Therapist's Role In Non Directive Therapy

Medically reviewed by Elizabeth Erban, LMFT, IMH-E
Updated May 13, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team
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Nondirective therapy, pioneered by Carl Rogers, can also be called client-centered, person-centered, transpersonal, or Rogerian therapy. It is generally led by the client, with the therapist exercising empathy, unconditional positive regard, and congruence as they assist the client in working through their concerns. Clients may be free to discuss anything on their minds during non-directive therapy, and nondirective therapists typically focus on the client’s potential to better themselves and identify and form their own solutions. If you’re interested in giving nondirective therapy a try, an online therapy platform may be one way to do so.

What is nondirective therapy?

Nondirective therapy can also be called client centered therapy, transpersonal therapy, or person-centered therapy. Although these may sound like different types of therapy, they are generally based on the same principles and use the same non-directive psychotherapy principles.

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Learn more about yourself with nondirective therapy.
In this type of psychotherapy, the therapist generally avoids giving advice and interpreting what the client says or providing feedback. The goal is typically for the client to discover things about themselves for themselves, with only minimal guidance from the therapist. This can lead a patient to experience significant personal growth.

Carl Rogers and client-centered therapy

Client-centered therapy is usually thought to be based on humanistic psychology principles. American psychologist Carl Rogers developed the nondirective therapy method in the 1940s and continued to refine it into the 1980s. Carl Rogers's therapy in the 1940s was usually 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, limiting or eliminating giving direction to patients.
  • The therapeutic methods of advice, persuasion, teaching, suggestion, interpretation, and other directions were not necessarily helpful when impacting client behavior.
  • Diagnoses are often inaccurate and misused.
  • Therapists should seek to understand the client's feelings.

In the 1950s, Rogers changed the name of this type of therapy from nondirective to client-centered therapy. This name reflected Rogers's realization that clients generally preferred some amount of guidance from the therapist. His therapeutic method began to change, and Rogers wrote the ground-breaking book, "On Becoming a Person," in 1961. In this book, he asserted that:

  • It may be more beneficial for the therapist to focus on the client’s direct experiences and consciousness rather than just their feelings.
  • It can be essential to be acutely aware of the client's frame of reference.
  • People tend to move toward self-actualization, which can motivate them.

Throughout the 1970s, Rogers was still fine-tuning his method. During this period, he mainly focused on the therapist's role in non-directive or client-centered therapy. Then, during the 1980s, Rogers’s therapy, which he now called person-centered therapy, was expanded for industry, conflict resolution, family, healthcare, and cross-cultural applications.

Originally, Rogers replaced the usual term "patient" with "client," because the term “patient” could indicate that therapy was for sick people. He generally saw his clients as people who wanted his help in resolving their problems for themselves. Although he believed the term “client” was more positive than “patient,” he eventually chose the name of person-centered therapy because of his focus on the client as a human.

What is a therapist's role in nondirective therapy?

The role of the therapist in nondirective psychotherapy was first established by Carl Rogers, and Rogers's method is generally still the standard treatment. Rogers used several distinct ideas in combination as he developed the overall method for the process of forming a relationship with the client.

Required traits 

Rogers believed therapists might need certain traits to conduct nondirective therapy effectively, including empathy, unconditional positive regard, and congruence.

Empathy generally means the counselor can mentally put themselves in the client’s shoes to understand and be aware of their feelings. Congruence typically refers to transparency, meaning that the therapist should be authentic in communication with their clients. Unconditional positive regard usually means that the therapist fully accepts the client in the therapeutic process, no matter what the client is going through or what they may be feeling. This can result in a strong therapeutic relationship.


Important assumptions

In addition to the therapist's traits, they may also need to approach therapy with certain assumptions. In nondirective therapy, the most important assumptions the therapist brings to therapy may be the following:

  • 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 toward self-actualization. They have a strong natural desire and ability to reach their highest potential.

Understanding a client's overall potential

Nondirective therapists may need to have a clear and positive understanding that their client has potential, which can encompass 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?

Nondirective therapy or client-centered therapy generally needs six things to be successful, according to Rogers. The first three include the previously mentioned empathy, congruence, and unconditional positive regard for the client. The other three are:

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

How the sessions proceed

When the client enters the nondirective therapy session, the therapist usually lets them take the lead. The client is generally free to speak about anything on their mind, while the therapist typically follows these guidelines:

  • They set healthy boundaries when needed.
  • They practice active listening.
  • They focus on the meaning behind the client’s words and body language.
  • They avoid judging the client.
  • They do not advise the client or make decisions for them. 
  • They are authentic and transparent.
  • They are accepting of positive and negative emotions. 
  • They remember that the client knows themselves and the solutions to their problems better than anyone else. 
  • They use a warm, supportive tone of voice.
  • They paraphrase and describe what the client says.
  • They encourage the client to continue speaking.
  • They ask open-ended questions, such as "How does that make you feel?"
  • They inform clients if they feel they are not the right therapist for them.

Goal-setting in nondirective therapy

In nondirective therapy, the client typically sets specific goals for therapy, and this goal-setting can drive the non-directive therapy. For example, here are a few potential goals clients may have an interest in pursuing:

  • To grow and develop as a person
  • To decrease or eliminate distress
  • To improve self-esteem
  • To understand themselves on a deeper level
Learn more about yourself with nondirective therapy.

Conditions that may be treated with nondirective therapy

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. Some of the conditions that may be helped with nondirective therapy can include:

  • Phobias
  • Anxiety
  • Stress
  • Panic attacks
  • Depression
  • Relationship problems
  • Substance use disorder and addiction
  • Personality disorders
  • Schizophrenia
  • Eating disorders (such as anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating disorders)
  • Trauma recovery

However, nondirective therapy may not always be the best course of treatment to deal with these conditions. It is generally best to speak to a licensed mental health professional to determine the type of therapy that may be the most helpful for you. Although typically occurring in a one-on-one environment, some therapists are also trained to lead nondirective therapy in groups. Group therapy can be an excellent way to experience additional support, as others in the group are likely going through similar experiences and can offer helpful insights.

Potential benefits of nondirective therapy

If nondirective therapy is successful, you may:

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

To experience the most benefit from nondirective therapy, it can be important to approach it with the right attitude and believe that it is possible for you to heal.

Try nondirective therapy online

If you want to feel empowered to get to know yourself and tackle your mental health concerns head-on, nondirective therapy may be beneficial for you. However, you may find it challenging to locate a nondirective therapist in your local area, especially if you live in a more rural area, rather than a location like New York City. It may be simpler to connect with a licensed nondirective therapist via an online therapy platform where there are thousands of therapists with different specialties. 

According to this study, online therapy can be as effective as traditional face-to-face therapy, and it often comes with other advantages, such as affordability.


Nondirective therapy often goes by many names, such as transpersonal, person-centered, and client-centered therapy. This type of therapy is generally thought to be based on the ideas and practices of Carl Rogers. It usually requires therapists to exercise three main traits: unconditional positive regard, empathy, and congruence. A nondirective therapy session may primarily be led by the client as they speak about anything on their mind or any concerns they may be experiencing. This type of therapy usually empowers the client to dig deeper, get to know themselves better, and uncover potential solutions. If nondirective therapy sounds like a beneficial option for you, you may wish to try it through an online therapy platform for added convenience.

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