Non-directive Counseling (Definition, Techniques, and Importance) 

There are three counseling approaches: directive, non-directive, and eclectic. These approaches differ based on the role the counselor plays in the counseling relationship.

In this post, I’ll be focusing on non-directive counseling— its definition, principles, and dynamics of practice.

What is Non-directive Counseling?

Non-directive counseling is a counseling approach where the counselor is not actively giving the client solutions to their issues or interpreting the situations in their life.

The counselor simply serves as a facilitator to help the client bring out their own solution to the problem and gain insight into the situation in their lives by themself.

Non-directive counseling is also known as a client-centered or person-centered approach. This emphasizes the fact that all the activities of the counseling relationship are focused on the client— what they feel, what they think, how they interpret their issues, what they want, and so on.

It has little or no concern at all with what the counselor thinks or feels. But it is also obvious that non-directive counseling doesn’t mean the counseling relationship lacks direction, instead, it means that the direction is not coming from the counselor as in the directive approach, but from the client.

Origin and History of Non-directive Counseling

Non-directive counseling approach was propounded by American psychologist Carl Rogers (1902 -1987) under the humanistic psychology theory in the 1940s although Rogers continued to refine his theory right until the 1980s. 

In the 1940s, Carl Rogers’ theory was promoted as a more compassionate treatment for mental health issues than psychoanalysis or behavioral methods and it led to widespread and mass acceptance. 

Rogers changed the name of non-directive therapy to client-centered therapy in the 1950s. Rogers’ conclusion that clients did desire at least a little subtle direction led to the creation of this term. Then his approach to therapy started to alter.

In 1961, Carl Rogers published the groundbreaking book “On Becoming a Person” which provided a model and foundational template for the practice of non-directive counseling and throughout the 1970s, he continued to hone his approach

He concentrated on the function of the therapist throughout this time. Then, in the 1980s, Rogers’ therapy—now known as person-centered therapy—began to be applied to several fields, including business, conflict resolution, family, healthcare, and cross-cultural settings.

Since “patient” (the term that was used for those who went for therapy) implied that therapy was just for sick individuals, Rogers initially substituted it for “client,” a more common term. He viewed his clients as persons who were trying to solve their own problems and needed his assistance. 

He eventually settled on the new name of “person-centered treatment” because of his emphasis on the client as a human, even though the initial motivation was that the word client was more positive than patient.

See History of Guidance and Counseling In America 

Basic Assumptions and Principles of Non-directive Counseling

Non-directive counseling recognizes that each person has the capacity and desire for personal growth and change rather than considering people as having problematic behaviors and beliefs that need to be treated.

This innate human propensity is known as the “actualizing tendency,” or self-actualization, according to Rogers. He compared it to how other living things strive for harmony, structure, and increased complexity.

According to Rogers, “If a defined climate of facilitative psychological attitudes can be established, then individuals can tap into immense resources inside themselves for self-understanding and for transforming their self-concepts, basic attitudes, and self-directed action.” (read slowly)

The non-directive counselor gains the ability to see and believe in the potential of others, showing empathy and unwavering support to their patients to promote transformation

By following the client’s lead as much as possible, the counselor avoids taking control of the counseling process. Instead, the counselor provides structure, support, and assistance so that the client can find unique solutions for themselves.

6 Characteristics of Non-directive Counseling 

1. Psychological Contact

Psychological contact between the counselor and the client is the primary requirement for the achievement of good personal transformation on the part of the client. But there shouldn’t just be physical contact between the counselor and the client. They must meet on a psychological level and be able to reach their feelings and mindsets. 

The counselor-client relationship consists of the other five characteristics of non-directive counseling listed below

2. Client Incongruence or Vulnerability

When clients’ self-image and their experience don’t match, they become fearful and anxious. Such a client is said to have incongruence (lack of agreement). The client mostly isn’t aware of the discrepancy.

Incongruence is necessary for non-directive counseling to take place because the goal of non-directive counseling is to help the client attain congruence (a state where who they are and how they see themselves are in alignment). 

3. Counselor Congruence or Genuineness 

While the client is incongruent at the beginning of the counseling relationship, the counselor should be congruent, authentic, and self-aware. This does not suggest that the therapist must be flawless, but rather that within the therapeutic connection, he or she must be true to themself.

The counselor must not assume a pretense role while relating with the client (e.g. pretending to be hurt by the client’s situation when they are not hurt). Instead, the counselor must be themselves and show their true feelings. Clients can tell when the counselor is pretending.

4. Counselor’s Unconditional Positive Regard

The counselor should accept the client’s experiences, whether they are favorable or unfavorable, without holding them to a standard or passing judgment. This is unconditional positive regard. 

Regardless of the counselor’s biases, personal values, or convictions, he or she should never make the client feel weird or bad. If this is done, the client will express themselves and share their experiences without worrying about being judged.

5. Counselor Empathy

Counselor empathy is the fifth characteristic of non-directive counseling. Empathy is the ability of the counselor to understand and acknowledge the emotions of the clients without becoming emotionally involved.

Empathy is not sympathy where the counselor feels sorry for the client. Instead, the counselor can comprehend how the client feels and relate with them at the level of that feeling while not being clouded by the feeling.

6. Client Perception

The unconditional positive regard and empathy of the counselor do no good if the client does not perceive it. So the last characteristic of non-directive counseling is that the client must gain the right perception of the counselor.

The counselor must intentionally convey his genuineness and nonjudgmental attitude through his or her actions and words. This is what facilitates progress.

Techniques of Non-directive Counseling 

The three major techniques of non-directive counseling have already been covered under the characteristics but now I’ll be covering them as techniques.

1. Genuineness and Congruence

Counselors who focus on their clients exhibit sincerity and consistency with them. This implies that individuals consistently behave in a manner consistent with their own thoughts and emotions, allowing them to express themselves honestly and openly.

This necessitates self-awareness and practical comprehension of the interactions between internal experiences—like thoughts and feelings—and outward events. Counselors can assist in teaching clients these critical qualities by serving as an example of sincerity and consistency.

The counseling relationship is safe and trustworthy when both parties are acting sincerely and congruently. This trust helps clients feel safe, which might make it easier for them to participate in therapy.

2. Unconditional Positive Regard

Counselors will always accept clients for who they are and show support and care regardless of what they are going through or experiencing. This is an example of unconditional positive regard.

To show clients that they are invested in the conversation, they actively listen to them, make eye contact when they speak, display good emotions, or offer reassurance.

Counselors assist clients in feeling comfortable while expressing their actual emotions without worrying about being rejected by fostering an environment of unconditional positive regard. This is frequently a reassuring feeling that might pave the way for clients to change for the better.

3. Empathetic Understanding

During sessions, counselors also demonstrate empathy by reflecting clients’ ideas and feelings to them. They will make an effort to comprehend the clients and continue to be sensitive to their experiences and points of view.

The intention is to make it easier for them to connect with the counselor and make sure they feel completely understood. This might provide the space clients need to consider their own inner feelings, views, and thoughts, which might give them access to fresh perspectives they hadn’t had before.

5 Steps of Non-directive Counseling

1. Relationship Building

The first step in non-directive counseling begins with the initial counseling session. The client and counselor get to know themselves and build an initial rapport. At this stage, the counselor seeks to make the client trust him or her so they can open up to be helped.

2. Exploring Client’s Issues

After rapport has been built between the counselor and the client, the client is required to begin to express their feelings or fears or whatever issues disturbing them to the counselor. The counselor at this point seeks to understand the clients and the nature of their concerns. This naturally flows to the next step of non-directive counseling.

3. Goal Setting

As the client explains their issues, they also tell what they’d like to have resolved. The counselor can ask questions like “What will make the most positive impact on your life currently?”, “If there’s one major change you’d like to experience, what will it be?”

4. Intervention

After the goal-setting stage of non-directive counseling, the relationship between the counselor and client continues with the aim of helping the client arrive at the end they have projected. As is the principle of non-directive counseling, the counselor doesn’t show the client the solution; instead, he guides the client and helps them find that solution or bring out that solution from within.

5. Evaluation and Termination

After several explorations of the issues and solutions, the counselor assesses the effectiveness of the counseling session by asking the client if they have gotten satisfying insight.

The success of the counseling session is not necessarily the attainment of the goal set by the client at the second step of non-directive counseling. This is because as they explore their issues, the client might discover that what they thought they wanted wasn’t really what they wanted.

Even if the counselor thinks the issue hasn’t been resolved but the client is satisfied with where they’ve gotten, the session will be terminated, and possibly follow-up continues.

See 52 Most Effective Counseling Techniques and Skills For Therapists

Issues That Can Be Handled With Non-directive Counseling 

Non-directive counseling can be effective in assisting clients with the following issues:

  • Depression
  • Loneliness
  • Low self-esteem
  • Social slavery
  • Insecurities
  • Addictions
  • Trauma recovery and PTSD
  • Eating disorders
  • Poor relationships
  • Schizophrenia
  • Anxiety
  • Substance abuse
  • Personality disorders
  • Feelings of panic
  • Stress, and
  • Phobias e.t.c

10 Advantages of Non-directive Counseling

  1. It aids in helping the client’s problems by increasing the client’s sense of well-being. 
  2. It makes the client explore their true self by being honest and empowers them to be able to solve their own problems.
  3. It gives the client a chance to have self-direction by allowing them to plan their own session and be in control of the therapy.
  4. It allows the counselor to show their caring nature, being non-judgmental and empathizing with the client regardless 
  5. It allows the client to have autonomy and not depend on others all the time.
  6. It gives the client self-growth, confidence, and a better understanding of oneself. 
  7. Client behavior is expected to change and the way they view life, giving more appreciation, and better relationships.
  8. Self-actualization also makes the client have self-acceptance and be able to accept others.
  9. It gives the client a platform to explore their true feelings and make them better people in society.
  10. It also gives the client a chance to reflect on their previous behavior and identify areas that they need to develop.

8 Disadvantages of Non-directive Counseling

  1. The client is not challenged by anyone or able to engage in a contest to find or show their ability.
  2. It deprives the opportunity to give opinions or suggestions that might be useful. The therapist cannot question anything even if they are concerned. 
  3. The therapy does not offer a proper structure to the client and this can be difficult for the client to progress and have answers. 
  4. Non-directive counseling was developed in the 60s and it does not have much research or modern theory on it.
  5. There are no techniques in this approach such as questioning or clarifying.
  6. There is no actual “intervention” which is an act to achieve effects and produce results. 
  7. No involvement or interference from the therapist might offer sound advice as advice-giving is frowned upon.
  8. The client might want to engage in destructive activities and cannot be stopped by the counselor

Frequently Asked Questions

What is an example of non-directive therapy?

An example of non-directive therapy is journaling. The journal is the therapist while the writer is the client. The journal doesn’t tell the writer what to say or what needs to be worked on but it facilitates (by listening) the thought processes of the writer to see things they’d naturally not see. As the writer tries to explain his issue to the journal, he understands it better.

What is the difference between directive therapy vs nondirective therapy?

Both directive and non-directive therapy have a direction. But in directive therapy, the therapist dictates the direction of the sessions while in non-directive the client dictates the direction.

Is CBT directive or non-directive?

CBT is a directive approach to counseling because the counselor directs the cognitive readjustments that the client needs to make. CBT is under behavioral psychology, not humanistic psychology.

What are the characteristics of non-directive counseling?

The 6 characteristics of non-directive counseling are psychological contact, client incongruence, counselor congruence, counselor unconditional positive regard, counselor empathy, and client perception.

Why is non-directive counseling important?

Non-directive counseling is important because it saves the client from losing their autonomy and confidence in themselves. The counselor doesn’t feed them with solutions and makes them dependent. Instead, they are helped to develop the skills to help themselves which is more valuable in the long run.

When is non-directive counseling used? 

Non-directive is used for most common issues like depression, PTSD, schizophrenia, eating disorders, substance abuse, stress disorders, phobia, addiction, etc.

What is a non-directive response?

A non-directive response is one that is given not to tell the client what to do but to guide them in reaching for solutions from within themselves that they wouldn’t have gotten on their own.

Is motivational interviewing non-directive counseling?

Yes, motivational interviewing is non-directive counseling. It operates on the premise that if clients come with their reasons for change they are more likely to change than if they are given a reason to change. This is the core principle of the client-centered or non-directive counseling approach.

Is non-directive counseling the norm?

Nondirective counseling is not the norm in most counseling relationships. This is because counselors unknowingly tend to fall into advice-giving. But this isn’t totally the fault of counselors. Many clients go to counseling to receive advice on what to do except those who are more enlightened.

How can I be good at non-directive counseling?

To be good at nondirective counseling, you must possess these three traits: congruence/ genuineness, unconditional positive regard, and empathy. These are the core qualities of a non-directive counselor.

How does non-directive therapy work?

Non-directive therapy works on the premise that each person has the capacity and desire for personal growth and change rather than considering people as having problematic behaviors and beliefs that need to be treated. So the therapist helps the client come up with their own solutions which they possess but aren’t seeing.

Why is client-centered therapy called non-directive?

Client-centered therapy is called non-directive because the client directs the session through their needs while the counselor facilitates, unlike other typical counseling sessions where the therapist determines the intervention the client receives and directs how the intervention is offered.

Is coaching directive or non-directive?

Most coaching starts as non-directive relationships where the coach simply asks the clients the right questions and they gain more insight into their situations. But there is also the directive aspect where the coach, who is usually more experienced in the field, gives counsel on blindspots the client has.

Who gives non-directive counseling procedures?

The client gives the procedure in non-directive counseling. Not by telling the counselor “This is the next step to take” but by saying how far they have come in their understanding of their issue and what they would still like to address. Where the client has gotten and the desires he still has are what build the procedures the counselor takes them through. So the counselor “directs” based on the directive of the client.

What is essential for an effective non-directive counseling session?

The essentials of a non-directive counseling session include psychological contact between the counselor and the current, incongruence on the part of the client, congruence on the part of the counselor, unconditional positive regard from the counselor, empathy from the counselor, and accurate perception from the client.


We have so far seen the nature, history, techniques, advantages, and disadvantages of non-directive counseling. It must, however, be noted that sticking with non-directive counseling only can be difficult and unwholesome. The counselor should seek to maintain balance to cover for the limitations of non-directive counseling.

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