(March 25, 2000). Paper presentation at the Eastern Psychological Association, Baltimore, Md.
Jerold D. Bozarth
Non-directiveness is often a perplexing concept in psychotherapy and, at times, summarily dismissed as impossible to attain (Bowen, 1996; Kahn, E., 1999; Lietaer, 1998). Carl R. Rogers popularized the term in psychotherapy when he developed a theory of therapy identified as "Non-directive" therapy. The non-directive attitude was adeptly defined by a statement of Raskin which Rogers (1951) summarized:
Rogers was clear that the term, "non-directive", was dropped because it was misunderstood and maligned leading to distortions of the approach. He did not use the term after his book, "client-centered therapy" (Rogers, 1951). He used "non-directive" interchangeably with "client-centered" for a few pages in this book and then dropped the term altogether. Client-centered and non-directive were presented and left as synonymous terms. His view of non-directivity was later clarified by him in an interview with Evans (1975). Evans asked Rogers:
somewhat this notion of being non-directive? (p. 26)
No. I think perhaps I enriched it, but not really qualified
it. I still feel that the person who should guide the client's
life is the client. My whole philosophy and whole approach
is to try to strengthen him in that way of being, that he's in
charge of his own life and nothing that I say is intended to
take that capacity or that opportunity away from him (p. 26).
Non-directivity is defined by Rogers as referring to the central notion that it is the person who should guide her or his own life. In one of his last statements, Rogers (cited in Baldwin, 1987) cited the suitable goals for the therapist as revolving around the question, "Am I really with this person at this moment?" (p. 48). Due to the centrality of the term to the theory, it is important to delineate non-directivity as integrally related to Rogers theory. It is not, however, Rogers intentions concerning the term that argue for the non-directive component of client-centered/person-centered therapy. It is implicit in the theory! The theory is non-directive!
The Theory of Client-Centered Therapy
The primary axiom of client-centered therapy determines the non-directivity of the approach. The axiom is:
My personal conclusion concerning the essence of client-centered therapy is a radical statement of the principle of non-directivity. In examining Rogers works and comments, as well as review of his theory, I concluded that the client-centered therapist " . . . can not be up to other things, have other intentions without violating the essence of person-centered therapy. To be up to other things-whatever they might be is a yes, but reaction to the essence of the approach" (Bozarth, 1999, p. 11).
Perhaps, the status of non-directivity in client-centered therapy should be left as a natural consequence when in compliance with the basic axiom. However, several specious arguments against non-directivity as a viable concept are periodically espoused. Several of these arguments are refuted herein. Most of the critiques of non-directivity in therapy are couched in an implicit pre-conceived view that it is impossible for anyone to operate from this perspective. These critiques of Rogers theory dismiss the fundamental assumptions of the approach (actualizing tendency, self-authority and self-directivity of the client) and proceed with criticism from other frames of reference (Bozarth, 1999, p. 4).
Underlying assumptions of critiques
Critiques are usually founded upon the authority of the therapist rather upon the authority of the client. Lietaers (1998) work is illustrative of this point. He casts the client-centered therapist in the role of an expert of "the process" (although his argument is based more upon Gendlins experiencing theory than Rogers client-centered theory) and thus promotes the role of the therapist as "expert". Cain (1986), a vigilant promoter of client-centered therapy, also espouses a position which Grant (1989) identifies as instrumental non-directivity. The crux of "instrumental non-directivity" is that non-directivity is important as long as it is useful; that is, up to the point of determination by the therapist that an "intervention" is needed. I consider this to be a position alien to Rogers theory since the locus of control is switched to the therapist. The English definition of intervention is that the therapist will interfere in order to hinder or alter actions or behavior. To Kahn (1999), for example, the therapists authority is endorsed with the rationalization that the client is "allowed" to agree or disagree, ignore or confirm the therapists input. It is rationalized that the therapist intends the "intervention" only as a suggestion. The question missed by such adherence to interventions in person-centered therapy is: What does one intervene between (Bozarth, 1999, p. 80)? . In person-centered theory, non-directivity is logically deduced from the axiom of the actualizing tendency and by the attitudinal conditions of the therapist.
In his critique of non-directivity in client-centered therapy, Kahn (1999) suggests the use of "directive responsivity" by the therapist. He believes that this "may be beneficial" (p.108). His discourse, however, reveals a tapestry of "interventions" which are clearly founded upon the expertise of the therapist. These interventions include those of pointing out life issues with early childhood memory, determining what topics clients are reluctant to bring up, and that of restoring "needed vitality" to clients (p. 108). These examples reflect the dedication to problem oriented psychotherapies and reveal a fundamental misunderstanding of person-centered therapy by casting it as a problem oriented theory.
Therapists can not be consistently non-directive
Maria Bowen (1996), a close friend and colleague of Rogers, suggested that non-directivity is a myth. She focused on Rogers verbal responses and supports her argument with examples from Rogers demonstration interview with "Jill". Here, she interprets a number of Rogers responses as interpretive and directive where I view them simply as the momentary verbal interchanges within the context of non-directivity which are continuously corrected by Rogers staying with the clients frame of reference. In addition, she interprets some of Rogers responses as avoiding the "dark" side and suggests that the general critique of Rogers to avoid the negative comments of the client is a fact. This general conclusion should be put to rest with the empirical investigation of the question, "Did Carl Rogers positive view of human nature bias his psychotherapy?" (Bradburn, 1996). She evaluated 25 of Rogers therapy interviews to assess the charge of positive bias. Her findings reveal that Rogers did not put a more positive spin on things than did his clients. In fact, he tended to veer more towards responding to the negative than to the positive client statements.
OHara (1996), also a close friend and colleague of Rogers, adeptly points out different responses from Rogers that she might make due to their "world view" differences. To me, Bowen and OHara bring forth an interesting point concerning non-directivity. That is, "Can non-directivity be determined by response criteria alone?". Their observations suggest to me that non-directivity does not necessarily lie in the particular responses which emanate from the person of the therapist. Rather, non-directivity is the attitude that is predicated upon the self-authority and self-determination of the client without the therapists intentions to assist the client with pre-determined directions. Brodley (1999) cuts to the heart of the matter: "The issue is whether we follow the self actualizing, non-directive intent of Rogers empathic view, or subscribe to an empathically reduced view of therapy" (p. 10).
Kahn also argues
that theoretical and personal biases are unavoidable, thus, the therapist
can not be consistently non-directive. Again, Rogers (1959) was clear that
consistent adherence to the conditions did not mean infallible adherence.
Therapist fallibility is corrected within the framework of the stance of
non-directivity. Reasonable consistency of the conditions offered over
a period of time is considered enough to facilitate growth. The facilitative
condition of congruence in person-centered therapy involves the constant
exploration of the therapists subjectivity and consistent correction of
the therapists "fallibility". Kahns point is extended with the assertion
that any therapists bias will influence the client. This is certainly
true when the therapist "is up to other things" other than creating the
conditions for growth. But, what if the therapists bias is that of non-directivity?
For example, my personal and theoretical bias is that therapists should
not impose their ideas directly or indirectly on clients. Guidance and
direction of individuals rob them of their dignity and their freedom. In
short, my very biases are non-directive. The arguments of therapists bias
tacitly assumes that the bias is directive; hence, the therapist will in
some subtle ways influence clients to conform. The logical conclusion from
this premise is that non-directivity is an illusion. But if the therapists'
bias is non-directive there is no basis for subtle direction of the client.
Thus, the logical conclusion is that non-directivity is a fact. Directive
bias makes non-directivity impossible. Non-directive bias makes non-directivity
In person-centered theory, particular actions become irrelevant as determinants of directivity or non-directivity. The therapist might interpret, analyze a dream, or even discuss transference. The issue has to do with the extent that these interactions communicate the facilitative conditions. Otherwise, Rogers (1957) considered such actions to be worthless. A client-centered therapist might argue with a client, accompany a client to look for a job, or assist the client to enter a behavior modification program. The issue is not the behavior but whether or not the therapists actions emerge from the therapists dedication to the clients frame of reference. The most meaningful question determining person-centered non-directivity is: Does the therapist consistently operate with the facilitative attitudes?
It is not that the therapist should attempt to be non-directive. Rather, the theory of client-centered therapy results in non-directiveness. When the therapists only goal is to experience and embody the attitudes central to person-centered theory (Baldwin, 1987, p. 47), the therapists behavior is emergent from the frame of reference of the client. The therapist who operates on the premise that the therapeutic conditions are necessary and sufficient is inherently non-directive.
Non-directivity is part and parcel of client-centered theory and practice and, as well, a behavioral result of adhering to the central conditions of client-centered therapy. For those who believe the critical foundation of client-centered theory, i. e., that the client is his or her own best expert about his or her life, non-directivity is a natural stance that emerges from the theory.
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