A word from Tom:
I have a small clay chair in my office. It was created by one of my colleagues. More on the chair later.
The Franciscan Spiritual Center has been a hugely important part of my own faith
development and personal growth. I began receiving spiritual direction from Sr. Mary Jo in 2005, while I attended a Master of Pastoral Ministry program. I had already been practicing for several years as a physician specializing in psychiatry and forensic psychiatry. I continued on in spiritual direction after completing graduate school and eventually felt the call to explore becoming a spiritual director myself. I completed the Franciscan Center’s Spiritual Direction Training Program (SDTP) in 2016.
The SDTP experience, spiritual direction, and participating in a variety of programs offered by the Franciscan Center allowed me to explore my faith and the Franciscan Tradition in a transformative way. I felt called to become “bi-vocational,” practicing spiritual direction while continuing to practice psychiatry. I was blessed to be hired in 2017 to be on staff part-time. I am so blessed to have the privilege of taking part in the
valuable work of the Franciscan Center.
As a spiritual director, I often am asked to explain the difference between spiritual direction and counseling or therapy. Perhaps the biggest distinction is the dynamics of the relationship. In therapy there are two people involved: the therapist and the client who have a conversation with each other. In spiritual direction, a third person enters the conversation: the Holy Spirit. If you have been in my office at the Center, you will have seen that clay chair resting on my side table. This chair reminds me of the presence of the third person in the room, the One who truly does the directing. As a spiritual director, I help hold the space for the directee to explore his or her experience of God in everyday life and to listen for the murmurings of the Spirit. My role is to accompany the directee in this sacred process.
People are moved to seek spiritual direction for several reasons but usually have some
desire to grow in their connection to the transcendent (God, Spirit, Creation, wonder, awe) or to wrestle with the big picture questions in life (what gives one meaning, how one deals with suffering, aging, death). In contrast, people seek out therapy because of a problem that is causing them distress or impairing their ability to function in some significant areas of their life (relationships, family, occupation, education). My job as a psychiatrist is clarifying the problem (diagnosing) and formulating a plan to help “fix” the problem (treating).
In spiritual direction, I don’t view the directee as having a problem. The directee is
perfect as is, created in the image and likeness of God! There is nothing for me to fix, no diagnosis to treat. My role is to accompany the directee on his or her journey; I do this through deep listening and gentle presence. The Franciscan Center provides a safe and holy place for this process to happen. Not only am I able watch directees grow into their relationship with God, but also, I am able to be fully who I am.
In a time in which there is so much uncertainty and unsettledness in the world, the
Franciscan Center offers, as we say around here “Peace. Presence. Community.” These three gifts have been so nurturing to me as well as to many others and are exemplified in where we are, who we are, and what we do. My prayer is that you join me in making a donation to the Franciscan Spiritual Center to continue to support this special place.
Tom Welch, twelch@FrancisSpCtr.com
Click HERE to read more stories in the Season of Franciscan Giving series.