Working with a Spiritual Counselor

Many of us know how beneficial it can be to work with a mental health professional—especially when you’re trying to navigate your way through a life crisis like the loss of a loved one, a health issue or simply not finding the value and meaning in life that you once did. Psychotherapists can be very useful during these times, and so can another resource you may not have considered before: a spiritual counselor.

Stephanie Ludwig, PhD, MA, MDiv, Director of Spiritual Wellness at Canyon Ranch® Tucson, explains what spiritual counselors do and how these experts can be a great help and comfort:

Q: What is a spiritual counselor?

A: There are many different types of counseling. A spiritual counselor is someone whose basic point of view is to direct people to their relationship with spirit; all problems are related to that lack of connection. We live in a very independent culture where we think we have to do everything by ourselves.

Part of what a spiritual counselor offers is relief that you don’t actually have to do it alone—that there’s someone to talk to you, someone who cares, someone who has your best interests at heart. Sometimes we do things the hard way, when actually just getting some help would be better.

Q: What does a spiritual counselor do, exactly?

A: We all have blind spots that prevent us from seeing ourselves and our own situation accurately. A spiritual counselor listens to that small, still voice inside you and facilitates leading it out of you.

What is this voice? It’s the authentic voice of the heart that knows who you are and what you truly need. If the spiritual counselor cannot hear it, they will continue persisting until they do, and then they help their client to hear it as well.

Q: When is a good time to see a spiritual counselor?

A: Many people find it most beneficial to see a spiritual counselor during times of grief or loss, or when they want to move past an event and come into more acceptance around it, perhaps finding forgiveness. Of course, spiritual guidance can be helpful at any time.

If you feel like you don’t have someone that listens in a non-judgmental way; if you want to bring more spirituality into your family or your relationship and you don’t know how to do that; if you’re really longing for work that has more meaning and purpose—all of these are situations in which a spiritual counselor could help. There is an element of cheerleader or coach in a spiritual counselor; these are people who believe in you. Working with one can help you connect with what is truly inspiring for you.

I believe that more often than not it’s appropriate to see a spiritual counselor, no matter what the reason. Obviously, it’s good to seek one out when we’re in times of challenge or difficulty, but one can certainly benefit from seeing a spiritual counselor during times of ease as well. I have yet to meet someone who hasn’t felt they could expand the peace and joy they feel; we all have room for more.

Q: What should I expect from working with a spiritual counselor?

A: As I mentioned before, everyone has blind spots. A spiritual coach gives you a sort of “second opinion” to help you find the most authentic parts of yourself. This is where the counselor will point you, if they’re able to.

Ideally, the person you work with will be able to mirror back to you the best in yourself and also give you some questions to help you to dig a little bit deeper, or inspire a new way of looking at things. At Canyon Ranch, we’re always pointing people in the direction of connecting with something larger than themselves and connecting with their heart.

Q: Can you share an example of how you might work with someone, being a spiritual counselor yourself?

A: One example is that if someone is going through a loss of some kind they may be in a phase of questioning, of asking, “How could God have taken this person?” People will use all kinds of situations to separate themselves, to think that there cannot be a loving spiritual force because bad things happen.

In that case, I would first be very compassionate with them and listen very deeply, but I would also encourage them to take that question to spirit or God directly. It is very common for people to start a line of inquiry like this that is very deep, but stop somewhere along the way and not take the question to a point where it can also be deeply answered—answered in a way that brings a deeper sense of participation in life, not a separation.

Sometimes, all it takes is for a counselor to hear where you have stopped along the way—specifically, what thoughts and feelings are keeping you from a heartfelt answer to your deepest questions. A spiritual counselor may then have an insight about how and where to gently encourage you in taking a step forward.

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