Not a Second-Rate Approach

When I decided to explore the art of spiritual direction as a way to bring a spiritual formation focus to congregations, I knew the place to start was to enroll in a spiritual direction training program.

There were plenty of options. (You can check them out yourself at Spiritual Directors International’s Formation and Training Programs page.)

Most of them started from a Christian perspective. But I was looking for something a little more interfaith. I finally decided on the Interspiritual Counseling program at One Spirit Learning Alliance in New York.© Crossstudio | Dreamstime.com - Group Therapy Photo

Most of the instructors in the program are interfaith ministers with backgrounds in therapy and counseling. So it wasn’t too surprising that our basic texts were not religious but psychological.

The two main books were both written by Gerald and Marianne Schneider Corey: Issues and Ethics in the Helping Professions, and Groups: Process and Practice. It was in the second of these two books that I found something that would profoundly influence my approach to spiritual direction.

You see before my exposure to Groups: Process and Practice by Corey and Corey, I had assumed that individual spiritual direction was preferable to group spiritual direction. (I had assumed the same thing about counseling, too.)

But here’s what Corey and Corey had to say about that:

Group psychotherapy is as effective as individual therapy in treating a range of psychological problems…. Groups are the treatment of choice, not a second-rate approach to helping people change.

It had never occurred to me that group spiritual direction is preferable to individual spiritual direction. But if professional counselors thought group therapy was preferable to individual therapy, why wouldn’t the same hold true for spiritual direction.

Since then I’ve found a boatload of reasons why group spiritual direction is the way to go. Here are three that I’ve adapted from Nancy Wesson:

  1. With group spiritual direction, the alliance is with the group, not just the spiritual director.
  2. Interpersonal feedback from a group of peers can be more powerful that feedback from a single person.
  3. In group spiritual direction, participants take on more than one role: rather than simply sharing, they are sharing and responding to others.

The final point lines up nicely with an exclusively ecclesial reason for preferring group spiritual direction over individual spiritual direction—the growing desire for “participatory church.”

In An Open Place: The Ministry of Group Spiritual Direction, by Marlene Kropf and Daniel P. Schrock (one of the primary texts for the Clergy Seminar Series in Congregation-Based Spiritual Direction, by the way), Schrock says that “group [spiritual] direction enhances a worldwide movement toward more participatory forms of church.”

Just as congregations have been moving toward more participation in things like worship (think of how the Worship Associate model for planning services is more or less the status quo now), they are also moving toward more participatory ways of nurturing spirituality.

“Given the trend toward more participatory forms of church life,” Schrock says, “group direction represents a natural evolution in the ministry of spiritual direction.”

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