The Practice of Spiritual Direction and Counseling
“Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.”
– Oscar Wilde
I have been doing some form of counseling professionally for more than 20 years. I practice pastoral counseling as an ordained Unitarian Universalist Minister fellowshipped with the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations since 1999. Additionally, I have been a Certified Addictions Counselor since 2017 and I am currently a Certified Addictions Specialist registered in the state of Colorado. I also have 28 units of chaplaincy training through the Association of Clinical Pastoral Education, including seven years of practice as a resident and then a staff chaplain at UCHealth. Finally, I received my training as a Spiritual Director from the Phoenix Center for Spiritual Direction through an apprenticeship program that provided me with specific training in spiritual direction in light of my 20 years of experience in other counseling professions.
The practices of Pastoral Counseling, Spiritual Direction, and Addictions Counseling are remarkably similar with subtle differences in their application. In all my professional approaches, I use Client-Centered practices. In Client-Centered counseling and spiritual direction, the central hypothesis is that the growth potential of any person will tend to be released in a relationship in which the counselor or spiritual director communicates genuineness, caring, unconditional positive regard, and a deeply sensitive, non-judgmental understanding. Thus, the counselor/spiritual director practices participative and empathic listening, while allowing the client to freely vent his/her/their feelings. I have been engaged in this approach for more than 20 years as an ordained minister including seven years as a hospital chaplain, six of those spent in focused work in addictions chaplaincy.
What is Pastoral Counseling?
Pastoral Counseling is the practice of coming alongside someone, often during significant grief or change. While traditional psychotherapists can have an understanding and acceptance of the role that spirituality can play in a person’s life, a pastoral counselor has a unique grasp of the spiritual resources that a person may bring to bear on their journey. I have studied across the spectrum of the varieties of spiritual and religious experiences people may have and, in my practice, I strive to understand the unique spiritual and religious identities of my clients and how the rituals they practice and the beliefs they hold close to their heart can support them.
What is Spiritual Direction?
Spiritual Direction is the practice of being present to the journey of exploration and discernment a person travels with the guidance of the Divine as that person has come to know and understand the Divine. In Spiritual Direction, the exploration of a person’s path and direction is guided by their own intuition and relationship to the Divine. In spite of the name, a Spiritual Director does not “tell” the client what to do or what God’s will is for them. Rather, through deep listening, reflection, and exploration, the director helps the client connect with their own experience of what the Divine is calling them to do.
What is Addictions Counseling?
Addictions Counseling is a unique practice of guiding someone who is wrestling with addiction along the path to recovery and stability. Supporting everything from abstinence to harm reduction, addiction counselors work with clients to set achievable goals, develop tools for dealing with triggers and cravings, and find support to help them through the cycles of long-term recovery. In my unique practice of addictions counseling with a spiritual frame, I work with clients to explore how spirituality as a whole life experience, whether in a theistic or humanist frame or something in between, can support their recovery. I also work with clients who are using 12 step programs to understand the concept of a Higher Power in their lives which may be a new or alienating concept to them in early recovery.
Regardless of the approach you are engaging (and sometimes you may experience a synergistic blend of all three approaches), the sessions will last about 45-50 minutes. They can take place on Zoom or in person. If we meet in person, we can meet in a private office or in a park, sitting across from each other or walking together. Whatever is most comfortable and possible for you.
In my work with Todd, I found him to be unusually gifted in meeting me where I was, validating my experiences and then challenging me to grow. We worked together when my theology consisted largely of things I didn't believe. He helped me to deepen and mature my own nascent spirituality. And he did this without handing me things I "should" think or embrace, but inviting my own knowing into the room. I appreciated his humor, his compassion, his authenticity and his unflappable nature. In one memorable session Todd reflected back something I hadn't heard myself say, but having another person say it out loud led to some profound healing. Todd is one of the people who listened me into being.
I had nobody left in my life after years of addiction. After all my lies and bad behavior had been exposed, my wife was divorcing me and taking my daughter and my parents had finally run out of patience. I ended up in rehab with only the clothes I had on my back. In spite of my broken situation, I felt relieved. Like a full-body physical experience that I couldn't explain. It didn't make sense to me. I met Todd Strickland, my spiritual advisor that I met with when I got out of detox. I told him about my experience. Todd said, “You know, some people call that a spiritual experience.” I said, “Yes! That's what it was! I feel like I'm going to be ok and that there's something looking out for me. It's a physical feeling! It'll probably be difficult, but I just have to be honest and work hard. I never have to go back to that way of life.” Prior to that, I didn't know how to relate to this new experience. Todd smiled and told me that it's important to remember those moments and be grateful for them. He said, “Maybe that's God talking to you.” I still tell people that story. It was a hallmark moment in my life and I always remember the light bulb he turned on for me. I know what a spiritual experience life feels like, now. And I still hear Todd's voice when those moments happen.
Todd is a deep listener who creates space for me to be completely open. He gently asks questions that help me navigate through my own personal lived experiences, and for me to be honest with myself. I am able to find my voice with Todd, giving me the power that I need to live authentically for myself and with others. I feel safe talking with Todd about my questions of faith which leads me to answer my own questions in a way that feels right for me, in a way that opens my heart.
Recently I was fortunate to receive spiritual direction with Rev. Todd Strickland. Rev. Strickland is an incredible practitioner, being fully present to whatever arose for me in the moment. He was able to gently point out, at particular moments during my sharing, where I might need to return to my bodily awareness, breathe, pause, or ground myself. There was no judgement of my experience, but rather a calm sense of welcome. By working with me this way, he gave me room to share painful memories and powerful insights. I made a foundational shift that felt like a key to moving forward!
I really needed to take a deeper look into my spiritual life following events that left me in a place of loss and feeling stuck. Not knowing what the result would be, I sought Todd's help to work through my situation. The first obstacle one must overcome when engaging in spiritual work with a director is allowing yourself to be vulnerable and open. Todd was receptive without judgement. He pushed me to look deeper than I could have on my own to work toward the source of my issues. Our conversations were wide ranging, but then Todd would pick up on a nugget and help me look deeper. I feel I am again moving forward and doing so with newly gained awareness.
As a psychotherapist, I was unsure what a spiritual coach or a spiritual coaching session would involve, but knew I needed something that allowed me to explore my relationship with God at a deeper level than I was accomplishing on my own. Todd created an extremely warm and inviting space. He very patiently and lovingly guided me through an exploration of my thoughts, emotions and spiritual goals which provided clarity and comfort of how to deepen my faith during times of stress and uncertainty.
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Monday - Friday: 10AM - 6PM
If you are scheduling a session for the first time, please fill out the contact information to the left with a brief note about your goals or interests for spiritual direction and/or counseling.