Non-Directive Counselling

Having been through a course of counselling myself recently I found this article, by Andrew Plasom-Scott, on Non-Directive Counselling very interesting. I am particularly impressed that it is careful to explain the positive benefits of this form of counselling, giving examples of situations from personal experience where it has wrought powerful benefits for clients.

However, in certain circumstances, it can also be problematic as it ultimately relies on a decision of conscience, and leading a client to consider what their conscience is leading them towards. The success of such a technique is necessarily limited by the degree to which a client's conscience is formed. Conscience must be informed and moral judgment enlightened. The education of conscience is indispensable for human beings who are subjected to negative influences and tempted by sin to prefer their own judgment and to reject authoritative teachings (CCC 1783). The education of the conscience is a lifelong task. From the earliest years, it awakens the child to the knowledge and practice of the interior law recognised by conscience. The education of the conscience guarantees freedom and engenders peace of heart. (CCC1784).

If a situation occurs where an objective moral truth is self evident in a session, Andrew asks if, in fact, in the best interests of the client and the service of objective truth and reality, the best action, indeed, the only authentic action, would be to offer the truth to the client?

I have written, but not published (yet) quite a bit about my own experience in this regard. I would say here that, although I found the experience positive overall, I did find myself at odds with my counselor over objective issues quite a bit, especially during the first few sessions. I was acutely aware, going into the programme, of how at odds my Thomist Catholic philosophy would be with her Freudian one. From that perspective, at the basis of our century's "sexual revolution" is a demand for satisfaction and a confusion between needs and wants. All normal human beings have sexual wants or desires. But to assume that these are needs or rights, as Freud does, constitutes a fundamental error. It is simply not true that you can't be expected to live without gratifying them; or to suppress them is psychologically unhealthy.

This confusion between needs and wants stems from the denial of objective values and an objective natural moral law. No one has caused more havoc in this crucial area than Freud, especially regarding sexual morality. The modern attack on marriage and the family, for which Freud set the stage, has done more damage than any war or political revolution. For where else do we all learn the most important lesson in life—unselfish love—except in stable families who preach it by practicing it? The family is the school of deeper humanity! (Familiaris Consortio n. 21). My experience was that we had to have a frank discussion about most of these issues before we could move on and work more deeply on issues in my life, because my vision of the human condition was at apparent odds with that of my counselor. Ultimately, I don't think it was, and I think we came to a powerful impasse in our relationship when she realised the intellectual integrity of my position. A position I could confidently articulate in the context of a relationship with Christ. This relationship has sustained me through the impossibly difficult experience of losing my daughter. I think in the context of counselling, this presented a demonstrable positive outcome resultant of my understanding of my anthropology.

I also found the idea of non-judgement very interesting. It seems to me that we make judgement constantly in order to discern the best course of action, so how can anyone claim to reserve judgement? As I asserted my guilty feelings about certain issues, my counselor was forced to assess and offer alternative perspectives on my actions, showing how they were motivated by integrity and a desire for the best possible outcome. This was the most rewarding dimension of my own experience. To have someone completely objective probe and consider certain decisions and then offer a perspective on them. Ultimately, the most profound insight I think I gained from my journey revolved around the realisation that I did feel better and considering why. I can't really answer this question, I don't really know why, but I did feel better. My counselor suggested that often it is not the actual counselling that creates the improvement. Rather it is you who having decided to take action to change your reality, has already done what is necessary to facilitate change. I thought that sounded about right.

I had to conclude that intellect has a lot to do with how any individual responds to counselling, and this creates a assesive dilemma for counselors, who need to be able to pitch their input accordingly. As Andrew points out in his article, it seems that the Non-Directive Approach as a tool, or set of skills, has a lot to offer; but it should not be the only tool or set of skills available to a counselor in many situations; and to elevate it to a philosophy raises serious concerns, when one considers the implications of doing so, and in particular the secular humanistic, and narcissistic, philosophy from which it springs.


  1. Thanks, an excellent post. It's much needed that Catholics can address some of the issues in counselling. I think you do it in a very faithful and balanced way. I think it is right to think of non-directive counselling as one of many tools. Some people who study counselling find it impossible to be coherent in their faith because, as you rightly point out, when it's elevated to a philosophy - Jung, Rogers and the like - there are real problems for the Catholic anthropology that should guide us.


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