Thursday, July 14, 2011

The ethical problems of non-directive counselling

Update: for the latest episode in the story, see here.

There has been a flurry of interest in this topic on the Catholic blogs, since LIFE, the pro-life charity, has got accreditation for its counsellors as conforming to the 'non-directive' style favoured by the secular counselling industry. The hope of the organisation that using non-directive counselling (NDC) will win the organisation acceptance by, and influence in, government, and even funding, is not entirely without foundation. But non-directive counselling is very controversial in Catholic ethics, and I have seen no serious defence of LIFE's stance.

What are the problems?

Practical. 1. It is claimed that non-directive counselling works. The claim is very hard to substantiate since the counsellor normally does not know what the ultimate outcomes are. We can't hold this against the method, but the claim that its effectivness is a knock-down argument in favour of it won't wash either.

2. The suggestion that the alternative to LIFE's NDC is to say to clients what you want them to conclude at the end of the counselling, at the beginning. This is the reverse of the truth. People going to LIFE counsellors know that they are going to a pro-life group - the name rather gives it away. They then get no guidance at all from the counsellor. The alternative is to use a more neutral name, start the counselling very softly-softly, and then introduce some important facts into the discussion: notably what abortion is, what the alternatives are. This is the approach taken by other pro-life groups, and they are just as adamant as LIFE that this approach works.

Psychological. NDC is a horse from the 'values clarification' stable established by Carl Rogers and others. Rogers found that he could get 1950s university students to pull themselves together simply by repeating back to them their own statements. This obviously worked because the students for the most part had very clear, and fairly old-fashioned, values from their upbringing. It has a very different effect on people today who come from a pretty values-free background in the first place. Indeed, it is favoured today as part of a package with the idea that all decisions are equally valid, there are no objective moral principles, and so on, and it is really hard to see why anyone who is not a moral subjectivist would give NDC a second glance.

Funding. James Preece raises the question of why Catholics are being asked to fund LIFE's counselling. This is a good question because NDC counsellors are not supposed to allow their own values to influence their counselling. It follows that pro-life NDC counsellors will be no different, and no better from the point of view of outcomes, than pro-abortion NDC counsellors. Why, then, does LIFE think it is important to expand its band of counsellors? Why not let non-aligned or even pro-abortion groups pay for it? Just let people ring the Samaritans.

Or is LIFE and its supporters hinting that their counsellors are more likely to get pro-life outcomes than others? If that is true, their accreditation for NDC should be taken away.

Moral. It is a principle of moral and civil law that silence implies consent. Silence is one of the 'Nine ways of being an accessory to another's sin' in many examinations of conscience. To speak more formally, it is evidently a way of cooperating materially in evil. Material cooperation can be justified in some cases, but this cooperation is close, not remote, and the evil is extremely grave. The justification would have to take the form of an overwhelming good that would be attained, or evil avoided, by the silence, in relation to the chance of non-silence doing any good.

So this would be justified: stifling one's protest about the brutality of the concentration-camp guard would clearly save many people from serious suffering; voicing it would anyway do no good; and no-one is going to imagine that you approve of the brutality anyway (there is no chance of scandal). At first glance, LIFE's supporters have a mountain to climb to show that LIFE counsellors are in that kind of situation.

So can we have an argument, please?


Multum Incola said...

Listening to the sound of tumbleweed, it would seem not. It seems amongst Catholics at any rate, those who know it's wrong know it's wrong - and those who don't seem to know it's not wrong!! Loggerheads.

retired LIFE counsellor said...

1)Every LIFE counsellor has experience of women who come wanting an abortion or undecided, and who leave determined to keep the baby.Sometimes but not of course always we know for certain that they do so.
2)In fact women surprisingly often do not know we are a pro-life group; training includes responding to a request for help in getting an abortion.
3)"Non directive" does not mean acting as if we do not care which way a woman chooses. It means not hectoring or bullying in any way, not ranting about the wickedness of abortion. If that worked, we'd be tempted to do it, but it does not.
In one sense it is impossible not to let one's values affect
counselling: the Samaritans just listen, but they do it because they
believe clients are better off alive and knowing someone cares. It
means not imposing one's views. It does not mean hiding the truth of the physical and mental damage to women, or the facts about the baby's growth, or what help is available,where appropriate.
4)Yes, Carl Rogers is very dodgy, but I'm interested that his
techniques worked with students who basically wanted to behave well.
LIFE counsellors know that most women have a strong instinct to
protect their children however much this may be overlaid by other
wants or practical problems.

Joseph Shaw said...

Remember that this has been a developing issue. LIFE has been imposing NDC on its counsellors over a period of time. What you did may not be NDC in the strict sense.

It is an interesting point that even the Samaritans aren't indifferent to the fate of people considering suicide (otherwise they wouldn't be there). But to point out that NDC is incoherent is hardly a way to defend it.

And let's not pretend the only alternative to NDC is 'hectoring'. The alternative is to do what LIFE always did up until recently, and what other pro-life charities do.

Joseph Shaw said...

I've had a look on the internet for a neat definition of NDC and have had limited success. LIFE uses accreditation from BACP and this, from the latter's website, is quite helpful:

BACP Research has suggested that, although there are several hundred different theoretical approaches to psychotherapy and counselling, it is the therapeutic relationship which is paramount in enabling clients to feel safe enough to explore, in depth, their personal issues. Carl Rogers (Person-Centred Approach) suggested, all that is necessary and sufficient, when a client is feeling vulnerable or anxious and is able to be in psychological contact with the therapist and the therapist offers understanding (empathy), warmth and unconditional acceptance (unconditional positive regard) in a genuine authentic manner (congruence) and if the client is able to accept these ‘core conditions’ from the therapist, therapeutic change is able will take place. This ‘Person-Centred Approach’ is generally ‘non-directive’ and the therapist follows the client at their own pace and time.

However, in these ever-changing times, sometimes clients require help, advice and techniques in order to resolve their issues more quickly.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) can offer such techniques and its large evidence-based studies suggest that it is possible to change and recondition our thoughts and behaviours to overcome specific problems. By understanding our thought processes and perceptions and the way these affect our feelings, thoughts and behaviours, CBT can be useful in dealing with many personal issues especially with regard to anxiety, depression and phobias.

End quote.
In other words, giving 'help, advice and techniques' disqualifies an approach from being 'non-directive'. The writer is not trying to squeeze every sensible approach to counselling under the NDC label.

Ben Trovato said...

RLC wrote "3)"Non directive" does not mean acting as if we do not care which way a woman chooses."

I think that this is wrong. Certainly, when I was trained in non-directive counselling, by a counselling organisation, it meant precisely 'acting as if we did not care which way [a client] chooses.' In fact, so explicit was this that we were also taught that in the case of somebody threatening to commit suicide, we were to abandon our non-directive approach, because somebody's life was at stake...

anderapadoker said...

That's awe-full for people ending up the LIFE with own. that is the matter of fact that client is special and one counsellor should use Non-Directive method in case of the client's mental condition. That way is some psychological and should be handled with care.

marriage counseling Orange County

disappointed said...

also, its not 'not caring which way a woman choses' but 'caring that she choses what is right for her' (which may not be the same as your own personal choice )

Nicki said...

This is my personal opinion.LIFE is not an accredited member of the BACP, but an organisational member meaning that it adheres to BACP's ethical guidelines. LIFE is precisely called LIFE because it recognises the value of ALL life - babies lives, women's lives, men's lives. To have a, 'more neutral' name would lose this important meaning, and for any counsellor to start a session 'softly softly' and then to move on to their own agenda would be entirely unethical. No LIFE volunteer shies away from informing clients of the details of abortion when asked or indeed exploring ALL the options, including adoption,but they do not seek to traumatise them by offering unsolicited information. LIFE has a clear policy of telling clients that as a pro-life organisation they cannot refer them for an abortion.
I agree that it can be difficult to substantiate the claim that NDC works, however, I can assure you that with this approach clients come back more frequently and thus explore more fully the option of keeping their baby more fully. This is because however long ago it was that Roger's developed client centred counselling the fact is that he was right about the depth of the relationship that can be achieved through being non-judgemental and empathetic. Too true that many people today come from a 'values free background', many of them don't value themselves or believe in their ability to make a choice for their own and their baby's welfare against negative societal pressure. This is why is is essential that counsellors and skilled listeners within LIFE show compassion and believe that through valuing the autonomy of the client they may learn to value themselves and gain the strength to make a compassionate choice.

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