Its History and a Definition

Its History and a Definition

The CREATIVE NONDIRECTIVE APPROACH was created by Colette Portelance, D. Sc. Ed.

With François Lavigne, M. Sc (Psy), she founded the Montreal Counselling Center for Helping Relationships, which, since 1985, trains Helping Relationship Therapists. Initially, Colette Portelance was mainly inspired by the works of Carl Rogers on nondirectivity and those of Georgiu Lozanov and John Lerède on suggestology.

What is Nondirectivity?

1. Carl Rogers and Nondirectivity

“Carl Rogers is undoubtedly one of the most important American psychologists of the twentieth century. His work spans several decades. A prolific author, he published 15 volumes and over 200 articles and scientific studies since the late 20’s, when he began as a psychotherapist.

The journal American Psychologist puts Rogers first among the ten most influential psychotherapists in the history of psychotherapy, thereby placing him ahead of Sigmund Freud and B.F. Skinner. Another study, published in 1982 in the Journal of Counseling Psychology suggests that Rogers occupied a prominent place among a group of leading clinicians whose work still influence their field. His writings, moving, lucid and deeply personal, have been translated into over 60 languages.

One of the greatest discoveries of Rogers in the field of human relations was the therapeutic effect of really listening to another person, not as a technique for the strategic management of relationships, but as a way of being empathetic. Listening in this manner enhances the possibility of a spiritual birth and greater self-realization, in some ways a healing of the human soul.

Carl Rogers’ most vital contribution in the field of helping professions was perhaps his recognition that active listening facilitates the psychological growth of the individual in the never finished process of becoming a fully functioning human being, able to accept oneself and to be the creator or author of one’s own life.

He discovered that, to release the creative potential of a person, it is not the authority, knowledge, technique, or interpretations of the caregiver that counts. It is the relationship itself that heals. Paradoxically, it is the relationship that allows individuality to emerge, which generates the self-acceptance necessary to discover, or better yet, to recover one’s creative potential.

While remaining modest about his therapeutic achievements, he shocked psychiatrists and psychoanalysts by asserting that the qualifications and professional training of the caregiver have no direct connection with the healing process. What matters is to communicate the fact that one accepts the client and offer to help him or her, without judgment or evaluation, to become a person entirely different from any other, including the psychotherapist. Cognitive understanding of the client’s past or diagnosis of the client’s problem is not sufficient to bring about a transformation. Rogers never tired of repeating that what counts is the quality of the relationship, the intense sharing between the helper and client that offers the possibility of spiritual rebirth.

… Rogers’s influence was not limited to the field of clinical psychology. His thinking has helped to transform and revolutionize virtually all the helping professions: social work, pastoral counselling, education, hospital administration, industrial and labour relations, training, leadership and organizational development.

This current comes after psychoanalysis and behaviorism. It adheres to a different ideology that recognizes the central importance of consciousness and the creative will of the individual as well as his vital need to gather together in communities and to give and receive love.

The focal point is on relational rather than interpretive psychotherapy and the importance of focusing on the immediate present. The therapeutic process is fundamentally an emotional experience that occurs independently of theoretical concepts.” 1

1 Extract from “La quête de sens, Gérer nos organisations pour la santé des personnes et de nos sociétés”, Thierry C. Pauchant et al., Éditions Québec Amérique, Presses des HÉC, Montréal, 1996, pp. 192-196.


2. The CNDA and Nondirectivity

The Directive / Nondirective Dialectic

According to the CNDA, nondirectivity in its purest form does not exist. It is limited by two important elements: the helper’s own inner work to “become” him or herself and the supportive framework. There is, indeed, a more or less directive aspect to the CREATIVE NONDIRECTIVE APPROACH and it is paradoxically the dialectic conjunction of this part with the nondirective part which makes the approach creative. The CNDA is defined as “nondirective in its content” and “directive in its container.”

Nondirectivity in the “Content”

 Like the Rogerian approach, the CNDA is a humanistic approach that is centered on the person. The Creative Nondirective Therapists are not individuals who hide behind their theories and techniques; on the contrary they experience the helping relationship as a human relationship. Also, despite their professional competence, they have their limitations, as do all human beings, and their actions are based on who they are. Their intervention therefore will be affected by their life experiences, their psychological blocks, their strengths and weaknesses. It is not realistic to believe that helpers have to have solved all their problems before helping others. In spite of having done extensive work on themselves, all persons involved in a helping relationship can undergo periods of difficulty, insecurity, anxiety, or anguish that can leave them vulnerable.  Even therapists who deem themselves the most neutral are not immune to this phenomenon. On the contrary, they are unconsciously the most innocent victims, which is doubly detrimental for the client.

The therapists, regardless of their approach, are not robots but human beings who react, at least internally, to what is happening around them. The more they try to program themselves by cutting themselves off from their emotional world, the less they are able to help because an emotion that remains unattended risks becoming a defensive issue for the therapist. It is because they are able to live, love, suffer, and cry in their personal life that they can be attentive to the joys and sufferings of others. But just as the ability to live out emotions and desires is a strength for the caregiver, the negation of emotions can easily be harmful. When therapists rephrase a situation based on their own experience rather than from their client’s frame of reference their observations become more directive. The CNDC therefore attaches paramount importance in the formation of its practitioners to continue working on themselves. It is only this inner knowledge of self and the ability to clearly distinguish between what belongs to the client and what belongs to the helper that allows the therapist to maintain a creative nondirective helping relationship.

Having said this, as far as the “content”, the actual substance, is concerned creative nondirectivity is not a method, much less a teaching technique or therapy. It is first and foremost, like Rogerian nondirectivity, an attitude of total respect for the innermost nature of each human being. Based on the Rogerian assumption that the individual has within him or herself the potential for self-realization, this attitude of respect, which underlies the helping relationship, relieves therapists of the power they wield over the lives of others and helps them take power over their own life.

Directivity in the “Container”

The “container” is what gives form to the content, what structures it, gives it body, unity, coherence, its definition. The characteristic property of the container is to name and to define. The mere naming of something gives it shape and defining it gives it meaning and reality. By naming something, we give it birth; by defining it, we give it life.

There is no content without a container. Both are needed.  In the CNDA, the content, which is each individual’s life experience, feelings and pace of development, calls for the container which is the “what”, the “why” and the “how” of the therapeutic relationship.  Whereas the content is shifting, different for each person, the container is clear, precise, structured, solid and, in most aspects, rather stable.

With respect to the content, the CNDA remains essentially non-directive since it respects the individual’s differences, feelings, life experiences, opinions and choices, all of which can vary from one person to another. However, the CNDA requires that it is the therapist who directs the “container” of therapeutic process.

The container includes such constraints as time and space, the guidelines, structures, methods, rules, requirements, boundaries, organization, programs, approach and philosophy. The relative stability of the “container”, while remaining open to changes and improvement, promotes the emergence in the therapeutic relationship of the “content” for each client.


Importance of the Helping Relationship

The Importance of the Helping Relationship

The helping relationship is comprised of two elements: the “relationship” and “helping”. If experts in the field have extensively engaged in the second component, they have unfortunately neglected the first. The philosophy of the CNDA lays great emphasis on the relational aspect and considers that it is not possible to help someone unless one succeeds, as a helper, to establish a relationship with the helpee which maintains a respect for the role of each participant.

A relationship between two people exists when affection and trust are present and foster a supportive, albeit unconscious, influence. Indeed, it is useless to pretend that it is possible to develop a satisfactory relationship without the presence of affection, trust and, as a result, a positive mutual influence. This means that relational therapists cannot be of significant help to a client, a teacher to a student, a parent to a child, unless they are able to develop and manifest an attitude of love for and faith in themselves and the other.

The relationship, as understood here, is not just a matter of technique, skill or practical ways to establish contact and to solve problems. It refers to a relationship that is supported fundamentally by feelings which, while not always possible to apprehend, are nonetheless perceived through the attitudes of each participant.  When the client feels that his therapist likes and believes in him, and is authentic, and the therapist also feels that his helpee likes him and has complete confidence in him, then the relationship necessary for the helping process is established. This key moment, which marks the real beginning of the helping relationship, usually occurs during the first therapy session, the first day of class or the first meeting. It is difficult to identify because it is definitely beyond the domain of consciousness, belonging rather to that of the unconscious.

The Helper’s Attitude

The notion of “attitude”, developed by Carl Rogers and widely adopted by Lozanov (1980) in suggestology, is a key concept in the CNDA, for without creative nondirectivity does not exist.

Attitude is the psychological disposition that emerges unconsciously when a person reveals his emotions, his intentions and his real thoughts. In all his dealings the helper communicates his internal state, perhaps unbeknownst to him, through his body language, the intonation, rate, and volume of his voice, his facial expressions, his gestures.

The effects of the helper’s attitude on the helpee’s unconscious, although they are not measurable, are nevertheless of a decisive importance as far as his psychological stability is concerned, and hence his behaviour as well.  We are faced here with the most subtle but effective influence precisely because it cannot be controlled. If, for example, the helper is preoccupied by judgmental thoughts, feelings of aggressiveness and intentions to dominate, his non-verbal language will reflect his inner reality and act in a negative and disruptive way on the helpee’s unconscious. It is not enough to have an impeccable appearance, to speak with words of encouragement and to act in a commendable manner to help others. The helper must feel and live what he proposes, what he says and what he does. If there is any contradiction between the verbal and nonverbal language, between the action and the attitude that underlies it, between what “appears” and what “is”, the helpee will receive a double message – the conscious message and the unconscious one – and it will disturp and trouble him. 

The helping attitude is essentially genuine and essentially nondirective in that it is underpinned not by a need to prove, to manipulate or dominate but by the respect for each individual’s nature, path, and progress.




Responsibility refers to individual’s capacity to take charge of himself, to become accountable and to actualize himself as fully as possible. To be responsible is to exercise power over our lives by:

  1. accepting the consequences of our actions, our words, our gestures, and our choices;
  2. seeking within ourselves the source of our suffering and of our joy, of our failures and our successes, of our problems and their solutions;
  3. not allowing the past to pull us backwards and limit us from exploiting our present potential;
  4. working on transforming ourselves rather than blaming others or judging them, criticizing them, controlling them, or trying to change them when they trigger our discomfort and uneasiness;
  5. refusing to give others the power to hold us responsible for their difficulties, their emotions, and their unsatisfied needs.

A commonly held mentality exists throughout society in which individuals tend to refuse to look at themselves, preferring to watch, to judge, to condemn, or to idealise others.  This attitude, based on comparison and evaluation, creates and maintains a state of dependence as well as permanent competitiveness with the result that only an infinitesimal part of the profound overall reality of each human being is reflected.

The CNDA proposes to turn one’s attention inward on oneself.  It nurtures the habit of thinking about oneself first, of becoming aware of oneself, of understanding, accepting and, above all, of loving oneself.  This attitude, too long dismissed as being selfish, is nonetheless the most liberating and “helping” attitude there is.  Indeed, how can we know, understand, listen to, respect, and love others if we are not able to know, to listen to, respect and love ourselves?  How can we accept others with their strengths, weaknesses, and contradictions if we cannot accept our own? It is precisely through this ability to focus on ourselves that we become responsible.

When we have integrated the notion of responsibility we are no longer subject to others or to life’s events.  We develop progressively an inclination towards action which becomes natural for us and through which we learn to reach inner freedom, success, and satisfaction.

In the helping relationship, the notion of responsibility is linked directly to that of nondirectivity. In other words, nondirectivity is not possible without responsibility. Because the helping relationship therapists take responsibility for their own troubles, fears, defense mechanisms and reaction patterns in dealing with their client, they are able to avoid projecting themselves on their client through judgments, comparisons, interpretations, or attempts of taking charge. If the helper does not integrate this responsibility, the helping relationship risks becoming a dependant relationship where each participant expects the other to change. Training in the CNDA is first and foremost based on the integration of one’s responsibility.” 2

2 Based on course notes from the Montreal Counselling Center for Helping Relationships written by Colette Portelance.  These notes have only been modified to satisfy the context of the present publication.  To learn more about the CNDA and Nondirectivity, we refer you to Helping Relationships Through Self-Love, Montreal, CRAM Publishers Inc, 1994, pp. 11-37 (no longer in print)
or the current French edition: Colette Portelance (2007),  La relation d’aide et Amour de soi, 4e édition, Montréal, Éditions du CRAM, pp 13-43.