Relational Psychoanalysis and Christian Spiritual Direction: A Critical Review of the Literature

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Spiritual direction and psychotherapy are neighboring disciplines that share in caring for whole people (Benner, 2002; Harborne, 2012). Although they are separate traditions with different languages, psychology is seen as an important resource for spiritual direction (Barry & Connolly, 2009). Classical psychoanalytic (e.g., Freud) and depth psychology (e.g., Jung) theorists from the early 20th century have heavily influenced contemporary spiritual direction literature, resulting in an implicit psychology from deficit-based conceptualizations and hierarchical relationships (Bidwell, 2003, 2009). Without considering contemporary relational theories, spiritual direction literature undervalues the director-directee (horizontal) relationship (Hardy, 2000). Benjamin’s (2018) contemporary relational psychoanalytic theory, specifically the goal of mutual recognition and the concepts of the Third, provides a deeper relational perspective for spiritual direction. By applying a process-oriented methodology (Dueck, 2002), Benjamin’s (2018) theory is integrated within the author’s theological tradition and spiritual direction training to provide a deeper understanding of the relational dynamics that exist in the director-directee relationship. Examples and implications are given for how the director-directee relationship is a penultimate telos that serves the ultimate telos in spiritual direction, the directee’s relationship with God.

Degree Name

Doctor of Psychology in Clinical Psychology (PsyD)

First Advisor

Strawn, Brad D.

Document Type





Relational psychoanalysis, Spiritual direction, Integration, Mutual recognition, Relational third, Spirituality, Relational theism


Christianity | Other Psychology


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