Spiritual Direction by Video

I have used video conference and telephone conference with people all over the world for individual and group spiritual direction and spiritual friendship and find that this can be a powerful and effective way to connect. Here are some basic points on using video services such as Skype or Zoom for spiritual direction and other spiritual encounters:

• Bridges distances - Video eliminates travel times and allows people to connect over great distances and face-to-face at times when they cannot leave their homes or when they are traveling. It can allow geographically isolated or physically challenged people to connect more easily with communities. It can enable people who live in very small communities in which they know almost everyone to enter into spiritual direction with those outside their communities in order to avoid boundary issues.

• Use of silence - Silence experienced with others on digital media can take on a very intentional and powerful quality. When people go to the trouble of being together in silence via digital media, it is clear that the silence is not just an absence of noise.

• Safety - Being able to talk from one’s home, one’s sofa, even one’s bed, can give a great feeling of safety. It can also feel quite intimate to be able to give a virtual tour of one’s home to someone who is far away. Strangers can meet via video without physical safety issues.

• Efficient and structured - Meeting via video can facilitate a very structured format, beginning at a quite precise time and eliminating chit chat at the beginning and end of sessions which can sometimes detract from the spiritual encounter (or sometimes add to it.)

• Noise - The ambient noise of all the participants on video is aggregated and can be bothersome, more so than on a phone call. This makes video somewhat distracting for long periods of silence and it is often appropriate to use the mute button. However, there can be a certain intimacy to hearing the noises that are taking place in someone else’s space.

• Image - The image can be good for getting to know each other, but there can sometimes be a sense of relief at turning the picture off. It can be helpful to check in with people about how they are feeling about the picture, which can be easily turned on or off with a click during the call.  Some people are self-conscious about being looked at or may become self-conscious when certain subjects are raised.  It can be helpful to check with each other at the beginning of a session to make sure that cameras are well positioned.

• Technical difficulties - There can be technical difficulties with getting people on and service cutting out. It’s good to leave some extra time to deal with technical issues and not be working with a very tight schedule. If you start to feel frustrated, remember how much time you’re saving by not having to travel to the meeting.

If someone will be joining a group who has not used video much, it can be helpful to meet with them in advance to make sure they know how to turn their camera on and off and get the sound to work properly. You may also want to suggest that everyone in the group update their version of Skype or Zoom periodically, since newer versions may provide better quality reception. If someone can be heard but not seen, this can sometimes be corrected by updating their version of Skype or Zoom, but in some cases there does not seem to be a way to overcome the issue.

• Latency (sound or picture delays) - Sound and picture delays can be distracting and are sometimes so severe that communication becomes almost impossible, particularly in areas that do not have high speed service. There are less likely to be delays when using sound only. If the delay is distracting, try ending the call and beginning again.

There is sometimes a delay with the picture coming on at the beginning of the call, particularly with group calls. Video technology seems to work best if only one person speaks at a time, with no interruptions. This often suits the spiritual direction process just fine!

It often does not work well on video for groups to try to say things in unison because of latency issues (sound delays). For example, at the end of a centering prayer group if you are going to say the Lord's Prayer, it may work best to choose one person to say it while others listen.

• Group Spiritual Direction by Video - Skype or Zoom can be used very effectively for group spiritual direction, either with video or with audio only.  I recommend using the Shalem method developed by Rose Mary Dougherty. 

Here's a format for four people based on the Shalem method.

• Shorter Meetings - Because directees are no longer traveling to see the director, it becomes more practical to schedule shorter appointments, if desired.  I have been experimenting with a format where the directee and I sit in silence together for ten minutes at the beginning of the session. This gives us an opportunity to pray together and strengthen our sense of connection before we speak.

• Eye contact - Eye contact is a good example of something that some people consider problematic about Skype, but which I have found can actually be an asset. You are not making “real” eye contact with the other person because when you are looking at their eyes on the screen you are not looking at the camera, so your eyes are not “really” meeting. However, I have noticed that this can actually make eye contact less intense in a way that can be more comfortable, particularly since there is a sense that our faces are much closer together than in an in person meeting. Once I get used to it, it can feel just right.

• Comparative Services and Costs - Skype is free to anyone with a computer and a webcam. Some people may resist using Skype at first because they do not realize that it is free and very easy to install. Request that those who will be on the call update their Skype to the latest version by going to the Skype menu —> Check for Updates. Sometimes those who have an older version cannot be seen on the call but can be heard.

I have moved to Zoom for most video meetings. Zoom is free for one on one meetings and for groups lasting up to 40 minutes and starts at $14.99/mo for unlimited group conferencing. I have found it more reliable and easier to use. It can easily be used by voice only for those who do not have a camera, participants do not need a Zoom account, and there is less confusion about how to enter a group call or how to record a session. Zoom provides excellent technical support if you have a problem.