Communication is key in any form of counseling, especially in spiritual mentorship. Any dialogue or advising or counseling finds its basis in sound communication skills. Communication is essential to express ideas and information but the way one communicates is essential in any type of counseling or ministry. An individual who is brash or abrupt can squash any delicate spiritual child, while also one who is prideful and all knowing can turn one away from any meaningful conversation.
St Ignatius Loyola in his Spiritual Exercises established a variety of norms and practices in how to communicate, counsel and advise. His extensive knowledge of the human condition and how to help others through counseling and guidance are essential tools for any counselor. Unfortunately, many outside the his tradition, rarely read his works or are able to see the universal applications of his practices to spiritual life and counseling itself.
In this blog, we will shortly look at some important elements of communication and how to apply them towards counseling and spiritual mentorship. In addition, we will look at how an advisor can help his or her spiritual child through trial and tribulations from the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius Loyola.
St Ignatius’s first rule of communication is to understand the immense value of it. The purpose of life itself through speech and motions are to communicate. Life itself depends upon communication for social interaction to exist. Without communication, love itself cannot even expressed at any level. Hence communication and entering into communication beyond the mere social constructs are an act of opening oneself to another. This is especially more intense in counseling where communication helps to guide and heal. A mutual conversation hence holds to both parties a responsibility to each other, to hear each other and to be watchful and attentive.
In communicating, Ignatius emphasizes the importance of slow speech via his second rule. Care of speech and understanding of the words that come forth one’s mouth is important when counseling especially. So many times, individuals speak rapidly lead to misuse of words and tend to create an image of a person who would rather only hear oneself. In communication, especially counseling, words should be deliberate and thoughtful in their process. When speaking of theology or pastoral matters, it is even more important to hold to these standards.
The third rule, emphasizes the critical importance of listening during communication and counseling. Only through listening and silence can one come to a sound conclusion the emotions and feelings of the other person. Ignatius asks, what is the person saying and could I repeat the words correctly? After hearing the words, the counselor should feel the emotions connecting to the words themselves. Why does a person feel this way? Finally, Ignatius looks to understand the will behind the feelings and if the words match the feelings themselves.
In response, does one feel what anything in response to the words? Does one recognize what the other says and finally, what should one do in the conversation itself? Should one speak or remain silent regarding the information and conversation shared?
Ignatius’s fourth rule of silence deals with freedom from prejudice or bias. When one enters into a conversation, preconceived notions can poison a conversation. If a Christian meets with an atheist or if political, a rival from another party, pre-conceived notions can prevent a productive conversation. Ignatius points out that such pre decided notions prevent true movement within the conversation. One either feels the other already has conclusions made and the decision is already sealed. Additionally, when one dismisses pre-conceived bias, it shows respect for the other and opens them to more solutions. One must remember, no one side rarely holds all the cards, and that weaknesses can exist in both arguments. Ultimately, an understanding and respect must persist in such conversations.
Ignatius’s fifth rule of communication is avoiding the fallacy of an appeal to authority. In all critical thinking courses, the appeal to authority can be a double edged sword. When properly cited and utilized it can strengthen an argument but when it is arbitrarily utilized without reason or understanding, it can weaken the person’s argument and also in regards to conversation, create a dead end without any impasse.
Ignatius’s sixth rule of communication calls for modest lucidity. When one needs to express something and state something and cannot remain silent, it is critical to express oneself calmly and with humility. Arrogance, pride and a demanding presence creates a hostile environment in conversation and counseling. It is important to express feelings and facts but with a gentleness that soothes instead of stings.
Finally, Ignatius states in his seventh rule that enough time must be given to a conversation. Distractions, time restrictions and a rushed conversation devalues the communicative process.
In all conversation, Ignatius calls for love, humility and patience. He also calls for a mutual reverence to each other. In this a true listening or encounter can take place between individuals during the conversation and counseling process. Built into this mutual exchange is the necessity of trust. In counseling, trust is one of the most key cornerstone principles. A trust of non judgement and trust of fidelity to the secrecy of the conversation. Through trust, healing can take place because without trust, there is no revelation between individuals.
It is important to pay attention to differences as a counselor and mimic their characteristics. If one speaks lively, let that dictate, if one speaks more melancholic, then create that atmosphere. It is important for the setting to reflect the comfort and conversating styles of the individual. When dealing with more confrontation, Ignatius is motivated by love and to go where the other emotionally is. If the person is in the rain, then walk into the rain with them is an example he used. By this, we do not break down the door, but carefully with love of the soul, listen and when duty demands, speak with love and prepare oneself when confronted with those of great difference. Sometimes, instruction with love is needed, but sometimes agreeing with what is agreed upon and silence over what is not can be beneficial in the long run. Hence in advising, Ignatius found it best to be attentive in listening and cautious and gentle in speech. Attentive especially to the inner particularities of the individual.
Ignatius also saw the adviser and counselor as a instrument of God or pen of God. The advisor follows rational rules of counseling and communication but is also always open to the spirit of the divine to help an individual. In essence, it is an encounter of love. As an adviser, Ignatius emphasized aiding others with the stirring of the spirits, discernment of the spirits and helping individuals through the spiritual journey itself. These are all essential elements of Christian Counseling and Christian Mentorship.
If you would like to learn more about AIHCP’s Christian Counseling Certification, then please review and see if it meets your academic and professional goals. The program is online and independent study and open to qualified professionals seeking a four year certification in Christian Counseling.
Ignatian Spiritual Exercises by St Ignatius
Directions for Communication by Willi Lambert