In my last Teacher blog, in which we discussed the topic of “Providing a safe space,” Gerry mentioned that he had found his training as a spiritual director helpful in his Course teaching. Martha asked, “Do you think that would a way for me to gain the necessary skills to be an effective Course teacher, or if it would be a time-consuming digression? Just around the same time, another Course teacher talked to me about the possibility of getting a degree in psychology or counseling. She wondered, as does Martha, if it would help her be a better Course teacher and provide her with recognized credentials.
I think this is a question that comes up from time to time in relation to other continuing education or training as well, so I thought it would be worthwhile exploring here. I hope we will hear from those of you who have other background training, as well as those of you who are considering it.
I’ll start off by sharing some of my experiences. First of all, prior to becoming a Course teacher, I had training and a background in nonviolent group process and facilitation, as well as in the facilitation of Attitudinal Healing, in both group and one-on-one settings. Primarily, they taught me a respectful, inclusive, egalitarian attitude towards participants, how to provide a safe space and stay on purpose, and ways to engage people and encourage their participation. Without going into more detail, I will say that what I learned from these fields has been invaluable to me as teacher. They provided me with a strong foundation for working with people. I draw on what I learned there constantly.
At one point, I began training as a spiritual director, thinking that it would help me learn how to help people more with their spiritual journey with the Course. However, while I had benefited from spiritual direction myself and had found some of the training helpful, I felt that the training in spiritual direction wasn’t in synch enough with the Course––for me. I also found that the Christian focus, as well as certain approaches and methods, didn’t fit well with me, so before completing the training I left the programme. I wanted to be a Course teacher and decided to focus my time and energy on that, rather than on becoming a spiritual director.
I did feel, though, that more of a background in religion and spirituality would be helpful, so I took several courses in the Pastoral Counseling Programme at St. Paul’s University here in Ottawa. Although it had been founded as a Catholic university, St. Paul’s had a broad-minded approach, and some rather radical professors, so I felt I would be safe there! I was clear, however, that I did not want to get a degree in Pastoral Counseling. I wanted courses that would help me come to terms with “practicing my theology,” and overcome some of my blocks to becoming a spiritual teacher. I chose courses that I thought would move me along in that direction and they did.
I am grateful for both of these experiences, and grateful that I didn’t get credentials in spiritual direction or pastoral counseling. At one point I did think that having those credentials would make me more legitimate as a spiritual teacher and counselor, but I’m glad I ignored that thought. I wouldn’t say that my taking those courses was a “time-consuming digression,” as Martha puts it, although I think the Spiritual Direction training programme would have become that if I had continued. I think I would also have had to unlearn a lot, and that can be the down-side to getting certification in other fields.
I agree with Gerry’s response to Martha’s comment in his teacher profile: “The training helps but much seems to depend on how one relates to people.” I think that if we’re really getting out of the way, stepping back, and letting the Holy Spirit lead our teaching, we will be truly helpful. We’ll know how to be and what to say or do in any situation. The way we will be with people won’t be formulaic, but natural and suited to the situation.
I think that whether or not we get other training is such an individual matter. I think the main question to ask, is the Course’s famous, “What is it for?” Is it to help me become a more effective Course teacher or is to give me credentials that establish my authority and position? Is it to help me become more effective as a Course teacher or is it the ego’s way to sidetrack me into detours? Is it in the service of spirit or the ego?