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Following the enlivening thread : the experience of providing Christian spiritual direction Maier, Kirsten Elsa


This dissertation is an exploration of spiritual direction, from the perspective of counselling psychology, as it manifests in the reflective phenomenological experiences of the spiritual director. To explicate this topic, I asked the research question What is the meaning of the lived experience of the spiritual director in providing spiritual direction? In the tradition of spiritual direction, a person deepens their individual relationship to the Divine through a personalized spiritual practice with the help of a trained spiritual director (Gratton, 2005). Although the spiritual direction discourse, one of healing and personal development, is similar to many types of psychotherapy (Vittersø & Søholt, 2011; Vittersø, 2016), it has not often been examined systematically in counselling psychology. In this dissertation, I used Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA) to focus on the meaning of the experience of the spiritual director. Five expert spiritual directors were interviewed for the study. The individual experiences of the participants were analyzed, and six collective themes with emergent subthemes were developed. Embedding the findings in psychology theory, clinical implications and future research implications were discussed. The findings add to the literature by noting connections of the spiritual direction process in this study to psychological theories including the model of therapeutic presense (Geller & Greenberg, 2002), the emergence model of clinical process (Marks-Tarlow, 2015), love as a process in therapy (Fosha, 2004) and corroborated Gubi’s (2011) findings on the similarities and differences of spiritual direction and therapy. The study added to the literature by using a recognized qualitative methodology to provide a rich description of the experience and meaning of being a spiritual director. It touched on the experience using a broad scope: from the participant’s development of becoming a spiritual director over time to their approaches and experiences in sessions. Finally, the study gave a sense of the profession of spiritual direction in an experience-based way by interviewing the 5 spiritual directors and developing themes described in the voices of the participants.

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