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Spiritual dark night and psychological depression: some comparisons and considerations.

The author contends that spiritual dark night and some forms of psychological depression share commonalties yet have distinctly different features that call for different responses from caregivers. The author presents comparisons between the 2 phenomena; highlights differences between them to offer counselors guidelines for making informed responses to their clients' issues; and compares professional preparation for spiritual directors, pastoral counselors, and traditional counselors. The article focuses on effective caregiver responses to dark night challenges that may be misperceived as manifestations of depression and stresses the importance of counselors and spiritual directors knowing their limits of expertise.


The phrase dark night of the soul was coined by St. John of the Cross, a sixteenth century Spanish poet, Carmelite mystic, and theologian who wrote three classic spiritual works regarding the experiences of his spiritual journey--The Ascent of Mount Carmel, The Dark Night, and The Spiritual Canticle (see Kavanaugh & Rodriguez, 1973). In The Dark Night, in particular, he chronicled his progressive loss of former ways of knowing and relating with God. Using night metaphorically, he described this privation, beginning with sensory losses at dusk, proceeding to a profound sense of abandonment and desolation at midnight, and evolving into the transforming consolation of God's love at dawn.

I contend that the dark night of the spiritual journeyer has an analog in the realm of psychotherapy--clinical depression as detailed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV; American Psychiatric Association [APA], 1994). Although dark night and clinical depression share commonalties, may occur simultaneously, and may occasionally mask each other, they have unique features that call for different understandings and responses by the caregiver or even different caregivers, depending on the professional training the caregiver has had. In this article, I compare dark night and clinical depression from three viewpoints: (a) similarities and differences in affected clientele and their presenting issues, (b) differing orientations in professional helpers well suited to work with each phenomenon, and (c) differential diagnosis of the two experiences. I conclude with an overview of the caregiver responses that are indicated for dark night, the less well documented of the two phenomena.

Clientele and Presenting Issues

Dark Night

My experience is that presenting individuals who articulate dark night experiences are usually individuals who are consciously committed to a spiritual or religious practice or tradition and who, in times of spiritual desolation, usually seek a spiritual director, pastoral counselor, priest, or minister rather than a psychotherapist. Their presenting issues are usually "God related"--spiritual or religious concerns pertaining to their past or current relationship with their God. Although the adjectives spiritual and religious are sometimes used interchangeably, Kelly (1995) differentiated them thusly: "spiritual as a personal affirmation of a transcendent connectedness in the universe; religious as the creedal, institutional or ritual expression of spirituality that is associated with world religions and denominations" (p. 4). Hence, a person who is experiencing distress in his or her relationship with God (or Source or Higher Power, by whatever name) may or may not be affiliated with an organized church or religion (Elkins, 1998). Nevertheless, he or she usually has an active and intentional prayer life, meditation, or other spiritual practice, whether done alone or in community.

St. John's classic description of the dark night journey is in two phases: the night of the senses and the subsequent and often more prolonged night of the spirit (Kavanaugh & Rodriguez, 1973). In the night-of-the-senses phase, religious and spiritual practices that formerly brought comfort, joy, or perhaps even ecstasy no longer bring such satisfaction or a sense of close relationship with God. The devotee's prayer life has become empty despite ardent devotion and commitment. Intensified prayer and devotion bear no fruit; in fact, they seem to result in increased discouragement and sometimes in a feeling of emptiness or psychological "dryness" as if in an emotional desert. This loss can be compared to "the fading light of dusk as the objects of the world gradually vanish from sight" (Dombrowski, 1992, p. 30). Later in the journey, this night of the senses blends into the night-of-the-spirit phase, which brings even more emptiness because the journeyers feel completely alienated from God. This experience of desolation may be seen as the "darkness of midnight when detachment has left us all alone and all is lost" (Dombrowski, 1992, p. 30). Here the apparent loss of relationship and spiritual satisfaction has usually become a crisis of faith. Although not as debilitating regarding everyday functioning as acute depression (G. G. May, 1982), the dark night pilgrim nevertheless feels spiritually disoriented.

Relationship with God in Western religious traditions has manifested historically in two major pathways: the cataphatic and the apophatic (Cronk, 1991). The cataphatic tradition recognizes that individuals enter relationship with God through all aspects of creation (including the beauty of nature, music, art, relationships, and via images of God's love in scripture). Evangelical and charismatic Christianity, the Catholic and Orthodox sacramental traditions, popular Hinduism, and much of Tantric Buddhism represent markedly cataphatic spiritualities. Because of the variety of ways of experiencing God's presence and because of the strong sense of affirmation accompanying them, the cataphatic tradition is sometimes called the via positiva. Classic works in this literature include writings by or about Hildegard of Bingen (Newman, 1998; Schipperges, 1998) and Julian of Norwich (Bauerschmidt, 1998; Furlong, 1996). The apophatic heritage (or via negativa), by contrast, emphasizes that no images, ideologies, or cultural expressions can adequately convey all that God is, and revelation brings one into mystery characterized by emptiness, dryness, and the absence of the sense of God's presence. Two classic Western expressions of this tradition include the Carmelite nada experience and the silence of Quaker Meetings. The nada experience (Kavanaugh & Rodriguez, 1973) emphasizes realizing what God is not, while one endures the emptiness for the sake of realizing the ineffability of God. The Quaker Meeting (Steere, 1984) emphasizes trusting in the word of God emerging from the rich quietude of the assembled community. A profound Eastern expression of this apophatic emptiness is the absence of desire in Zen Buddhism (Suzuki, 1999). Knowledge of both cataphatic and apophatic traditions and their respective literature can be invaluable to caregivers for use as bibliotherapy in aiding journeyers of the dark night.

At times in their spiritual journeys, devoted travelers may enter a dark night when they "are suddenly bereft of any experience of God's presence, direction, and consolation ... [and they experience] the unexpected opaqueness of all those areas of their lives through which God's light used to shine, giving meaning and purpose" (Cronk, 1991, p. 1). Although this experience may not initially be devastating, without adequate guidance it may develop into a crisis of faith and, if coinciding with other secular losses, could possibly help precipitate a clinical depression (G. G. May, 1982), as described in the next section.


Individuals without spiritual or religious orientation, and even "believers" whose distress prompts them to seek counseling or psychotherapy rather than pastoral care, will likely be focused on the "secular" cause of their anguish, including developmental issues that are related to psychosocial life transitions (Carroll & Dyckman, 1986; Erikson, 1963; Levinson, 1986; Sheehy, 1996), or on losses ranging from human relationships to employment, finances, dreams, health, and meaning. Although these losses might be seen by spiritually oriented counselors as spiritual challenges or even invitations for spiritual growth, afflicted individuals with neither spiritual nor religious orientation often focus on the psychological and physiological symptoms of depression. For purposes of this article, dark night is compared with two types of depression that are detailed in the DSM IV(APA, 1994)--Major Depressive Disorders 296x (unipolar) and Dysthymic Disorder (300.4). Bipolar disorders, with their biochemical components, are not as clearly psychologically analogous to spiritual dark night and are not considered here. Major depressive disorders may be single or recurrent episodes "not better accounted for by Schizoaffective Psychotic Disorder, Not Otherwise Specified" (APA, 1994, pp. 344-345). Dysthymic disorder is characterized by "depressed mood for most of the day, for more days than not, as indicated either by subjective account or observation by others for at least two years" (APA, 1994, p. 345) with two or more of the following symptoms: "poor appetite or overeating; insomnia or hyposomnia; low energy or fatigue; low self-esteem; poor concentration or difficulty making decisions; feelings of hopelessness" (APA, 1994, p. 345). Also, a diagnosis of dysthymic disorder requires an absence of a major depressive episode during the first 2 years and no evidence of manic, mixed, hypomanic episodes or cyclothymic disorders. Furthermore, the symptoms "must cause clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational (or academic), or other important areas of functioning" (APA, 1994, p. 345). This final qualifier is a key diagnostic factor in distinguishing dysthymia from dark night, as discussed later in this article.

Professional Helpers

Spiritual directors, pastoral counselors, and psychotherapists are all colleagues in their facilitation of spiritual and psychological growth. Even though they are colleagues in assisting others with spiritual and psychological/developmental concerns, members of the three professions have different orientations, training backgrounds, and therapeutic focuses. Spiritual direction, which is a tradition in Christianity--especially Catholicism, Orthodoxy, and Anglicanism--refers to a "formal, one-to-one relationship in which a person receives help ... in the process of spiritual formation, that is deepening one's relationship with God and related spiritual practices" (Kelly, 1995, pp. 244-245). These practices include prayer, meditation, fasting, charitable attitudes, and behavior (G. G. May, 1982). Barry and Connolly (1982) defined Christian spiritual direction as
   [h]elp given by one Christian to another which enables that person to pay
   attention to God's personal communication to him or her, to respond to this
   personally communicating God, to grow in intimacy with this God, and to
   live out the consequences of the relationship. The focus of this type of
   spiritual direction is on experience, not ideas, and specifically on
   religious experience. (p. 8)

The term director, however, is somewhat misleading because the function of the spiritual caregiver is not so much to direct as "to serve as a co-discerner of God's will ... [and the process of direction] is not so much a task or program to be accomplished, but a way of being with others" (Cronk, 1991, p. 125). Barry and Connolly (1982) added that "`Direction' does suggest something more than advice-giving and problem solving. It implies that the person who seeks direction is going somewhere, and wants to talk with someone on the way" (pp. 10-11). The conversation is not casual and aimless; it is focused on helping people who are seeking direction find their way in relationship with their God.

The formal training for spiritual directors has two levels--certificate programs and graduate degrees. Certificate programs are offered by various centers for spiritual development, such as the Shalem Institute ( index.html) in Washington, DC, or the Mercy Center ( in Burlingame, California, and at various schools of theology throughout the United States. Master's degree programs are found in seminaries and schools of theology. Spiritual Directors International ( offers a list of training institutions throughout the world. Both graduate and certificate programs require supervised practicum experiences accompanied by courses in the religious tradition's history and scripture, spiritual discernment, psychospiritual development, critical issues in spiritual direction, and spiritual direction theory.

Pastoral counselors are often ordained ministers who have had training in counseling skills as part of their seminary work. They may also be laypersons who are trained in counseling and who choose to work in churches or religiously affiliated counseling centers. They may or may not have received training in spiritual direction specifically. Their counseling focus is usually on everyday secular concerns, although viewed in the context of religious doctrine and the scripture of their tradition. Their work may overlap the work of the spiritual director regarding their client's relationship with God, although their focus is quite likely to be on helping clients solve everyday problems and foster understanding of the self while also exploring their relationship with God.

Psychotherapists who belong to the major traditions--psychoanalytic, behavioral (including the recent brief therapies), and existential/humanistic schools--have developed elaborate and complex models of human development, psychopathology, and treatment. All these approaches focus on intrapersonal and interpersonal sources of psychological distress (Corey, 2001; Corsini & Wedding, 2000). Among this diverse group, some, including Rogers (1980), Maslow (1968), Jung (1933), R. May, (1983), and Bugental (1987), are quite interested in clients' religious and spiritual values and beliefs. Despite their differences regarding religion and spirituality4 most therapists can agree that their goals are to help the client either change behaviors or come to a greater self-understanding, or both. Their focus would not be on God or relationship with a transcendent Being or Power unless this issue was raised by the client. Even then, the relationship would not receive the extensive focus that it would in spiritual direction, where it is the primary relationship to be explored. Indeed, a major orientation in spiritual direction is to see all of life as an extension of the Transcendent, by whatever name or understanding the seeker has of God.

In summary, spiritual directors and traditional psychotherapists have diverged in content and intent, with
   [s]piritual direction focusing on explicitly spiritual experiences (e.g.,
   prayer and one's sense of God) and counseling/psychotherapy focusing on
   attitudinal, cognitive and behavioral dynamics ... [and] the former
   concentrating on the deepening relationship with God and experience of
   divine reality, and the latter focusing on health, satisfying psychological
   development and behavior. (Kelly, 1995, p. 245)

Since the late 1960s, transpersonal therapists (Cortright, 1997) have blurred some of the earlier distinctions between spiritually and secularly oriented therapists. Transpersonal therapy training tends to emphasize psychospiritual aspects of psychology and psychotherapy as well as the study of spiritual and religious traditions and discipline. Graduate training in transpersonal psychology and psychotherapy is available at major institutes such as the Naropa Institute ( of Boulder, Colorado, the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology ( in Palo Alto, California, the California Institute of Integral Studies in San Francisco, and the John F. Kennedy University ( in Orinda, California. Some of the major theorists and practitioners of transpersonal psychology include Assagioli (1981), Boorstein (1997), Hendricks and Weinhold (1982), Kornfield (1993), Rothberg (1986), Tart (1975,1983), Walsh and Vaughn (1993), Washburn (1994), Welwood (1984), and Wilber (1977, 1997).

Regardless of the similarity or differences in the caregiver's orientations, spiritual directors with limited training in psychotherapeutic theory and practice and counselors without training in spiritual direction may unknowingly wander into terrain that is more familiar to their professional counterparts. Because of the possibility of crossing boundaries, caregivers in each of these professions need to know competent colleagues in the counterpart area who can serve as valuable referrals, if needed. Many metropolitan areas now have varieties of spiritual growth centers in addition to the traditional religious places of worship and seminaries. Meeting the staffs of such centers and attending some of the courses that are offered are important ways for counselors to know spiritually oriented counterpart helpers while also providing themselves opportunities for their own spiritual development.

Comparisons and Differential Diagnosis

The major similarity found in dark night and unipolar depressive disorders is loss. However, as previously noted, the losses tend to be different. In dark night experiences, the loss is one's relationship with God. Catholics and other Christians understand dark night's source as God, rather than self, parents, culture, or other secular influences (Cronk, 1991; Dombrowski, 1992). God leads the person to Godself in faith. Because the dark night experience in spiritual literature is traditionally seen as providential in origin, neither ego nor psychotherapy alone is adequate as a resource for the journey to dawn.

Contrasted with the loss of relationship with God (or Source) in the dark night, loss for the depressed client is usually of a more secular nature (e.g., loss of a dear one through death or the termination of a relationship or loss of job, finances [and related dreams], or health, any of which can precipitate a loss of life's meaning). The etiology of depression may have biological components (Myers, 1995), relational components (Freud, 1949; Mahler, 1968; Sullivan, 1956), cognitive antecedents (Beck, 1993; Ellis & Dryden, 1987; Meichenbaum, 1986), or combinations of all three. Although dark night may share relational and cognitive components with depression, the subject of the relationship and cognition--God--is the key difference between the two.

G. G. May (1982), a noted psychiatrist and spiritual director, has summarized similarities as well as key differences between dark night experiences and depression. Similarities include "feelings of hopelessness, helplessness, agitation and emptiness ... impoverishment of thoughts, absence of motivation and loss of self-confidence" (p. 90). He also noted that "if the frustration in prayer is neither surrendered nor experienced as anger, it may be turned against oneself and breed a true depression" (p. 85). However, he also highlighted some key differences between dark night and depression. The most distinct differences were described in the following manner.
   Dark night experiences are not usually associated with loss of
   effectiveness in life or work, as are primary depressions. Often, in fact,
   the individual is mystified at how well he or she is continuing to

      In the dark night one would not really have things otherwise. While
   there may be great superficial dissatisfaction and confusion, the most
   honest answer, the deepest response, is that in spite of everything there
   is an underlying sense of rightness about it all. This is in stark contrast
   to primary depression in which one's deepest sense is of wrongness and,
   consciously at least, the desire for a radical, even miraculous, change is

      Very subtly, yet perhaps most importantly, one does not generally feel
   frustrated, resentful or annoyed in the presence of a person undergoing a
   dark night experience while such feelings are common work with depressed
   people because of their own internalized anger, one is much more likely to
   feel graced and consoled with someone experiencing the dark night. (G. G.
   May, 1982, pp. 90-91)

G. G. May (1982) highlighted what he identified as the most important questions for spiritual directors. "How is your immediate, prayerful awareness affected as you discuss the matter with the directee? Does it lead you into a deeper sense of God's presence and grace or does it lead you into coldness, alienation, antagonism, or selfishness?" (p. 91).

In addition, Cronk (1991), a spiritual teacher and historian of religion, offered the following four questions to help distinguish dark night from bereavement:
   Is the person moving from centeredness on self to centeredness on God, with
   a deepening capacity to care for others? Is the person shifting into a
   contemplative way of knowing God? Does the person face an impasse situation
   or is the person too withdrawn to explore the available solutions to the
   problems of living? ...

      Finally, is the person able to carry on normal job requirements,
   interactions with family, friends, etc? (p. 87)

If the answer is affirmative to the first half of the third question and all the other questions, dark night rather than depression is indicated.

Another diagnostic consideration is to differentiate between two psychological roadblocks to spiritual development and the genuine humility that is associated with authentic surrender to unknowing in dark night experiences. G. G. May (1982) identified the two obstacles as spiritual cop-out and spiritual narcissism. Examples of spiritual cop-out, when the journeyer uses spiritual insight or practice to avoid dealing with daily responsibilities, may take various forms, including the following:
   [M]editation may constitute an escape from the world rather than a way into
   it, prayer may be used as a tranquilizer, and what goes under the label of
   spiritual surrender may be nothing more than self-enforced, theologically
   rationalized passivity or submission to one's own or someone else's ego.
   (p. 83)

Spiritual narcissism involves use of spiritual practice or insights to promote self-importance rather than to deepen humility. It involves "the taking over of spiritual growth phenomena and the substituting of personal pride for humble gratitude" (G. G. May, 1982, p. 83). My experience with this phenomenon includes encountering "holier-than-thou" attitudes and self-promotion because of the pilgrim's perception of "specialness" in God's sight due to the degree of his or her suffering.

Although spiritual cop-out and spiritual narcissism may initially seem to be developmental stages in a spiritual process, they are, indeed, the same dysfunctional responsibility-avoidance and narcissism of secular issues applied to the spiritual journey. The only difference is the object of focus of the dysfunction--one's relationship with God. The astute spiritual director will recognize cop-out and narcissism for what they are--psychological roadblocks rather than genuine dark night symptoms.

A final note about differential diagnosis pertains to ruling out possible biological and physical components of the presenting issue. As already noted, depression may be associated with physical health difficulties that have been precipitated by inadequate diet or physical exercise, or both. In my experience, dark night journeyers also may neglect their diet and exercise in their desolation. However, the reinstitution of a healthy diet and exercise routines does not affect the spiritual journeyers' sense of loss, whereas similar changes in a depressed person's health regimen are often associated with notable positive results.

Perspective on and Responses for Dark Night Journeys


The perspective of spiritual directors and spiritually oriented therapists regarding dark night experiences contrasts with traditional psychotherapists' outlook on presenting problems and, hence, influences their responses. John of the Cross considered darkness a normal, inevitable aspect of growth toward religious maturity (Conn, 1989). Spiritual directors and others who are familiar with works about dark night consider the experience a purification of the soul to receive God. Dombrowski (1992) framed the dark night as a "positive healing function provided by spiritual dryness at midnight in that impurities in one's psyche are burned away" (p. 32). The dark night is an experience to be "seen through rather than worked through" (G. G. May, 1982, p. 84). By facing the darkness, individuals confront the void within where there was once spiritual sustenance. Previously, people have confused God's gifts (various forms of consolation) with God. In the loss of senses, they begin to move beyond the confusion and encounter an opportunity for profound "repatterning" of lives that are centered in God. Rather than maladies to be fixed, the challenges that are encountered on the inward journey call for more being than doing. Therefore, the role of the journeyer and caregiver is cooperation with God rather than "trying to outrun the Guide" (Cronk, 1991, p. 64).

In Christian terms, the dark night is a paschal death--a spiritual death of the old ways of living and being that provides possibility for new life. As Cronk (1991) noted,
   [W]e move away from our autonomous understanding of sell to a recognition
   that we live in and through God. This deeper self cannot be measured,
   analyzed, or defined. Its worth does not depend on its talents and skills.
   It cannot even be perceived as an object. We are grounded in God.... The
   image of the death of self refers to the movement from the perception of
   ourselves as an object to that of living and being in relationship with God
   and the death of the false (autonomous) self. Living into the reality of
   our life in God is called the birth of the true self. (p. 67)

The chronology of the dark night journey shows different symptom manifestations than does depression, as noted in the section on Clientele and Presenting Problems. During dusk (the night of the senses), "the activity of these senses must be suspended or at least diminished in order to allow the powers of receptivity to be accentuated.... [since] the constant activity of the senses prevents inner solitude" (Dombrowski, 1992, pp. 172-173), which St. John saw as the prerequisite for the inflowing of God's grace. At midnight (the night of the spirit), "a purgation produces nakedness or poverty of spirit ... making possible an infused contemplation which leads to eventual dawn as peace of soul" (Dombrowski, 1992, p. 172). In short, God enters when room is made for divine indwelling.

Transpersonal therapists consider a dark night as a form of "spiritual emergency" (Grof & Grof, 1989), "a difficult personal crisis varying in degrees of intensity, involving some kind of spiritual awakening, typically triggered by a stressful emotional event" (Oldenberg, 1994). The emphasis here is on the relative nature of the emergency, because it may not develop into a clinical depression. Jung (1933), a forefather of the transpersonal therapy that emerged in the 1960s and 1970s, would likely consider dark night a death experience. The death, in this case, is the demise of false gods and ego in service of further realization of the self-archetype or Imago Dei, the image of God that we are beneath our masks or personae.

The dark night necessarily requires loss, and it calls for a special kind of surrender. At some point in the journey, the journeyer comes to realize that the process is larger than he or she is, and an acceptance of this, according to Frost (as cited in Dombrowski, 1992, p. 170), involves a certain "passivity," not a giving up, but a "busying our hearts with quietude." John of the Cross (Kavanaugh & Rodriguez, 1973) suggested that trying to journey to God without shaking off the appetites and cares of the world was folly. The exterior attachments multiply an individual's needs. What must happen is for the soul to divest itself of distractions to solitude. "It is detachment from the desire for things, even `things' like heaven rather than detachment from things, that is of primary concern of John of the Cross" (Dombrowski, 1992, p. 31). During the journey, individuals must be willing to enter a relationship of commitment and fidelity if they truly desire to know the Other beyond their own needs and projections. In the transformation of the ways of knowing, they also transform their ways of loving. They escape the limits of narcissistic demand and romanticism and "undertake the painful restructuring process of learning how to love and be loved" (Cronk, 1991, p. 55).


Influenced by the outlook that has been described in this article, the spiritual director, pastoral counselor, or transpersonal therapist offers responses similar to the responses of traditional psychotherapists, but the orientation is different. Cronk (1991) suggested that the functions of the caregiver in response to dark night were to listen, interpret, and guide. In addition to the person-centered listening of Rogers (1967), she advocated that both the spiritual director and the individual seeking direction listen for the invitations of the other Listener in their midst. "What might God be inviting here?" is a frequent question of directors and pastoral counselors. G. G. May (1982) suggested that directors be guided by such questions as, "What truly constitutes our spiritual concern here?" and "What things are getting in the way of our simple, humble intention toward the working of the Holy Spirit in this person's life?" (p. 14).

The interpreting function is to help the journeyer understand the journey in the light of classic accounts such as St. John's, including the stages and accompanying experiences. Some journeyers may not know of the apophatic spiritual tradition, and learning of its existence provides the realization of "universality" that Yalom (1995) described as a therapeutic factor in group therapy--the realization that an individual is not alone in this experience; it is indeed an integral part of the fully lived life journey.

The guidance function in spiritual direction and spiritually oriented counseling is more directive than the Rogerian listening that is associated with his facilitative conditions (Rogers, 1967, 1980) and is undertaken only after the careful previous work of listening. It may involve suggestions regarding keeping a journal, meditation, or spiritual retreat work. Caregiver knowledge of the via positiva and via negativa spiritual traditions that have been described, especially the latter, provide bibliotherapy options for dark night journeyers. Apophatic writings, such as John of the Cross's The Ascent of Mount Carmel and Dark Night of the Soul (see Kavanaugh & Rodriguez, 1973), describe the psychological experience and explore some of the deep repatterning that is characteristic of this spiritual process. Quaker Friends' journals (Brinton, 1972) are also guides in dark night journeying. Other classics of the apophatic tradition are Merton's "A Philosophy of Solitude" in his Disputed Questions (1960) and The Cloud of Unknowing (Progoff, 1983), the spiritual chronicle of an unknown, fourteenth-century monk.

Other useful interventions in the dark night process abound. Caregiver self-disclosure about his or her own dark night experiences can bring the dimension of universality. Another directing function is to gently challenge journeyers to rethink their understanding of and relationship with God (Fowler, 1981). Spiritual directors may suggest the possibility, even probability, of God's invitation in this very dark night to a deeper, richer spiritual understanding and fulfillment by facing the darkness (Cronk, 1991). Another approach to explore what journeyers can do to make themselves more accepting of not knowing and how they may begin to live with a sense of shedding and subtraction rather than acquiring. The challenge for spiritual directors is to avoid rescuing and to encourage exploration of the individual's will to live in the darkness with trust and deeper faith on the journey with and to God.


Spiritual directors and counselors are indeed partners in helping and may, on occasion, work with similar content in responding to their respective clients. Although spiritual dark night and some forms of psychological depression may not initially be clearly distinguished by the helper, they are different phenomena requiring different responses. Counselor knowledge of these differences is essential in an age when church attendance has either reached a plateau or is declining with a simultaneous increase in spiritual hunger, as evidenced by the proliferation of spiritual publications, growth centers, and spiritually oriented graduate academic institutions. Equipped with such knowledge, counselors can make efficacious, informed interventions regarding dark night experiences and their psychological depression analogs.


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Michael O'Connor is an associate professor in the Department of Counseling and School Psychology at Seattle University, Seattle, Washington. Correspondence regarding this article should be sent to Michael O'Connor, Department of Counseling and School Psychology, Room 217 Loyola Hall, Seattle University, 900 Broadway, Seattle, WA 98122 (e-mail:
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Author:O'Connor, Michael
Publication:Counseling and Values
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2002
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