Spiritual direction is a companioning that helps a directee to name and savor the nuances of his or her relationship with God, which draws the directee deepwardly in love, freedom, mercy, gentleness, healing, and self-awareness.
Mentoring and life-coaching are very popular today. These practices are rooted in teaching, modeling, and trouble-shooting. While a spiritual director might sometimes offer some of those aspects, it is not the root of the ministry. Instead, the primary role of the spiritual director is to actively listen and assist you in expressing the details and nuances of your relationship with God so as to give God a chance to speak through you and offer greater clarity, understanding, and direction. In this way, the spiritual director does not come with an agenda, but allows you to express what is currently most relevant in your life.
There are entire courses in graduate schools that focus on answering that question, but I like Elizabeth de Smaele's answer. She explains that spiritual direction and counseling differ in focus, approach and timeframe. She explains--
Normally, we will meet once a month for 45-60 minutes. There are some directees who choose to meet more frequently or less frequently based on their circumstances. Consistency in spiritual direction seems to be an important key to understanding and witnessing God's work in our lives.
In addition to a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology from St. Meinrad College and a Master’s of Divinity from Notre Dame Seminary, I am certified in spiritual direction from the Institute for Priestly Formation at Creighton University and have training in spiritual direction supervision from the Sophia Spirituality Center. I've been regularly offering spiritual direction to clergy and laity since 1999.
The things that a directee tells his or her spiritual director are kept confidential unless state law mandates disclosure, including such things as suspected child abuse and neglect, self-neglect, exploitation of the elderly or other dependents, and threat to harm others or oneself.
There is no standardized process for being certified in spiritual direction, primarily because there are so many different styles of direction, practiced within many religions and Christian denominations. Training can range from a weekend course to graduate programs at major universities. My certification was a three-year program and was led by some of the leading directors and authors in the field, including George Aschenbrenner and John Horn. I am also a member of Spiritual Directors International.