The First Session, Part 1

So, what does the first session of brief spiritual direction look like?

Once you’ve got an answer to the question posed at the end of my previous post (“How do you hope your relationship with God or others will be different as a result of spiritual direction?”), Duane Bidwell says the “first session tends to unfold in six overlapping stages: a social stage, a transition stage, a storytelling stage, a goal-setting stage, a reflection stage, and a housekeeping stage.”

The Stages of the First Session of Brief Spiritual Direction

Social (10 minutes)First Session


  • Establish a relationship.
  • Share personal information.
  • Become comfortable talking with each other.

Transition (5 minutes)


  • Move from socializing to focusing on the directee’s spiritual life.
  • Begin with a prayer or silence, if the directee wishes.
  • Introduce the storytelling stage.

Storytelling (20 minutes)


  • Allow the directee to tell what seems important about his or her spiritual life.
  • Gather specific information about the directee’s prayer life.
  • Begin to identify the directee’s primary ways of communicating with God.
  • Begin to identify the hopes, dreams, and changes to be addressed.

Goal Setting (5 minutes)


  • Identify primary and secondary goals for the process of spiritual direction.
  • Clarify the director’s understanding of the directee’s goals.

Reflection (15 minutes)


  • Highlight the strengths of the directee’s spiritual life.
  • Name the ways in which God is acting in the directee’s life.
  • Choose an appropriate response to God’s presence and action.
  • Identify resources for addressing the goals of spiritual direction.

Covenanting (5 minutes)


  • Review the work attended to in the first session.
  • Decide whether future sessions are necessary.
  • Make a covenant about future sessions.
  • Clarify expectations for the direction relationship.
  • Close the session with prayer.

These stages make a lot of sense if you keep in mind Bidwell’s “dual focus” of spiritual direction (short- or long-term): “identifying God’s action and discerning an appropriate response.”

Once the relationship has been established (which truly does take 10 minutes or so since the pastor is likely to already have a relationship with the directee), the primary task is, indeed, identifying how the spirit is moving in a person’s life.

Bidwell offers two questions from William Barry and William Connolly (authors of The Practice of Spiritual Direction, one of the classic works on spiritual direction) to get the ball rolling:

“Can you describe the ways in which you listen to God when you pray?”

“When you do listen to God, what do you typically share (or what do you imagine sharing) with God about what you’ve heard?”

Of course, not everyone is comfortable with the idea of listening to God when praying. But even if we don’t use the word prayer, many of us still try to find some time to get in touch with that “voice still and small.”

Bidwell’s plan for the first brief spiritual direction session makes sure that the director hears what the directee has heard, as well as get some idea of how the directee has considered responding to it.

Once there’s some understanding of how the directee perceives the spirit moving in their life and their initial response, it’s time to consider what living into their response might look like.


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