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Beginning and Advanced Spiritual Directors

Beginning and Advanced Spiritual Directors: The Developmental Influences that Shape Their Practice
by Stephen Austin Truscott
Saarkrücken, Germany: VDM Verlag Dr. Müller, 2008
204 pages
Reviewed by Margaret A.L. Blackie, PhD

Beginning and Advanced Spiritual Directors: The Developmental Influences that Shape Their Practice is a very useful resource text for anyone who is interested in Christian spiritual direction and the associated literature between 1970 and 2003. However, I offer a word of caution—this is a publication of a doctoral thesis, and retains the form of a thesis written under the broad umbrella of the humanities disciplines. The literature review is thorough and provides references to source texts in many different specialty areas within spirituality and spiritual direction. It is a well written and accessible book even for the non-specialist. Some of the technical and research focused sections may be skipped over without loss of overall comprehension. Readers with a background in social science research may find these sections useful.

The research problem states:

…there are effectively two groups of spiritual directors: those beginning their practice, and those who are advanced well beyond their initial formation and early practice. With the recognition of this distinction, the question of the varying influences over their respective practices arises: What similar and different developmental influences shape their respective practices? (1)

The main reason for this investigation is to shed light on the appropriate foci to be used in training courses for beginning spiritual directors and ongoing formation for advanced spiritual directors. Truscott defines the term advanced spiritual director to indicate someone with at five years full-time experience. In the analysis of the data, Truscott makes this comment: “One influence is the capacity to adopt a contemplative stance towards directees. The other is the ability to be aware contextually of the factors that fashion the dynamic of accompaniment. The former is more influential upon the practice of beginning directors and the latter upon the practice of advanced spiritual directors” (144). Truscott goes on to suggest that there is a substantial interconnection between these two factors, but that the contextual awareness does seem to be something that develops with experience.

For any person involved in training of spiritual directors, this book certainly offers food for thought. For any spiritual director wishing to expand or deepen their knowledge of Christian spiritual direction in any arena, this book will be useful source text. There is some research jargon that may need interpretation; a good Web-based dictionary will help out the lay reader. In the end, I suggest that the reader not be intimidated by the format, skip over the parts which may be too technical, and make good use of this well researched, well written thesis.

Margaret A. L. Blackie, PhD, trained and worked for four years at Loyola Hall, Jesuit Spirituality Centre in the United Kingdom. She has recently returned to Cape Town, South Africa, to take up postdoctoral research in chemistry. She continues to minister part time as a spiritual director.

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