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October 28, 2011

11 Questions to Ask A Prospective Spiritual Director

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You've heard about spiritual direction, and learned as much as you can about it. You're ready to begin the process of finding a spiritual director to accompany you as you walk with God. As I tell those with whom I'm exploring a spiritual direction relationship, it's important to ask all the questions that you want in order to get to know your prospective director. Sometimes, though, it's hard to know where to start, so here's a list of 11 questions that might be helpful to ask during your first session with a prospective spiritual director.

1. What kind of training did you undertake to become a spiritual director?

This question helps you understand the background and training of your director. You may be more comfortable with a director who has gone through an accredited program, or a supervised practicum in spiritual direction. On the other hand, someone who has been giving direction for a long time but may not have gone through a formal program. What is most importnat to you?

2. How long have you been giving spiritual direction?

You can ask this question in terms of years, or in terms of hours. Some directors may have been giving direction for years, but have only had one or two directees during that time. Others may not have been giving direction for as long, but have a number of directees, meaning that they have a greater total hours of experience. While the numbers themselves may not be important to you, understanding the level of direct experience your director has in the practice of direction is helpful to know.

3. Do you have a spiritual director?

Someone who practices spiritual direction definitely understands the value of having a spiritual director as they journey with God. I believe that spiritual directors should, where possible, be in direction themselves as they care for their own spiritual lives.

4. Do you have a supervisor or a peer group?

This is an extremely important question to ask. One of the ways that a spiritual director cares for you and tends your soul is to actively seek accountability and supervision of peers or those in spiritual authority. This process helps your director grow and allows them to seek consultation and wisdom.

5. Are you part of any professional spiritual direction associations? Do you hold to a formal code of ethics from any of these?

There are numerous spiritual direction associations that have a formal code of ethics for spiritual direction. Whether your director is part of these associations is something that can help you decide on the right director for you. More often, directors who have a private practice or are only loosely associated with a church will be part of these associations. Sometimes directors who are part of a monastery have enough accountability within their order that they feel other associations are unneccesary.  

6. What's your guiding image of spiritual direction?

Each director holds one or more images of what the spiritual direction relationship is to him or her. Whether this is as a companion, mentor, guide, friend or any other image, knowing what guides them in their practice of direction will help you know if this director fits well with your desires for the spiritual direction relationship.

7. What has your journey with God been like?

Some people might feel that this is too personal a question to ask a spiritual director; however, this is someone with whom you'll be sharing one of the most intimate areas of your life—your spiritual journey. Feel free to ask them about their journey wtih God. Not only will this help establish relationship, you'll learn a lot about your director's background, assumptions about God, and spiritual history.

8. What is your experience tending your own life of prayer, contemplation and meditation?

Again, this seems like a deeply personal question, but it's one that your director will be asking you on a regular basis. Learning more about your director's practices will help you understand if this person is a good match for you.

9. What kind of on-going education or enrichment in spiritual direction are you undertaking?

The spiritual journey is never static—neither is the practice of spiritual direction. It's important to know what your director is doing to continue learning and growing, placing him or herself under a teacher to grow in the practice of spiritual direction.

10. What kind of covenant or agreement will we establish between us in the on-going spiritual direction relationship?

While some directors prefer an informal, spoken covenant (including, necessarily, confidentiality), I personally prefer a written agreement that both the director and directee sign in order to establish roles, responsiblities and appropriate boundaries. This can sometimes seem like "just paperwork" but a formal agreement help you to feel safe and protected within the direction relationship. This agreement also helps you to understand the spiritual perspective that your director will be operating from. As a Christian spiritual director, I welcome people from other faiths or those who are seeking God in my spiritual direction practice; that said, my agreement document states that I practice from a Christian perspective and will be talking about Jesus. It also clarifies that I'm comfortable with Christians from all denominations, and I make space for differing theological viewpoints and understandings without needing to change them. Ask yourself how important it is for you to have a Catholic director if you are Catholic, or a Protestant director if you are Protestant. Would an Orthodox director be okay for you, even if you're Jewish? Coming to the initial session with these questions answered will help you make the right decision for you.

11. Do you charge for spiritual direction? If so, how much?

This last question sometimes gets taken for granted. Some spiritual directors wouldn't think of charging for direction, and others have established a private practice in which they charge a specific amount per session or per hour. Other directors charge on a sliding scale of donation. If payment is a hardship, speak candidly with a potential spiritual director about that. In some cases, even paying a minimal amount toward direction helps you to understand the investment in your spiritual growth that meeting with a spiritual director is, and creates value in dedicating the time to that endeavor.

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Was this list helpful to you?

Are there other questions that you think should be asked in the initial spiritual direction appointment? What might they be?