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How can I Become a Spiritual Director?

August 16, 2011 by  
Filed under Dan Burke, Spiritual Direction, Training and Education

Dear Dan, how does one become a spiritual director? Are there any courses or programs or certifications required? I really believe I am supposed to help people in their faith but how can I make sure that I am really called to do something like this?

When thinking about spiritual direction my mind is drawn to the incredible responsibility it is to have another soul placed in my care. No one in their right mind would want to have this responsibility – unless God has specifically called them to it. The only thing I can compare it to is when someone hands me their newborn baby. When that happens I am instantly attuned to the fragility and precious nature of the gift I take into my hands. Immediately a sense of heightened responsibility comes over me and I am extremely careful about every move. I want to delight in God's creation, but I am also profoundly aware that I am being cautiously and joyfully observed and could easily cause the infant harm if I am not careful. So it is with a human soul. If we are not profoundly humbled and properly fearful about handling that soul, then we are not likely called into this sacred relationship.

The next idea that comes to mind is regarding your relationship to Christ. Do you have a deep and meaningful prayer life? Are you regularly and specifically pursuing Christ and a life of virtue that reflects His virtues? If your answers to these questions are a whole-hearted “yes” then you are probably on the right track. If you spend very little time in prayer (especially mental prayer) and spiritual reading, are not very specific and active in living a life of virtue, and don't have your own rule of life in place, you may not be ready to lead others yet.

Spiritual Direction is something like being a mountain climbing guide. A guide knows the many different ways to climb. He or she knows what to do when an unexpected storm rolls over the horizon, or when a less experienced climber gets stuck or injured. They are able to guide people because they have already explored the mountain that someone else desires to climb. This doesn't mean that they are perfect in their technique or all knowing in every aspect of spirituality, but they do need to have a strong sense of direction in the spiritual life. They need to know the paths that lies ahead of the directee and then have the ability to be very sensitive to the Holy Spirit's unique leading for each person.

With respect to programs and certifications, I only don't have much good news for you. Universal standards and certifications approved by the Church don't exist. The only faithful school of spiritual direction that I am aware of is offered by The Marian Servants of Divine Providence in Clearwater Florida. Every school I have researched is infested by New Age or other non-Catholic spiritualities. This doesn't mean there are not others out there, but this is the only faithful one that I have discovered thus far. If you are seriously considering a call to spiritual direction, this would be an excellent way to go. That said, the most important requirement you need to have in place is a vibrant, active, and personal relationship with Christ and His Church. If this is a good description of your faith, then you may be on the right path.

The final factor is whether or not you have been in spiritual direction yourself. Anyone who is offering direction should be in direction themselves. If you value spiritual direction enough to fight through all the challenges of finding and maintaining a relationship, you are on the right track.

If you are not discouraged by all of these lofty recommendations then you are at least on your way to a legitimate exploration of your calling in this area. To help you a bit more on your way you can find a recommended reading list for current and would-be spiritual directors here.


Art for this post on how to become a spiritual director: Christ and Saint Mina [or Menas], iconographer unknown, 6th-century icon from Bawit, Egypt, PD-US author's life plus 70 years or less, Wikimedia Commons.

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About Dan Burke

Dan is the President of the Avila Foundation, the parent organization of, the Avila Institute for Spiritual Formation, Divine Intimacy Radio and Divine Intimacy Radio - Resources Edition, Into the Deep Parish Programs, the Apostoli Viae (Apostles of the Way) Community, and the FireLight Student Leadership Formation Program, author of the award-winning book, Navigating the Interior Life - Spiritual Direction and the Journey to God, Finding God Through Meditation-St. Peter of Alcantara, 30 Days with Teresa of Avila, Into the Deep, Living the Mystery of Merciful Love: 30 Days with Thérèse of Lisieux, and his newest book The Contemplative Rosary with St. John Paul II and St. Teresa of Avila. Beyond his "contagious" love for Jesus and His Church, he is a grateful husband and father of four, the Executive Director of and writer for EWTN's National Catholic Register, a regular co-host on Register Radio, a writer and speaker who provides online spiritual formation and travels to share his conversion story and the great riches that the Church provides us through authentic Catholic spirituality. Dan has been featured on EWTN's Journey Home program and numerous radio programs.

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  • If you are called to doing spiritual direction, that call should be affirmed by your own spiritual director, or more specifically, he/she should lead you through the discernment process.

    You should not do spiritual direction (as a director) just because you want to. Your desire in this may be misguided. One of the things I learned in the process was that people with genuine deep faith are not necessarily good listeners, or they may be better at pastoral care/redemptive listening (not the same), or they may be better at teaching (once again, similar but not the same). There are many ways to live out the faith and share the love of God.

    While you should be aware that spiritual directions can do great good and great harm, and take that responsibility seriously, you need to balance that quickly with the reality that this is the work of the Holy Spirit. God is in charge here. Most of spiritual direction is about letting God be in charge here. Most of the spiritual life is about letting God be in charge! 🙂

    Also, this is only open to priests and seminarians, but the Institute for Priestly Formation in Omaha, which runs the Ignatian spiritual exercises for seminarians and diocesan priests, as well as trains vocations directors, etc., has always struck me as robustly orthodox by anyone’s standard.

    Peace, Susan

  • LizEst

    Thanks, Dan, for this great post. You are right on the money with your advice. A friend of mind traveled to attend a school in Florida, which I believe was this one that you mentioned. I looked over their course offerings and only wish that their program would offer more on apophatic theology. Some folks can’t do the Ignatian stuff, try as they might! Directors can do great damage to a soul when they try to force them into something that God has not given them the ability or capacity to do.

  • Catlaughter

    Excellent answer Dan! Took me back to when I was searching for my path to answer God’s call. I had barely heard of Spiritual Directors, but found an excellent person to guide me and now I am one, helpling others in their walk with God. It is a challenge, but with God’s grace and a lot of support from Him, I feel like I am doing what I should be!

    I attended the school at the Pecos Benedictine Monastery in Pecos, NM. It is open to all faiths, but is Catholic in it’s teaching. You get to live in the Monastery for a month, follow the cycle of prayer and quiet that the Monks and Nuns do. And, it is incredibly beautiful!

    Being in class with non-Catholics has helped me when I am talking with people that are not Catholic. I live in the bible belt so that is an important asset for me

    God Bless.!

  • Guest

    Thanks, Dan. Very, very sound advice. We all need to remember we have to allow God to be in charge of all aspects and situations in our lives always and everywhere.

  • There is also the Lanteri Center, run by the Oblates of the Virgin Mary, in Denver, CO that not only provides spiritual direction, but also formation programs for spiritual directors.

  • Barbara

    The Apostles of the Interior Life and the Holy Family School of Faith in the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas have a spiritual mentorship program that is 100% faithful to the teachings of the Catholic Church.  It is a 2 year program combining both residential and distance learning.  

    • Hey Barbara, this is great news! I was in contact with Sister Susan about this during the early stages and am glad to hear it has come to fruition. Now we can promote both! I would like to get an update about the program so I will give her a call.

    • Michael

      Thank you for bringing up this program. Mentorship is different from spiritual direction that should not get confused. The intent has a different
      angle. I just wanted people to understand this before jumping into the

  • Marian

    Regarding your comment: “Every school I have researched is infested by New Age or other non-Catholic spiritualities. This doesn’t mean there are not others out there, but this is the only faithful one that I have discovered thus far.”

    FYI, the Diocese of Trenton (New Jersey) has two terrific retreat centers that offer Diocesan Certicates for Spiritual Direction with a rigorous 2 to 3 year internship.

    • Dear Friend: Thank you, I will check into that!

  • fritz_bolivar

    Thank you for this valuable information. since i completed Ignatius Loyola ‘Spiritual Exercises’ Easter two years ago I have been searching and reading about Spiritual Direction. I had a Jesuit that was my Spiritual Director thorough the Spiritual Exercises, 19th annotation. Then I had a Franciscan over at the College Campus a mile from my home until he was re-assigned to the University of Syracuse, Syracuse, New York. Now my Parish Pastor is my Spiritual Director.

    I am being drawn towards becoming more involved with my Parish as Spiritual Director. Spring Hill College had a campus here in Atlanta, GA froom their main campus in Mobile, AL., but past economic downturn it is not here any more.

    How do I contact the Marian Servants of the Divine Providance?

    Peace be upon you!

    Larry Mosher, Archdiocese of Atlanta, GA, Saint Catherine of Siena, Kennesaw, GA

  • Ann

    Thank you for your guidance particularly the right places. The list of recommended books is not on the website. Thanks Dan.
    God bless!

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