What Is The Therapist’s Role In Nondirective Therapy?

By BetterHelp Editorial Team|Updated June 16, 2022
CheckedMedically Reviewed By Lauren Guilbeault, LMHC

Nondirective therapy is a type of mental health treatment; that's all about the client. It's to help the client, of course, as all therapies are. But, in this type of therapy, the therapist puts the client in the lead during sessions. So, if they don't take charge of the therapy session, what is their job? Before tackling that question, it's a good idea to start with a clear understanding of what non-directive therapy is.

What Is Nondirective Therapy, Anyway?

Nondirective therapy is also called client-centered therapy or person centered therapy. The first term speaks to the therapist's role. The second term describes the point and process of the therapy.

Client-Centered Therapy - Psychology Definition

The definition of client-centered therapy is that it's a psychotherapy based on a process where the therapist avoids giving advice or interpreting what they hear. The goal is for the client to discover things about themselves for themselves with only minimal guidance from the therapist.

Carl Rogers And Client-Centered Therapy

Client-centered therapy is based on humanistic psychology. Carl Rogers developed the non-directive counseling method in the 1940s and continued to refine it into 1980s. Carl Rogers' therapy in the 1940s was presented as a more humane answer to mental health problems than psychoanalysis or behavioral techniques. During this time, Rogers proposed the following:

  • Therapists should be nondirective and permissive.
  • The therapeutic methods of advice, persuasion, teaching, suggestion, interpretation, and other directions were not necessarily helpful.
  • Diagnoses are often inaccurate and misused.
  • Therapists should seek to understand the client's feelings.

In the 1950s, Rogers switched the name from nondirective to client-centered therapy. This name reflected Rogers' realization that clients did prefer at least some subtle guidance. His therapeutic method began to change. He wrote the ground-breaking book, "On Becoming a Person," in 1961. Now, he asserted that:

  • Instead of the feelings of the client, the therapist should focus on their direct experiences and consciousness.
  • The therapist should also be acutely aware of the client's frame of reference.
  • People tend toward self-actualization, which motivates them.

Throughout the 1970s, Rogers was still fine-tuning his method. During this period, he focused on what the therapist's role should be. Then, during the 1980s Rogers' therapy, which he now called person-centered therapy, was first used or expanded for industry, conflict resolution, family, health care, and cross-cultural applications.

Originally, Rogers replaced the usual term "patient" for "client," because the term patient indicated that therapy was for sick people. He saw his clients as people who wanted his help in resolving their problems for themselves. Although he had deemed the word client was more positive than patient, he eventually chose this new name of person-centered therapy because of his focus on the client as a human.

What Is The Therapist's Role?

The role of the therapist in client-centered therapy was first laid out by Carl Rogers, and Rogers' method is still the standard treatment, although it has been refined somewhat. Rogers used several distinct ideas in combination as he developed the overall method.

Required Traits Of A Client-Centered Therapist

Before therapy can happen, there has to be a therapist. In Rogers' mind, this therapist needs to have certain traits or qualities to conduct client-centered therapy effectively. The three required traits he outlined are empathy, unconditional positive regard, and congruence.

Empathy means the counselor can mentally put themselves in the other person's shoes to understand and be aware of their feelings. Congruence refers to transparency. In other words, the therapist should be authentic rather than putting up a false front. Unconditional positive regard means that the therapist fully accepts the client in the therapeutic process, no matter what the client is going through or what feelings they're having.

The Therapist's Assumptions

In addition to the therapist's traits, they also need to approach therapy with certain assumptions. In client-centered therapy, the three most important assumptions the therapist brings to therapy are:

  • Humans are fundamentally good.
  • People truly desire healing and positive change.
  • People have what they need within themselves to change their self-concept, behaviors, and attitudes.
  • People tend towards self-actualization. That is, they have a strong natural desire as well as the ability to reach their highest potential.

Understanding Of The Client's Potential

Even above these basic assumptions of fundamental human goodness, the therapist needs to have a clear and positive understanding that their client specifically has potential. Their potential encompasses many capabilities:

  • The desire and need for social connections
  • Compassion
  • Curiosity
  • Trust and trustworthiness
  • Openness to experiences
  • Creative expression

What Does It Take to Have a Positive Outcome with Client-Centered Therapy?

Client-centered therapy, also known as Rogerian therapy, needs six things if it's going to be successful, according to Rogers himself. The first three are the required therapist traits already mentioned: empathy, congruence, and unconditional positive regard of the client. The other three are:

  • A relationship between client and therapist.
  • A client who starts out being emotionally upset or in a state of incongruence.
  • The client can tell that the counselor has unconditional positive regard and understands their challenges in the current situation.

How The Sessions Proceed

The therapist has the right traits and has adopted the right assumptions for client-centered therapy. They understand the potential their client holds. Now what? The next steps begin to happen as soon as the client enters the therapy session.

At that point, the therapist lets you, as the client, take the lead. You are free to talk about anything that's on your mind. The therapist simply follows a few basic rules when talking with you:

  • Sets healthy boundaries when needed, such as to maintain an appropriate client-therapist relationship.
  • Practices active listening by paying attention, signaling they've heard, and reflecting what you say.
  • Focuses on the meaning behind your words and body language.
  • Avoids judging you.
  • Won't advise you or make decisions for you.
  • Is authentic and transparent.
  • Is accepting when you show or talk about both positive and negative emotions.
  • Remembers that you know yourself best, and you know the solutions to your problems better than anyone.
  • Uses a warm, supportive tone of voice.
  • Paraphrases what you tell them.
  • Encourages you to continue speaking.
  • Asks open-ended questions, such as "How does that make you feel?"
  • Tells you if they aren't the right therapist for you.

What About Techniques?

There are many types of therapy that therapists learn to do through years of study and practice. Some of these techniques are very effective, yet they are often complex and hard for a layperson to understand fully. Client-centered therapy does follow certain basic rules, but there are no complicated techniques. The most important thing for the therapist to do is to listen nonjudgmentally. In non-directive therapy, after all, you are your therapist. The counselor is only there to support you as you find your way.

Who Sets The Goals of Therapy?

Every type of therapy has some kind of goal or goals. In some types of therapy, the counselor chooses the goals and tells you what they are. Or, they might not even tell you all of them. In most types of mental health counseling, the therapist and client collaborate to set the goals.

However, in client-centered therapy, it is you, as the client, who sets all the specific goals for your therapy. The therapist doesn't have as much knowledge about you as you do, so they defer to you. At the same time, therapists do have certain general goals for therapy. These include:

  • To make it easier for you to grow and develop as a person.
  • To decrease or eliminate your distress.
  • To improve your self-esteem.
  • To help you come to understand yourself better.

Is Nondirective Therapy Right For You?

Nondirective therapy might sound like the best thing you ever heard of. Or, it might sound like something you'd rather not try. For many people, though, the answer to whether it's right for them is unclear. As you consider whether to pursue client-centered therapy, think about the condition you need help with, the benefits of this therapy and whether you are someone who would get the most out of it.

Conditions Treated

Rogers' idea was that clients didn't come into therapy because they were sick and needed a cure but because they wanted help solving their problems. So, he avoided using the word "treatment." However, it is true that people do have medical and mental health problems that they need help overcoming. Some conditions that can be helped with nondirective therapy include:

  • Phobias
  • Anxiety
  • Stress
  • Panic attacks
  • Depression
  • Relationship problems
  • Substance abuse and addiction
  • Personality disorders
  • Schizophrenia
  • Eating disorders
  • Trauma recovery

Benefits Of Non-Directive Therapy

Nondirective therapy has many benefits to consider. If the therapy is successful, you may:

  • Increase your ability to direct yourself on your own in the future.
  • Become more self-aware.
  • Trust yourself more.
  • Reduce unhelpful behaviors.
  • Have more positive and satisfying relationships.
  • Have fewer negative feelings.
  • Be happier.
  • Be able to handle stress more effectively.
  • Find more congruence between your actual and ideal self.
  • Be able to express yourself more easily.
  • Be calmer.
  • Be willing to try new experiences.
  • Have a healthier view of the world.

Who Benefits Most From Non-Directive Therapy?

While most people can find some benefits from client-centered therapy, certain people are more likely to get the best results. For example, people who are better educated tend to adapt to the nondirective style more easily.

Also, it helps if you come to therapy with the right motivation. In other types of therapy, the therapist may challenge your reasons for coming to therapy, and through the process, you may develop better reasons. However, in client-centered therapy, the counselor's nondirective approach might not overcome your improper intentions. Some inappropriate reasons for going to nondirective therapy include:

  • Wanting someone to agree with your poor choices.
  • Wanting to be self-destructive.
  • Wanting to engage in immoral behavior.

How To Find A Nondirective Therapist

If you do decide to try nondirective therapy, your next step is to find a client-centered therapist. You can look in your local community, and depending on your location, you may find many therapists. Simply ask if they offer nondirective or Rogerian therapy. Or, you can go to BetterHelp for online therapy with your choice of numerous different mental health counselors, including many who use this form of therapy.

In the end, the main thing to remember is that if you need help working out your problems, there is help available for you. When you take that first step, you can gain a completely new understanding of yourself.


Some commonly asked questions on this topic can be found below:

What is an example of non-directive therapy?
What is the difference between directive therapy vs non-directive therapy?
What is non-directive intervention?
What is non directional counselling?
Is CBT directive or nondirective?
What is non-directive?
What are the characteristics of non-directive Counselling?
Why non-directive Counselling is important?
When is non-directive counseling used?
What is a non-directive response?

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