Spiritual directors often go by other names: mentor, soul friend, counselor, and even, pastor. All of these relationships have elements of spiritual direction in them. HOwever, the focus and emphasis of a spiritual director will stand out as different. All these guides in our lives deal in the stuff of the everyday; dishes, diapers, coworkers, and families, but a spiritual director will always be looking primarily for how God is moving. For example, a pastoral counselor may be asked to teach, to help resolve an ethical dilemma, or to comfort someone experiencing anxiety. This kind of care often leads the individual receiving it into a deeper relationship with God. In spiritual direction, as Duane Bidwell puts it, "The primary purpose of providing care is to deepen a person's relationship with God. Such secondary benefits as relieved anxiety, solved problems, or a greater knowledge . . . are wondering, but they are not a focus." Similarly, a therapist or counselor will "strive to resolve people's problems or at least help them respond to difficulties in a healthier way" (Bidwell). The spiritual director is looking for signs of the presence of God in a person's life and helping to open a dialogue between the Holy Spirit and that individual.
This practice can be especially useful for the minister leading a congregation after disaster. Ministers have found that having a companion outside of staff and family relations in the months and years that follow a crisis can be personally and professionally helpful for themselves and for their staff members. Spiritual direction relationships vary in their intensity and duration. Most directors meet with people once every three to four weeks. Some who seek direction find that after one session they feel "unstuck," and may go for long periods before meeting with a director again. Others meet on a regular basis and develop relationships that are ongoing for years. Spiritual direction has experienced a renaissance recently, and it is now possible to find a professionally trained director through groups such as the Spiritual Directors International or the Evangelical Spiritual Directors Association. Directors are trained from a variety of faith traditions and many are even willing and able to connect through phone or Skype, so finding a good fit is possible and worth putting the time in to do.
We all need companions at various stages of our own journeys. Part of good self-care, perhaps especially for ministers leading congregations after disaster, is continuing to seek God, and letting other come alongside to help. A spiritual director will be honored to companion, through whatever season you find yourself in.
For more on Post-Trauma Spiritual Direction, also see ICTG Advisor Arthur Gross-Schaefer and Steve Jacobsen's 2009 article "Understanding Clergy Burnout: A Guide for Spiritual Directors Working with Religious Leaders" (Presence: An International Journal of Spiritual Direction, no 2: 20-30, a publication of Spiritual Directors International)