Spiritual Directors International

The Home of Spiritual Companionship

Comparison of Helping Relationships

One-to One Helping Modalities

People involved
Who comes? Why?

Why stay?

Relational Process
What happens?

How does it work?

What to talk about?

How is it going?


Spiritual Direction

A person who is mentally stable and mature and is seeking Mystery many name God

Deepen one’s relationship with God; discover, attend to, and savor presence of God every day

Telling of stories; open responses; silence; waiting;  noticing together God’s guidance

Sharing; listening; discernment; and contemplative practices, e.g. prayer, surrendering ego to God’s guidance

Daily life, relationships, deepest desires, struggles,  prayer, God’s presence and spiritual directee’s responses

Discernment; mutually agreed-upon evaluation; deepening of relationship with Mystery many name God

Potential for fees or exchange of services; variety of training programs; not accredited; professional guild

Pastoral Care

A mentally stable parishioner or member of a congregation in need of specific pastoral services

To receive spiritual support in a time of need, transition, and growth

Clergy or spiritual leader offers a service; parishioner receives its spiritual benefits

Depends on the service needed. Examples may be:  house visit, sick visit, liturgical service, programs, etc.

Revolves around the specific life events of the service being offered

Formal methods like boards, elders, bishops, etc., depend on community

Fees for services, not for visits; training usually in seminary; oversight depends on denominational structure

Pastoral Counseling

A mentally stable person with areas of dysfunction  who seeks a faith perspective

Facilitate growth, personal integration, and freedom of choice through increased self-knowledge and awareness of God’s healing within a faith context

Talking, getting it out; advice giving; support; resolving issues; client and counselor discern faith meaning together

Understand the source of the issues; provide techniques and ideas for how to become more free; model healthy interactions between client and counselor

Relationships; life experience related to areas of pain, shame, and guilt; discover God’s presence in the healing process

Increased sense of freedom, independence

Fees might be covered by parish or by person; academic training programs; accredited institutions offer training

Psychological Counseling

A mentally stable person with a specific problem seeking help finding a solution

Alleviate pain and disorder, resolve inner conflicts, and promote growth and integration

Talking; analysis;  often learn “through” relating with the counselor

Get “under” the issues; teach or model techniques; problem solving, challenging

Relationships; life experience related to areas of pain, shame, and guilt; discover places for healing

Developmental comparison to others in similar stages; increase in personal freedom, independence

Usually involves fees; academic training programs; certification monitored by state and national standards

(abnormal psych)

A mentally unstable person; unable to  function

Get back to—or achieve—healthy functioning; recover from trauma

Depends on form of therapy; return to stability and  functioning

Will vary depending on the school of practice, e.g. pyscho-somatic, shock, hypnosis

Life dimensions related to the problem

Diagnosis by skilled practitioner

Usually involves fees; specialized training programs; certification monitored by state and national standards

Coaching or

A mentally stable apprentice,  often a “junior” seeking to model an admired “senior”

Set and attain specific goals in  chosen area of life; increase one’s capacity; learn a particular trade

Often marked by a specific time period with specific steps based on goals

Intake; setting goals; assessing progress; imitating; teaching, networking; encouragement

Usually centered on a specific area like, health, career, relationships, etc. or balance between areas

Acquisition of skills; accomplish goals; vitality of relationships; life balance

Can involve fees or other benefits; variety of courses and training; areas of specialization; life experience


A mentally stable community member seeking to be formed in a particular faith tradition

Become familiar with one’s faith; be held accountable by others in living out one’s faith

Teaching; modeling; witnessing; evangelizing

Spreading the Word; personal testimony; communal gatherings

Components of faith such as beliefs and practices; assessing one’s growth and ability to witness

Adherence to disciplines; commitments to the community; increase in numbers; deepening personal engagement

Fees unlikely; often done by volunteers who are recognized and authorized by a particular community


A mentally stable person seeking guidance from another individual who has experience in the tradition (e.g., AA*, RCIA**)

Become familiar with the tradition in order to choose whether to follow it or not

Teaching content such as practices, beliefs; sharing stories and experiences; learning from others in the past

Storytelling; accountability; checking in regularly and frequently

Sponsor relays information about the tradition; sponsee asks questions, integrates content into daily life choices

Sponsee chooses each and every day and also at a certain “conversion” point to belong to the group or tradition

Fees unlikely; stipends or donations from the sponsoring group possible; mostly done by volunteers who are recognized for their adherence to the group

*              Alcoholics Anonymous, Twelve-Step Recovery
**            Rite for Christian Initiation for Adults


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