Date of Submission



In recent times Spiritual Direction has grown in popularity amongst lay people seeking to nurture their own spirituality. This trend has given rise to an increased enrolment of people seeking to train as Spiritual Directors. This study aims to identify key factors underpinning the learning processes in a spiritual direction curriculum program that is part of a graduate course offered by an Australian University. Having identified the factors, the researcher will assess its effectiveness in forming spiritual directors, from the perspective of participants involved in the program. This qualitative study was based on the insights of adults who are already qualified spiritual directors trained in this particular spiritual direction formation program or are current participants in the same program. Their perceptions of the course were drawn upon to investigate the impact of their curriculum program on the formation of spiritual directors. Unstructured in depth interviews were utilized to gain the perspectives of participants. The original principles of grounded theory (Glaser & Strauss, 1967) were drawn upon to identify, conceptualize and analyze key insights into the learning processes associated with one spiritual direction curriculum with a view to identifying an emerging theory. Based on the emerging theory, this timely study aimed to ascertain the implications for improvement of both the design and delivery of learning processes within spiritual direction courses, and ongoing professional development offerings. The findings indicated that the approach to formation was enhanced by the development of collegial, interactive learning spaces in which participants’ relational qualities were influential in shaping these spaces. The qualities of trust, openness, vulnerability and integrity were identified as the core relational factors that contributed to the enhancement of the interactive learning spaces generated between the participants. Contemplative processing of learning was extended when participants adopted these relational qualities when reflectively and critically engaging with experiences. Used in combination with the principles and processes of Lectio Divina (Binz, 2008) and Theory U (Scharmer, 2009), participants’ relational qualities promoted the broadening and deepening of the formational learning process. The influence of formators was significant in demonstrating the application of the relational qualities in the way they taught and participated in the learning process. The formators continued to maintain their authority and leadership of the learning process in conjunction their enactment of the relational qualities through collegial engagement. The promotion of a range of approaches to safety resulted from participants’ willingness to cooperatively apply the qualities of trust, openness, vulnerability and integrity with each other within the diverse learning community. Based on these findings, the implications of the emerging theory were presented that offer ways in which these findings can be applied within a range of formation programs to enhance participants’ learning opportunities. One recommendation for further research focused on the possibility of exploring spiritual direction formation programs associated with other traditions or which have a different emphasis. Another suggestion for further research would be to explore spiritual direction formation programs from the formators’ perspective.


School of Education

Document Type


Access Rights

Open Access


341 pages

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Faculty of Education and Arts