Supervision - The Path to Better Spiritual Direction

According to St. John of the Cross, the person wishing to advance toward perfection should “take care into whose hands he entrusts himself, for as the master is, so will the disciple be, and as the father is so will be the son." And further: "In addition to being learned and discreet a director should be experienced in the spiritual life…. If the spiritual director has no experience of the spiritual life, he will be incapable of leading into it the souls whom God is calling to it, and he will not even understand them.”[i]

You, as spiritual director, then, will deepen your skills in spiritual direction through practice, education, and especially supervision, where others can assist you in your advance toward perfection. Supervision is not always appreciated. Nor is it easy. But it is an important aspect of spiritual direction that must not be ignored or avoided, because supervision makes the spiritual director humbler, more open, and more able to understand what happens in the spiritual direction session.

Supervision is a method of prayer and evaluation used to help the spiritual director learn how to set him- or herself aside so that, as St. Ignatius puts it, “the Creator can deal directly with the creature” (in this case, the directee.) [See Annotation 15, Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius][ii]. It is a process that helps us learn to love like God by noticing what’s happening in US while we direct. This process uses the spiritual direction session as a focus. It is designed to help the spiritual director as well as the supervisor(s) notice the subtilties within self in order to grow.

The goal for supervision is to promote inner freedom.

Self-awareness is vital for spiritual directors. After all, you as spiritual director cannot help another foster self-awareness you don’t develop the skills to increase your self-awareness within yourself. This is the main point of both spiritual direction and supervision for spiritual directors.

As Maureen Conroy mentions, inner freedom is important also. This freedom allows you as spiritual director to be open, honest, relational, and observant. Sin does not tie down the spiritual director who has the freedom to be open about attachments and other issues that might cause trouble in the direction session. As St. Paul explains in Romans 6:17-18: “Once you were slaves of sin, but thank God you have given whole-hearted obedience to the pattern of teaching to which you were introduced; and so, being freed from serving sin, you took uprightness as your master.” [iii]

This doesn’t mean we are given license to do what we want or follow our own will. Instead, we are given the freedom to allow God complete control over our lives, especially during spiritual direction and supervision sessions.

Supervision helps us gain freedom by giving the spiritual director a method to evaluate any spiritual direction conversation, looking for places that the spiritual director veered from the focus of God or drew closer. Supervision can reveal where a spiritual director usurped God’s role and tried to “fix” things for the directee, or where the spiritual director let God lead.

During a supervision session, the presenter focuses on what’s inside his or her own heart, the affectivity that was triggered and why. Supervision is always focused on you, the spiritual director, not the directee.

You as spiritual director need to know what you want in relation to your direction sessions. Think about your deepest desires. Do you want to be transparent so God can work better? Perhaps you want to help your directees deepen their prayer life. Maybe you want to get out of God’s way so God can work in the heart of your directee easier. Supervision can help you explore those desires and explore ways to realize them.

Supervision helps every spiritual director, no matter the skill level or years in service, to be better, to become more Christ-like, and a better listener. So embrace supervision. You will become, as St. John of the Cross describes, "discreet and experienced in the spiritual life…. and able to lead souls whom God is calling." Supervision is one of the best tools you have.

[i] St. John of the Cross, The Living Flame of Love, stanza 3, 30, in The Collected Works of St. John of the Cross, eds K. Kavanaugh OCD and O Rodriguez OCD (Washington DC, Institute of Carmelite Studies, 1979), 621

[ii] David L. Flemming, SJ, Draw me Into Your Friendship – The Spiritual Exercises; page 14 Annotation [15] St. Louis, MO. © 1996

[iii] Jerusalem Bible; Doubleday and Company, Garden City, New York. Romans 6:17-18