Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today


What Is Non-Directive Therapy?

Non-directive does not mean no direction: It means the client's direction.

The concept of non-directivity can be confusing. In this short article, I will describe what is meant by non-directivity and what it does not mean.

The notion of non-directivity is important to many therapists who are influenced by the work of Carl Rogers. Rogers introduced the term non-directivity in the 1940s to distinguish his approach to therapy from the existing forms of therapy at that time.

At that time, the main therapies were based on the idea that the therapist is like a doctor who is able to offer expert advice to the patient. In contrast, Rogers proposed that people need to rely less on the judgments of others—and instead turn inwards to themselves as the best expert on what to do.

In short, he believed that people are their own best experts.

Many therapists still use the term "non-directive," but it can be a difficult concept to grasp. It's even more difficult to put into practice, as many of us are so used to giving advice and trying to solve problems for others.

It also doesn’t mean that people can quickly come up with all the answers themselves. But in a therapeutic relationship where they feel valued, listened to, and understood, they have the opportunity to turn things over in their mind, reflect on their problems, and seek new solutions. It might take some time, but the ownership of the process is theirs.

In this sense, the therapist is non-directive because they are tracking and following the client. Metaphorically, the therapist is walking alongside the client—sometimes a few paces behind, sometimes a few paces ahead, sometimes stopping to discuss where to go next, but always going wherever the client goes. The therapist never chooses the direction.

This is what non-directive therapy means. It does not mean—and this is the important point—that therapy has no direction. It's simply that the direction always comes from the client.

More from Stephen Joseph Ph.D.
More from Psychology Today