Can You Make a Living Off Spiritual Companionship? -- Advice for Those Called to Spiritual Care
Editor's Note: Teresa Blythe is one of the presenters in the 2018 SDI webinar series Making a Living as a Spiritual Director, which is now accessible in online recordings. This year's webinar series Making a Living as a Spiritual Companion 2 is also available online.
I'm often asked, “Can you make a living off spiritual direction?” The answer is not simple because, of course, it all depends on the person, the market and the philosophy. Spiritual Directors International offers two webinars on the subject (I contributed to the first one) and when you watch these, and I hope you do, you will get the long answer to your question.
I will attempt to give you the short answer here.
Can it be done?
Yes. But it may take years to build up a spiritual direction practice to the point that you are making a middle-class income. Once you begin marketing, you may get a few inquiries but your practice will really build after people who have come to you for direction start sending their friends. Word of mouth will always be your number one marketing tool, and that will take awhile.
But I heard about this one person who is making good money at it!
Definitely contact him or her and find out how they did it and how long it took to get to the place where they could sustain themselves independently just doing spiritual direction.
Most of the spiritual directors I know who are making a living at it are doing one of 3 things:
- Working another job or two on the side to make ends meet. (And, full disclosure, I have a spouse who earns a living and we are double income, no kids. So, I’m not attempting this without a safety net.) In addition to seeing about 25 people in spiritual direction one-on-one, I run the Hesychia School, a spiritual direction training program, and I pick up contract jobs here and there at churches who invite me to help them with discernment. A friend of mine who is a full-time spiritual director once rented a large multi-room space and sublet it to other spiritual directors and healing arts practitioners for their sessions, retreats and workshops. (Her name is Amanda Petersen and she is featured in part 2 of SDI’s series of webinars on the subject. You will enjoy hearing her story!)
- Charging a higher-than-usual fee for sessions. No judgment here! But if you want to make a living seeing people once a month (the usual frequency) you either have to have a boatload of directees or you charge them upwards of $150 per session. Around Phoenix where I live, the going rate for spiritual direction is $60-80 per session. I choose to charge the going rate. I sense that if I went for the high end, I would price myself out of the middle and lower middle-class market, even with a sliding scale.
- Seeing individuals more often than the usual one time a month. One way to think of it is, we spiritual directors create a practice much like a therapist or life coach might. They see people more often than once a month. So, if you start seeing people every 2 weeks, you will make more money. I have chosen to keep appointments at about once a month unless the directee insists on coming more often (which is not usual in my case). I find that most directees need about 30 days of living and doing their spiritual practices before they are ready to spend an hour in direction. Other directors do not feel this way. You might want to contact some spiritual directors who see people more often than once a month and talk with them about why they do it and how it is working out for them.
It's a matter of discernment
Before you quit your day job and launch a spiritual direction practice, spend a good deal of time in prayer, reflection and discernment.
Spend time with the Divine asking your questions and listening for the answers deep within.
Map out the practical matters:
- Where will I do spiritual direction? How much will it cost me in rent?
- How many clients do I need at my desired price point in order to pay my bills and have a sustainable life?
- What is my desired price point? What are the pros and cons of setting my price lower or higher than the going rate?
- If I take on a job to anchor and support this practice, what type of job will allow me the freedom and leave me with enough energy to see direction clients?
Listen to your intuition. Ask yourself, “Why am I seeking to do spiritual direction in this way?”
Test the waters. Start marketing yourself and see what happens. If you are flooded with people wanting spiritual direction, then that’s a good sign. If it takes awhile, that’s not only OK, it’s the norm. Most of the spiritual directors I know had to be patient and wait for the practice to grow.
Can you make a living off spiritual direction? I hope you can. One reason I do the work I do is to show people that you can at least make spiritual direction a huge part of what you do vocationally. It doesn’t have to be a side hustle anymore!
Would you like to talk with me more about this subject? Drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. I enjoy hearing from readers.
Teresa Blythe is a spiritual director, educator and author. After a career as a radio news journalist, she headed for seminary, graduating from San Francisco Theological Seminary (M.Div. and Diploma in the Art of Spiritual Direction) in 2000. Since then, Teresa has been working as a spiritual director for individuals and groups, serving as a discernment facilitator, leading workshops and keynoting conferences on various aspects of contemplative Christian spirituality.
Since moving to Phoenix, Arizona, USA, she founded the Phoenix Center for Spiritual Direction, housed at First UCC church in downtown Phoenix. She also works as the Director of the Hesychia School of Spiritual Direction. She spent 10 years working as a vocational discernment facilitator with young adult mission volunteers for the Presbyterian Church (USA) nationally and for the Tucson Borderlands. Her newest book is Spiritual Direction 101: The Basics of Spiritual Guidance from Apocryphile Press. An ordained minister in the United Church of Christ (UCC) specializing in spiritual direction, her ministry is dedicated to always being open and affirming to LGBTQ persons. The above piece is also posted on Teresa's website: www.teresablythe.net