons of using each approach?

I hope my question makes sense! I truly appreciate your time and consideration.

In Christ Jesus, Deacon S.


Dear Deacon S, pax Christi:

Merely asking this question shows that you are sincerely seeking to go deeper in your relationship with God. Let’s both give thanks to the Lord for giving you the desire to do that, and for giving you the courage to act on that desire.

Innumerable Approaches

There are as many kinds of spiritual direction as there are spiritual directors. And there are as many “schools” of spiritual direction as there are families of spirituality within the Church. So I can understand why you feel that your own research may have left you more confused than you were when you started. I have never run across the tripartite division of spiritual direction approaches that you outline in your question: contemplative, evocative, and catechetical. Even in your description of them, it’s pretty clear that they can overlap considerably.

Some Spiritual Direction Basics

Trying to identify and define different approaches may not help you make the best use of your spiritual direction. Rather, I would suggest going back to some principles. Start with the goal of any authentic spiritual direction, which is to help someone hear and heed the voice of God in their life:

  • What is God doing in my life?
  • What is he giving me?
  • What is he asking me?
  • How am I responding?
  • How can I respond better?…

These are the core questions that we come back to over and over in spiritual direction.

In different seasons of our lives, we may focus more on key relationships (spouse, children, coworkers) as arenas where God is teaching us something or nudging us to grow in Christ-like love. In all seasons, we will reflect on how our prayer life is going. Some spiritual directors will suggest a clear structure of topics to go over
in every spiritual direction, others will let the person being directed bring up what’s on their mind and heart and go from there. All spiritual directors should know how to ask good questions in order to get a clear picture of what is really going on, and in order to stimulate fruitful reflection on the part of the person receiving direction. The spiritual director comments on what comes up, shedding God’s light on situations and opportunities so as to help the person interpret them correctly. At times, in a moral or intellectual quandary, a spiritual director may need to review doctrinal points or instruct the directee regarding doctrine.

All those characteristics will have to be present in any healthy spiritual direction relationship, whether the director comes from a Carmelite spirituality or a Franciscan spirituality, or whether the director received training in a “contemplative” approach, a non-directive (what you refer to as evocative) approach, a “catechetical” approach, or any other approach.

Going with the Flow

Instead of trying to understand completely a specific approach, I would recommend that you live your spiritual direction humbly and simply, taking advantage of your conversations as a way to help hear and heed God’s voice in your life. If your spiritual director is trustworthy, available, and a good listener (you feel like there is a connection between you), then you can be assured that God will work through this means for spiritual growth. Just remember that our spiritual director is not in charge of our spiritual life. God is. And so we don’t need to wait until we find a “perfect” spiritual director before we can make wise use of spiritual direction. Likewise, spiritual direction isn’t the only means for spiritual growth at your disposal, so don’t fall into the trap of thinking that unless you are 100% satisfied with your spiritual director, you can’t make any spiritual progress.

Thanks for sending in this question. I hope my reflections are somewhat useful. I will say a prayer for you and your spiritual director. God bless you!


Image courtesy of Unsplash.

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