How to find a spiritual director

Sparked by a suggestion from yesterday’s comments, I remembered that I’ve been meaning to write this post for a long time since it’s something I’m asked about frequently.

First of all, I can’t encourage you strongly enough to prayerfully consider getting a spiritual director. I’ve been meeting with mine regularly since this past summer, and have found it tremendously helpful to have someone specially trained in this area to help me grow in faith. In fact, many if not most of the major spiritual lessons I learned last year were the direct result of conversations with my spiritual director.

I contacted the religious brother in charge of spiritual direction for our diocese and asked him some questions that might be helpful to anyone considering getting a spiritual director:

How do you find a spiritual director?

Start by either asking your priest if he has any recommendations or calling your diocese’s main office and asking for references from them. Most priests would have some good references (that’s how I found my spiritual director), and many diocese have someone who keeps a master list of everyone in the area who has received training to be a spiritual director. It is highly recommended to find someone who has received formal training in this area (I believe most of them go through a two-year program). Also, if you happen to live near a place that offers spiritual retreats (many monasteries do, and some diocese have their own retreat houses) there would almost certainly be a spiritual director there.

Unfortunately I’m not familiar with the spiritual direction system in other denominations, but…

Do Catholic spiritual directors only meet with Catholics?

Not necessarily. Christians of any denomination are welcome to get in touch with Catholic spiritual directors; it would be up to the individuals involved to discern if they felt like it would be a good fit. There’s no “rule” that one has to be Catholic to meet with a Catholic spiritual director.

How do you find someone who’s a good fit for you?

It’s perfectly acceptable to meet with more than one spiritual director until you find someone with whom you click. It’s important to find someone whom you feel very comfortable with since you’ll be discussing important issues with them.

I did have to meet with more than one person before I found someone who was a good fit. After meeting with the first person, I had a rather lukewarm feeling and wasn’t particularly excited about the idea of scheduling another meeting. But after one meeting with my current spiritual director the peace of the Holy Spirit was palpable and I could not wait until our next meeting — that’s how I knew she was the right person for me.

Do they charge a fee?

Almost never. From what I understand it’s not technically forbidden that they charge a fee, but I’ve never heard of one doing so.

How often do you meet with them?

That’s up to you and your spiritual director to decide. I try to meet with mine once a month.

How can those of us with lots of little ones make it happen?

It’s definitely harder for those of us with children to arrange spiritual direction meetings, but I think that sometimes it’s people in our phase of life who could benefit from the guidance of a spiritual director the most. If you don’t have help with childcare, consider turning to another Christian mom and asking her if you could barter some babysitting duties with her so that you could make this happen (after all, you wouldn’t mind doing it for one of your friends, right?) Or, depending on the ages of your children and the location you meet, you may even be able to bring them.

Also, you may want to consider just telling the spiritual director you contact your problem with finding childcare and asking him or her for suggestions. They might be able to work with you to meet at a time and place that would work within your constraints.

Bottom line: I strongly encourage you not to let a lack of childcare dissuade you from seeking a spiritual director. I’m sure that if you pray for God to show you a way that you can make this happen he will show you a path that works for you. Again, I think that it is often we busy moms who could most benefit from regular spiritual direction.

What do you talk to a spiritual director about?

A general answer would be “how to grow in holiness.” You might talk to them about discerning where God is leading you in a specific area of your life, how to have a more fruitful prayer life, how to cope with spiritual dry spells, how to resolve a moral dilemma that’s causing you stress, etc. Spiritual directors don’t give you orders to tell you what to do, but rather offer gentle suggestions, insights and things to consider in order for you to make your own decisions.

To give you some real-world examples, some questions I might ask my spiritual director would be:

  • “I used to love praying and received great consolation from it, but now my prayers are really dry and I have to force myself to do it. Sometimes it even feels like I’m talking to myself. Is this normal? Is there anything I can do about it?”
  • “I find myself constantly plagued with unnecessary, irrational worry about issue X. How can I overcome that and better trust in God?”
  • “In prayer a while back I got the idea that I need to stop being such a perfectionist about parenting, that I need to relax and stop trying to do so much. But now I’m wondering if that was the voice of the Holy Spirit or the voice of my inner laziness. How can I better discern what God is telling me in that area of my life?”

A final note

From my own experience, finding a spiritual director was a bit of work. It’s definitely awkward (for people like me, anyway) to start calling around and setting up meetings with people you don’t even know. That was a big mental block I had to overcome. Then I was bound and determined that I wanted a priest or a religious brother or sister as a spiritual director. When my priest gave me the phone number of a local laywoman who is trained in spiritual direction and strongly urged me to consider her, I didn’t plan to call — I was that sure that I didn’t want a layperson. But then something nagged at me about it, and I decided to just set up one meeting to see how it went. As it turns out, she could not have been a better fit for me, and I am thrilled to have her as my spiritual director.

So to summarize the lessons I learned from my own experience: just pray, pray, pray for God to lead you to the right person; be open to the promptings of the Holy Spirit, even if he leads you in a direction you didn’t expect; and be willing to put in a little effort — it will pay off in a big way when you finally find the right person!

I hope that helps!

New here? Come say hi on Twitter at @jenfulwiler!



Enter the Conversation...

38 Responses to “How to find a spiritual director”
  1. Jenny says:

    Thank you for posting this. I had started along this path, but it is hard for me as well to make all those calls. I will put a fresh foot forward and try again.

  2. Adoro says:

    Unfortunately, as most priests and other spiritual directors will tell you…there is a HUGE demand for spiritual direction and not enough directors to go around.

    Many priests aren’t comfortable in doing spiritual direction and aren’t trained for it. They might be willing to meet with someone once, or a few times with regard to some issue in their life, but that’s it. And that’s all some people need.

    I’ve been looking for YEARS for spiritual direction, asking around, making calls, asking for referrals…I can’t even get anyone to MEET with me, although they’ve been very nice and understand the necessity for vocational discernment.

    Many priests are of the perspective that the only people who need REGULAR spiritual direction are those who are making a big life change or are facing some crisis in their lives…and people trying to discern where God is calling them vocationally.

    So yes, go ahead and seek direction, and for those who are blessed with one…realize what a blessing it is and don’t take it for granted. You’re one of the few.

    • jenni says:

      Spiritual Directors International is a wonderful resource. Their web site, http://sdiworld.org, includes a directory of member directors around the world.

      I’m in Michigan and here it is the norm to expect a donation with each meeting. I’ve heard $35-45 per hour session.

      Thank you for covering such a great topic.

  3. Dawn says:

    Thank you for this succint and beautiful phrase, it’s exactly how I’ve felt about knowing the Holy Spirit:

    “the peace of the Holy Spirit was palpable”

  4. Pam H. says:

    The programs our diocese had in the past for training spiritual directors were pretty flaky, and I would be afraid to go to anyone who’d been to those classes.

    I found a good seminarian who was older (about 10 years older than me – he was 45 at the time), faithful and orthodox, who had read the saints, esp. St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross even more extensively than I had. I went to him for about 10 years.
    Now he’s gone to Tijuana.

    I can’t imagine going to anyone else I know, and all the referrals I’ve tried (for years now) have not gone well. What Adoro said, and more. I guess I just keep waiting?

  5. Jennifer @ Conversion Diary says:

    Adoro – wow, that’s really tough!

    there is a HUGE demand for spiritual direction and not enough directors to go around…

    I think this varies widely by diocese. In mine, for example, I was able to get a list of five or six available spiritual directors — and the two I ended up meeting with weren’t even on the list. Weird.

    Anyway, sorry to hear of your troubles finding a spiritual director!

  6. Tess says:

    Thank you for this post! Especially after the recent conversations about dry spells and Dark Nights,I believe it’s very important for people to realise that spiritual direction exists, and how beneficial it is for the development of a soul. I’m also glad you stressed the importance a director be someone with training. Well done!

  7. SearchingWellness says:

    Having a spiritual director is most indispensable to our struggles. I have been going to one since college and I continue to see a director now that I am a mom and a professional. I find that the the priests of the priestly society of the Holy Cross and opus dei take it to heart when they are asked to be spiritual directors and confessors.

  8. Maria says:

    Thanks for reminding me that I’ve been meaning to find a director (with more or less urgency) for a couple of years now. Time to push it up to the front burner! Your guidelines are really helpful.

  9. Colleen says:

    Very good post. I am a laywoman and a certified spiritual director. I was called to the ministry first and started doing spiritual direction under the supervision of my own spiritual director. I went to training after about a year in order to get the “credentials.” Spiritual direction is a charism. “God doesn’t call the qualified, He qualifies the called.” A spiritual director needs to always remember that the Holy Spirit is the real Spiritual Director.
    I know receiving spiritual direction changed my life. My spiritual director made a huge difference in my life and in my relationship with God.
    There are too few spiritual directors. Let us pray for more to be called to this important and needed ministry. Sorry for rambling on. It is a favorite subject of mine. God bless.

  10. wulfine says:

    I recently asked the parish priest here the following question:

    I feel very alone here … I know that God never leaves us … but, Father why this horrible ache, this empty, lonely feeling?

    He responded by telling me he had no time to spend with me to discuss what I needed to get off my chest b/c he had to go on a holiday.

    So … when those to whom you turn have no time for you, I suppose then’s as good a time as any to turn to the Bible. What better spiritual director?

    wrt to your mention of ‘i need to relax and not do too much’ … it makes me think if the story of martha and mary (Luke 10:38-42). martha was so busy fussing with the minutia of things, while mary just took the time to be with Jesus. perhaps the answer to your question lies there … just a thought.

  11. LarryD says:

    I’ve been meeting with my spiritual director 7-8 times a year – a “wise beyond his years” younger parish priest who has been indispensible in helping me ‘stay on the narrow path’. I thank God for putting him in my path at a time in my life when I really needed the guiding hand.

  12. Beth/Mom2TwoVikings says:

    I wish my denomination stressed this. We encourage discipleship but it’s more walk-along-side accountability rather than a mentor. ANd, being home with tow little ones, I would really like to do this!

  13. Christine says:

    I am very grateful for my spiritual director’s acompany. Knowing there’s a place where I can speak freely, where I give myself space and where I can simply be, is calming me down very often. Even if we don’t meet.

    First of all it’s encountering myself and that is keeping me kind of “sane”.

    And I would say so, too: The Holy Spirit is very helpful finding a spiritual director.

  14. SearchingWellness says:

    Right on, Colleen. One doesn’t have to be a religious or priest to be a director. :)

  15. Tami says:

    Nice article, Jennifer. I’ve enjoyed your writing for many months now.

    Spiritual direction programs can vary ~widely~ in quality and orthodoxy. There is no ‘national standard’ to which they must adhere. I have found that a good spiritual director can be someone with a solid pastoral nature who knows how to listen to the Holy Spirit, whether they have the classroom training in SD or not. That said, I would always prefer a priest so that I could go to confession as part of my direction. I’ve had seasons in my life where I’ve received solid direction just by seeing the same priest once a month in the confessional. Focused on the sacrament (and the line outside LOL) I was able to be concise and a ‘counseling’ atmoshere was avoided. The Lord really used it. Very powerful, indeed.

    And there are many that do charge – lay people as well as religious. It is one way in which they support themselves (esp. the religious orders). The Franciscan monastery I went to had a set fee ($25) per session, this even after sharing with father that part of my need was finding God in the midst of my husband’s extended unemployment. Go figure. : / But still, like you, I highly recommend it. : )

  16. Amber says:

    Another possible solution for the childcare issue is to meet over the phone. I talk to my spiritual director once a week for about 10-15 minutes, and we meet monthly for confession and a little bit longer chat. We generally do this after morning Mass and some of the people I know watch my older kids.

    I’d prefer to always meet in person because I don’t particularly like the phone, but this has been good for me in conquering my phone phobia. Like my spiritual director says, “there is nothing that God can’t use as a good for our salvation.”

    I stumbled into my situation, but I knew it was something I needed. It has been a huge blessing for me.

  17. Colleen says:

    I enjoy your blog. I have left a gift for you on my site!

  18. simplycatholic.net says:

    Such fantstic information, thank you.

  19. Sarah says:

    Fascinating occupation.

    I have before looked into this line of “work”.

  20. Blair says:

    I just found a blog last night:
    Catholic Spiritual Direction–
    http://rcspiritualdirection.blogspot.com/
    The blog is run by a Regnum Christi member with most posts written by a Legionary priest. It’s a very helpful website for all things relating to spiritual direction and a Christian prayer life with links to many books and resources.

    Another thing to keep in mind is that many lay movements offer regular spiritual direction to their members, and sometimes even to those who aren’t members but are interested in their spirituality.

    My own spiritual “guide” (she’s a lay Regnum Christi member, not a priest) is a grandmother who is trained in spiritual direction. We usually meet at McDonald’s while my kids play! Or sometimes we meet over the phone when necessary. Her guidance is invaluable.

    I remember having a hard time finding a spiritual director in college. Most of them were interested in meeting with young men interested in the priesthood, but not young ladies just whining about their prayer life and trouble with men! LOL!

  21. Philangelus says:

    My parish priest said I needed a spiritual director and he’d find me one. He never did. So much for that.

    A while ago, I had a spiritual director who could. not. understand. that as a mom with a high-needs toddler I couldn’t manage to work in half an hour to an hour a day of centering prayer. Trust me — I’d have loved to. I even tried. But what a burden to lay on someone who was trying to do the right thing! Of course I couldn’t succeed. After a while, I just never went back, and he never called to find out why.

    I’m near a retreat house here. I’ve been meaning to get there and see if they offer any spiritual direction, but I’m worried about getting another bad one. If St. Teresa of Avila and St. Faustina had such troubles finding good direction, what hope is there for someone like me who is ten times more spiritually in need?

  22. Marina says:

    hi, I have been reading your post for a while and have really enjoy it. I am not much of a writer but i do have a small blog nothing big.
    anyway I have been a catholic/Christan all of my life but the last 26 years I have taken more bible studies and I have found that in my walk there are many seasons of dry spell but don’t be discourage everything you go through is for a reason sometimes we fine are selves in the valley or in the pit..of our walk and then ..other times on the mountain top but its in the desert that we develop wisdom and character.. God
    is shaping and calling you out to what he has made you for our ability too see these is very limited but keep pressing through your desert sometimes it testing our faith how much we really trust our Lord? we must learn to trust him in everything especially the things we can’t see. The Lord is always teaching us something stay in his word read it medicated upon it ,examine it, learn your scriptures may you
    carry the word of God lock in your hear and

    sweet upon you lips as King
    David says what a wise man he was “”love the O God you are my God, earnestly I seek you,my soul thrist for you,in a dry and weary land where ther is no water. ( God is teaching us he is our water) stay bless, marina

  23. Maria says:

    Just another thought. The parish priest that served the mothers’ group at my parish really stressed that in a marriage, ideally the spouses should be each other’s primary spiritual advisors. Essentially, spouses are supposed to be each other’s path to Heaven. He didn’t discourage seeing outside spiritual direction, but did warn us to be careful of pitfalls in doing so, i.e., saving spiritual struggles and discussions for the spiritual director instead of having them with your spouse, putting more weight on the opinion of a spirtual director than that of your spouse, or any other outcome that would possibly distance the spouses. One suggestion he made was to go to spiritual direction as a couple or at least see the same spiritual director, maybe even talking to him/her individually and then as a couple.

    Personally, I found this to be sage advice, especially for women. Often times women need to talk about their spirituality more than men. If she has a spiritual director as an outlet, I think she can become less likely to talk to her husband as much about her spiritual life, missing a huge opportunity to help him grow in the Faith and for them to grow together. Obviously, this is not the case for everyone, but I just know lots of women for whom it is. My husband and I are thinking of going to spiritual direction together. I really love the idea of us “becoming one” together even more deeply, especially in our spiritual life.

  24. Gregaria says:

    I’ve tried and tried to get a spiritual director, but it hasn’t worked out for me. I’ve wondered (and I’m wondering if anyone else has wondered the same) whether some people are not called to have spiritual directors. I always find that my problems are resolved and/or my questions answered (through prayer, reading the Bible, hearing homilies, and/or random conversations) just as I am about to seriously find a spiritual director. Also, I find that talking to a priest about my spiritual life brings temptations to impress him with my spiritual gifts. I’m thinking its better for my spiritual well-being to not have a spiritual director. This is kind of an odd thought. Has anyone else ever come to this realization?

  25. Stephanie says:

    I am actually in the process of looking for a spiritual director, so your post is very timely and encouraging for me. I was wondering if Colleen lives and “guides” in the Diocese of Miami??????

  26. Claire says:

    This post and the comments are fascinating. I have never heard of a personal “spiritual director.” Raised Catholic, I am now an evangelical Christian, but I’ve only ever heard of “counseling” in either denomination. I do strongly believe in fellowship with other believers, and in sharpening each other that way. I have one friend, in particular, who I go to with spiritual issues, but I go straight to the Bible with most questions, and the Holy Spirit speaks there and through my prayer and meditation. I don’t think I’d seek out a spiritual director, since God is my spiritual director.

    (I hope I don’t sound confrontational; that is definitely not my intent. Just giving my perspective). :)

  27. Brother Juniper says:

    Adoro is right. The demand is great, but the number of laborers is few indeed.

    I found my first spiritual director through a referral. He was good, but he just wasn’t the right fit for me.

    I decided to find someone else and started to pray really hard. God found me a spiritual director in someone I have known for yeras. The thing is that since she and I have known each other so long, it is very easy for me to be honest with her. That’s the one thing that I stress more than anything is that you be honest with your spiritual director.

    Also religious titles, doctorates, and credentials don’t mean much of anything in the spiritual direction world. While they are good to know about, you know have what found what God wants you to find when you meet with your director the first time. Either it works or it doesn’t. At least, that’s how I feel.

    Thank you for your beautiful blog.

    Brother Juniper

  28. Modern Catholic Mom says:

    Great post thank you for the insightful info!

  29. Anonymous says:

    I've never heard of the term "Spiritual Director", but I have been meeting with a priest for about two years… I guess he fits the bill of a spiritual director. At least by this description

    Certainly I would recommend everyone, regardless of denomination, find a priest and sit down for a nice long discussion. Heck, I've been a satanist for a couple of decades and he was still willing to sit down with me and discuss… well everything! (Yes, devil-worshiper… but don't get all bent out of shape it's not anything like it's portrayed in Hollywood.)

    He's been able to present things in a systematic manner that I've found very helpful. And… he's got a fantastic sense of humor.

    I think I like Dominicans just because of him. Kinda wish he would take money >.<

  30. Adoro says:

    Jen ~ It probably does vary widely. And around here, we don’t have a monastary of good Sisters or Monks, etc. So our BEST option is priests…and those that do it are AWESOME. Thus…demand is high, and a few of us are without.

    I just keep remembering that it’s God’s time, and I look to the Saints, to prayer, to the Sacraments, for God never abandons us, and if we can’t find someone, then it isn’t something we need.

    And that’s what we always have to remember; God gives us what we need..not what we think we need when we think we need it.

    It is a good post, and I’m sorry I didn’t say that before. Just wanted to make the point that it’s not so good everywhere. You are truly, truly blessed!

  31. Shannon says:

    There are other possibilities for spiritual direction as well. Check to see if the Spiritual Exercises in Everyday Life are offered in your area. The Ignatian Exercises are presented over a nine-month period by those trained in the method. You meet once a month with a group to pray over a particular subject of the Exercises and you have a spiritual director to meet with for the duration of the retreat.

    Here are a couple of good links: http://www.nwjesuits.org/JesuitSpirituality/SpiritualExercises.html

    http://onlineministries.creighton.edu/CollaborativeMinistry/cmo-retreat.html

  32. SearchingWellness says:

    Oh I stumbled upon this amazing take on spiritual directors by Fr. McCloskey. Check it out, http://www.catholicity.com/mccloskey/spiritualconsultant.html

  33. Adoro says:

    Just wondering if you’re aware of this site:

    http://rcspiritualdirection.blogspot.com/

  34. Bethany Hudson says:

    I've been a Catholic my whole life, and I didn't know any of this. I always got spiritual direction from older ladies that I already had a relationship with and we just spontaneously fell into a mentoring relationship. But, since we moved three years ago, I haven't "clicked" with anyone in this way who could really advise me. And, now I have two small children, and I REALLY need some spiritual direction. THANK YOU, Jen! I will look into this very, very soon.

  35. Marcy K. says:

    I highly recommend Fr. Thomas Dubay's book "Seeking Spiritual Direction." I found it in my library. Much of it is about the qualifications of a true spiritual director. There are also sections on what to do if you cannot find one. The last two chapters are questions to meditate on in the future to keep on the right track. I have found this to be a most valuable book.

    I did receive spiritual direction in a Movement for a few years, but after I left I realized that the lay spiritual directors were not as well-trained as say a good priest would be, and the turn-over was high. My pastor has volunteered for the job and so far I have been happy.

    I have also found that Fr. Bartunek's blog http://www.rcspiritualdirection.blogspot.com/ is absolutely fantastic. I have learned so much from it. I have also learned to pray, pray, pray to the Lord for a spiritual director and ask around.

  36. Wonderful article, Jennifer. The Protestant church has only recently discovered spiritual direction. Just in case you have Protestant evangelicals who read your blog, I wanted to let them know about a relatively new resource: Evangelical Spiritual Directors Association – http://www.esdassociation.org. All of the directors listed there have felt called by God for this ministry and received training.

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