HOW COUNSELING IS DONE MISS VIRGINIA M. AXLINE New developments in...
HOW COUNSELING IS DONE
MISS VIRGINIA M. AXLINE
New developments in psychology have re-established the dignity and worth of the individual's persona-
lity. The practical psychologist appearing in the role of the counselor helps the individual solve his own
personality problems by self-effort and understanding. In the following article, the author explains with
special reference to the Counseling Centre at the University of Chicago, the role of the counselor and how
he handles the therapeutic technique of non-directive counseling.
Miss Axline is Research Associate in the University of Chicago.
There has been a growing interest in then he can use no other technique because
non-directive therapy during the past few it would violate this basic philosophy and
years and especially so since the Counseling by its very inconsistency create only
Centre was organized at the University confusion and conflict in the client. This is
of Chicago in 1946. The Counseling Centre perhaps the one point that is hardest of all
at the University of Chicago is dedicated to understand and I should like to
to the practice of non-directive therapy and emphasize the need for consistency on the
to extensive research in that field. Because part of the counselor, if he is to create the
this is so we are often confronted with ques-
relationship necessary for successful non-
tions asking why we confine our counsel-
directive counseling.
ing to the technique known as non-directive
What is this non-directive counseling?
or client centred to the exclusion of all It is an experience for an individual who is
other types of counseling? What is this seeking help with a personal adjustment
non-directive counseling? What is the basic problem which enables him to look squarely
philosophy underlying this treatment? at himself, gain an understanding of him-
What are the basic principles that are self, learn to accept himself. Then, after
applied to create the non-directive relation-
the individual has clarified his self-concept,
ship ? What is the role of the non-directive he is able to chart his own course of action
counselor? What type of client is able to in a more positive and constructive manner.
utilize this sort of counseling? What use He leaves the counseling experience with
do we make of tests at our Counseling more than an answer to a specific problem.
Centre? What are we doing in research? He has gained self-respect, self-confidence,
An attempt is made here to answer some of
and emotional maturity. In the relationship
these questions.
that is created between the client and the
Why do we confine our counseling to the counselor the client assumes the responsi-
now-directive technique?—Because we be-
bility for himself; the strong curative
lieve, from our experience, that this is the forces that are within each individual are
most effective method of helping individuals released. The client grows more mature
achieve personal adjustment, and because psychologically, through this experience.
this belief is backed by an accumulating
amount of evidence that this is so, and
What is the basic philosophy underlying
because our research amplifies and non-directive therapy?—Our basic philoso-
objectifies our basic hypotheses. In addition phy stresses a deep respect for the integrity
to these reasons, when a counselor has , of the individual—a respect that is so honest
accurately grasped the basic philosophy that it transcends age, problem, or situation.
underlying this method, and when it has This same philosophy and underlying
become an integral part of his thinking, principles are utilized as fully in non-

H o w COUNSELING IS DONE 9
directive play therapy, the only difference so negative—and yet, without manipula-
being that there the child's natural medium ting the environment in the slightest degree,
for self-expression is his free, undirected those individuals have been able to meet
play rather than verbalization across the those situations in a very constructive
counseling table. And it is there, in play manner and did something about it them-
therapy experiences with very young, emo-
selves.
tionally deprived children that we can really
A counselor's accumulating experi-
see the force of this drive for self-realization ence reinforces his confidence in this
and maturity so crystal clear. I can recall procedure. And when our research keeps
many cases of children—neglected by their pace with our experience then we are better
parents, deprived of what we have consi-
able to evaluate it scientifically and able
dered basic needs for every individual, facing also to perfect our technique.
what seemed to be unbearable problems—
who through non-directive play therapy
Our basic philosophy is based upon
were somehow strengthened sufficiently to this concept: The individual has within
meet these problems and who emerged himself this strong growth drive. The
from the therapy more mature, independent individual learns first to know himself,
and adjusted. If a young child can work accept himself, achieve self-respect and
through serious problems by means of self-confidence—and once he has acquired
non-directive therapy, then surely an adult this, then he is able to accept others,
is as capable of doing so, too.
respect other personalities, enter into more
satisfactory relationships with others, and
I have worked with individuals whose direct his life in more constructive ways.
problems centred around their acceptance
of a severe physical handicap—and I refer
What are the basic principles that are
specifically to a young girl who was a applied to create the non-directive relationship ?
spastic—a victim of cerebral palsey—and —The first requirement is to establish
through a series of non-directive counseling rapport with the client so that he feels free
interviews she worked through her emotio-
to express himself fully. The client must
nal problems and finally came to grips with feel secure in this relationship, must trust
her handicap. She asked herself: Was she the counselor to respect his confidence, and
a handicap? or was she a person? And at must feel accepted whether he is expressing
first she thought that by sheer will power negative, ambivalent, or positive feelings.
she could overcome the muscular in-
It is only after the rapport is established
coordination and she attempted to control that the client is able to move ahead on his
muscles that would not be controlled. own.
Then followed the insight that her persona-
The client must be granted the per-
lity was within herself—something apart missiveness to lead the way, to bring out
from her physical handicap—and with the things that to him are, important—to
that insight came self-acceptance, self-
bring out what he wishes to bring out when
direction, and more positive and construc-
he is ready to do so. Thus all questions,
tive attitudes.
probing, suggestions, advice from the
I have worked with children and adults counselor are ruled out. This is the client's
who seemed to have three strikes against hour to use as he sees fit. The counselor
them from the beginning because their does not inject his evaluation, judgment,
environment or family relationships were or insight into this experience.

10 Miss VIRGINIA M. AXLINE
As the client relates his story the jokes to that effect. Someone says, "I
counselor is alert to recognize the attitudes think I'll take a chocolate coke." And
and feelings that the client expresses and someone answers, "You feel that you
reflects these back to the client in such a would like a chocolate coke." That is not a
way that the client is able to gain insight reflection of an attitude. It is a shallow
into his behaviour. For it is only when the misconception of the whole process.
emotions are syphoned off, so to speak,
The role of the counselor is not one of
and the individual is able to look at himself passivity.—It calls for the most severe self-
in the cool light of reason, that he is able discipline that I know of—to be able, as a
to make constructive decisions, and to counselor, to trust the other person to
achieve adjustment. It seems that this solve his own problems and make his own
cannot be achieved by telling the client decisions, to concentrate on what that
what is wrong with him, what he should do,
client is saying and feeling so that the coun-
or why he behaves as he does. The client selor can select and clarify those feelings—
must work through this himself or it is and it requires an intense, unrelaxing
not his solution, and if it is not his solution concentration—to have the kind of trust
then it is a flimsy thing and not functional. and respect for the individual that will let
It is in this area that most of the mis-
him select what he wishes to discuss, to let
conceptions of non-directive therapy him decide how he will meet his problems,
arise. There is such a difference between and for the counselor to hold only to the
reflection of content and selective reflection limitations of time, place, and counselor
of emotionalized attitudes that the client participation. The counselor must refrain
expresses. To be able to accurately catch from becoming emotionally involved in
these attitudes and to reflect them back his client's problem.
to the client in such a manner that they are
not mere echoes, calls for sensitivity and
The client experiences—and sometimes
concentration on the part of the counselor. for the first time in his life—what it is like
That is one of the decisive factors in con-
to walk alone. The counselor, by the con-
veying to the client that the counselor sistent adherence to these basic principles
understands, accepts the client exactly as says by his very attitude and behaviour
he is, grants him the permissiveness to toward his client "I believe that you have
utilize fully the capacities for growth within yourself the power and the ability
within himself. It is this that enables the to direct your own life. l a m here to provide
client to achieve insight, that gives him the the kind of situation that makes you depend
experience of being a person respected in upon yourself, to test out your inner
his own right—a person who has the sole capacities." It is a challenge that few clients
right to direct his own life—a person can resist. It is indeed a unique situation.
who can draw upon the rich resources Too many people are far too ready with
within himself that need only freeing to solutions for other people's problems.
function to their fullest capacity.
As you all know from your own ex-
Occasionally someone gets the errone-
periences, advice is almost as free as the
ous idea that this reflection of feelings is air. And most people listen to another
just an echo, a mirroring back of exactly mentally tapping their feet impatiently,
what has been said, a trite repetition, or an waiting for that person to finish, so that
absent " u m h m n " while the counselor they can get in their two cents worth. But
takes a cat-nap. And we sometimes hear the non-directive counseling relationship

H o w COUNSELING IS D O N E 11
is not like that. It is a relationship between and permissiveness extended to the client
two people, but it is centred completely determines the use the client will make of
upon the client and it is truly his hour.
this situation. There can be no approval or
In my opinion the success or failure of
disapproval shown or the client is apt to
non-directive counseling experience rests waver in his decision and self-under-
upon the relationship that is built up standing. It is the absence of judgmental
between the counselor and the client. values that keeps the client's confidence in
The strength and consistency of this rela-
himself and in the counselor. The consis-
tionship determines the depth to which the tency of the attitudes extended toward
client can go. The counselor must not the client are extremely important. If the
waver—must not put out supporting techni-
counselor is not diagnosing—if he is not
ques, suggestions, or advice when he feels interpreting—if he does not place his judgment
that his client is not doing the right thing. ahead of his client's—if he is sensitive to the
The non-directive counselor would not be attitudes and feelings of the client, then the
holding judgment in reserve, just in case client can move ahead on his own, finding
the client did not perform according to the with each step a better understanding of
counselor's preconceived idea as to what he
himself, and new courage to be himself,
should do. Judgments and preconceived and the strength to become independent
solutions to problems have no place in the and self-reliant. When the individual learns
non-directive counseling relationship. Any to know himself completely, then he be-
element that the counselor injects that comes the master of himself and is truly a
the client did not put in by his own selection
free man. If counseling, or psychotherapy,
cancels out the feeling that we are trying to or call it what you will—is one means of
communicate to our clients. It is a genuine freeing the individual so that he can become
respect for the individual. It is not some-
a more spontaneous, creative, and happy
thing that can be put on and off like a coat. individual, then it is well worth further
It is n o t achieved by following a manual study and more extensive application.
of directions. It is not fluctuating or in-
If it seems to be a way of extending emo-
consistent. It is like a steady flame that tional hospitality to a troubled and confused
burns throughout the series of interviews—
individual, then it seems only just that it
burning for each and every cilent—for the be tried.
seemingly inadequate, incompetent three
Non-directive counseling is not a
year old who is not even able to talk on simple and easy thing to do. And the only
through every individual possibility. This thing that will convince the beginner that
confidence in the individual's ability to this is true is an actual counseling experi-
help himself and to become more indepen-
ence. The only thing that really convinces
dent and self-directing and mature is never a counselor that non-directive therapy is an
fully appreciated by a counselor until he effective method is to have completed a
has seen it in operation. The more experi-
successful case. And the only way to have a
ences they have in observing this process really successful case is to have mastered
of self-directed growth the more ready they the basic philosophy, to be able to establish
are to admit that that force is more powerful
the necessary relationship with the client,
than anything they could inject into the and to have developed the sensitivity to
situation.
emotionalized attitudes that enables the
The therapy takes place in a neutral, counselor to reflect back these attitudes in
safety zone. The quality of the acceptance such a way that they bring about insight.

12 MISS VIRGINIA M. AXLINE
At the University of Chicago there is a for education, for counselor training pro-
vocational guidance centre, a reading clinic, grammes—and many other problems are on
a speech clinic, and psychiatric services. our research agenda.
These are apart from the Counseling Centre
—and their purposes are to help an
All of these research studies are for
individual with specific problems. If an the purpose of helping us perfect our
individual comes to the Counseling Centre technique by obtaining a better under-
and requests vocational guidance tests, standing of the dynamics of human
remedial reading instructions, speech cor-
behaviour, by knowing better the basic
rection—they are referred to these other personality structure.
departments. If a client gives evidence of
being psychotic he is referred to a psychia-
At the present time it is virgin
trist. On the other hand, if someone goes to territory, but the implications that we are
the vocational guidance centre, and the uncovering in our studies are significant.
reading clinic, and in the opinion of the We are impressed by the implications of
psychologists there seems to have emotional
this theory for education, for the field of
problems or a problem of personal adjust-
medicine, for the resolution of social
ment, then he is referred to the Counseling conflicts. But even so we do not lose sight of
Centre. It is through this cooperative the fact that it is the strength within each
arrangement that we are able to offer a individual, and his capacity for growth, upon
more adequate and complete service to which we build.
our client.
Non-directive counseling illustrated.
Our research at the Counseling Centre The following case is included to illustrate
is working to gain objective measurements non-directive counseling.
to the changes that occur in the individual
as a result of counseling—changes in per-
Jenny was in the eighth grade. She was a
sonality, reading ability, speech, intelligence,
poor student—and a very poor reader,
social adjustment. And the tests that are although intelligence tests indicated that her
given at the Counseling Centre are primarily difficulty was not due to low intelligence.
for the purpose of research, given to the Jenny was referred to the counselor as a
clients with their permission. Complete reading problem. She seemed very disturbed
counseling cases are electrically recorded— when she appeared in the counselor's
with the client's permission—to enable us office. She sat down and twisted her hand-
to study more completely what really kerchief between her hands and grinned
happened during a counseling series, and wanly at the counselor. An excerpt from the
what changes can be measured. We have first contact follows :—
several research studies underway at the
present time. For example, one study is Jenny : "I just don't know what to
being conducted in cooperation with
do. I'm so unhappy about
Drs. Gray and Robinson of the Reading
everything. I haven't got any
Clinic at the University of Chicago to
friends and I'm so big. I'm
determine the effectiveness of non-directive
the biggest girl in the whole
therapy for individuals who have reading
school and I'm so dumb.
difficulties. Research in group therapy, play
I just can't do anything. And
therapy, and the implications of this theory
I'm so ashamed."

H o w COUNSELING IS DONE 13
Counselor : "Things don't seem to be
and say no. I'm afraid if they
going so well for you in
would leave me and so I say
school and you feel unhappy
yes—yes—yes—to everything
about it."
they ask me to do and I
don't want to do any of the
Jenny : ' 'Yes. You see I'm having
things they suggest and so
some trouble right now with
I do those things, too, and
my cousin. She's pretty and
I feel terrible. I can't sleep
she's smart. And she's been
at night. It worries me so."
fighting with me and calling
me names. She says awful Counselor : "Their friendship means so
things about me that aren't
much to you that you can't
true. And she says she'll
say no to anything they ask
steal my boy friend. She
you to do and yet it worries
could too, if she really wanted
you a great deal."
to because she is smart and Jenny : " O h yes. It does worry me.
awful pretty and I worry so
Because I live in the fear that
much about it all. These
some day—some day they
fights we have. And I feel so
will ask me to do something
bad."
really bad—and I'll do it—
Counselor : "You really worry about
and—." (The expression on
these fights and the threats
her face indicates extreme
your cousin makes."
anxiety).
Counselor : "It puts you in a bad spot—
Jenny : (interrupting) "Yes. To take
worried to death in case you
away my boy friend. And
do something really bad be-
I'm so tall. I scrunch down all
cause you can't say n o . "
I can. I crawl along so I won't
look so big. But—what she Jenny : "Yes. And—Well, even
says about me isn't true.
now I do things that I know I
Honest, it isn't. I go out
shouldn't do. We smoke and
with boys, but I'm not a
when we can get it we drink
bad girl. Honest, I'm not;"
and sometimes we go down-
town and pick up sailors. I
Counselor : " I t disturbs you when she
really don't like to do any of
says you're a bad girl."
those things. I don't want to
do them. But the minute
Jenny : "Because I'm not. But it's all
I'm asked, I grab my things
a part of a big, big worry.
and rush out and act real
Because, well, I don't have
glad. I'm really at their mercy.
any friends and I just can't
They could make me do any-
say no and that's what really
thing. Because I can't say n o . "
bothers me. I'm afraid. If
I'm with some one and they Counselor : "You really feel that you
suggest that we do something
put yourself completely at
and I don't want to do it
their mercy because you just
I'm afraid to come right out
can't make yourself say n o . "

14 MISS VIRGINIA M. AXLINE
Jenny : ''Yes."(Smiles bitterly). "And
get an awful disease and go
I get to thinking about all
crazy and may even die.
these things in school and I
And Mama would kick
just can't listen to the teachers.
me out. I know she would.
I say to myself every day,
They are awful religious. And
I say Jenny, now listen to
I wouldn't want to do it.
Miss X. And I look at her—
I really wouldn't. It would be
as steady as I can—and she
just because I would be
starts to talk—and the minute
afraid to say no. I'd be
she starts to talk, then I'm
afraid he would walk out and
off too. No matter how hard
never come back again so I
I try. Just tell myself—you
would say yes and..." (She
listen to her—I try. Really I
covered her face with her
do. But..."
hands and shuddered.)
Counselor : "You are really quite worried
Counselor : "All of these worries get in
about what might happen to
your way and even though
you—really serious conse-
you do tell yourself you're
quences—just because you
going to listen—you just can't
feel that you can't say n o . "
do it."
Jenny : "Yes. And I—it's a terrible
Jenny : "I think of Jack and my
feeling. You just can't believe
cousin and how she said she
how terrible it is. I'm all
would take him away from
mixed up. Because I like
me. Jack is a sailor. He
babies. And if I had a baby
thinks I'm eighteen. He
I could quit school and I
doesn't know I'm just a
just hate school. But I know
grammar school student. He
I couldn't stay home—and
thinks I'm in high school. And
maybe Jack wouldn't marry
I know my cousin is crazy
me—and they would take
about him. She is even
the baby away from me—and
younger than I am, but she is
then?"
in high school. And she said
she would take him away Counselor : "It's a miserable feeling. One
from me. I don't know what
way you look at it, it
to do. She said that she
seems as though you might
would tell him that I was a
find a solution to the school
bad girl and I would do
problem by having a baby
anything a man asked me
and having to quit school and
to do—and I keep worrying—
on the other hand you feel
what if he did ask me to do
there would be a very real
something awful? I know all
problem if you did have a
about the facts of life. I know
baby. Jack might not marry
what could happen. There
you. You couldn't stay home.
was a social worker once
They might even take the
who told us. And you can
baby."

H o w COUNSELING IS D O N E 15
Jenny : "Yes. That's right." (A long
no. I just wish I could get so
pause). "And then the gossips
I didn't care what people felt
would be right when they
when I said no. I just wish I
said I was bad. I would be
didn't care whether I ever saw
bad. And I might get a
them again."
disease. And the baby might
be as dumb as me. And I Counselor : " Y o u really want to be able
wouldn't have any money.
to say no and mean it,—and
I know how terrible that is—
not waver because of the
not having any money."
other people's reaction."
Counselor : ' 'You feel there would be the Jenny : "Yes. That's what I really
possibility of a lot of unhappy
wish."
complications."
At a later contact Jenny announced
Jenny : "Yes. I know how I feel now that she had asked her mother to say no
when my cousin taunts me for her and that she told the girls and boys
and calls me a bad girl. when they asked her to go some place with
It gets me, right here. I feel them "You'll have to come home and ask
miserable—really terrible.
my mother," and when they did, she had
And I'd feel even worse if it pre-arranged that her mother say no for her.
was true."
"Mother would say 'No, Jenny can't go.'
And I would coax and beg there in front
Counselor : "It's bad enough when there of the others. I'd say, 'Oh, please, mom,
aren't any grounds for her please. Don't be an old meany. Let me go!'
remarks about you—but you But I had always told her ahead of time
think it would be worse if the
not to break down and say yes, because I
remarks were true."
didn't want go with them."
Jenny : " O h yes. I know it."
Then later the announcement that she
Counselor : "You're really sure that you was not seeing her cousin any more indica-
would feel worse."
ted more steps to help herself. She said she
avoided the places where her cousin might
Jenny : "Yes. Everything would be be.
worse than it is, really. I'd
be more afraid of what people
Then after the dance, where Jack, the
would say. I'd be afraid cousin, and Jenny were all thrown together,
everyone would snub me if I she said, " M y cousin came up to Jack and
did. And I know they would. they danced a lot. She's real pretty. And
Everything would be a lot she said to me 'I'm going to steal your boy
worse."
friend.' And I felt awful bad about it.
She had on such a pretty dress. Mine was
Counselor : " Y o u feel pretty sure that an old one, made over. But I just said
your problem would only 'That's up to you two. If Jack wants to go
multiply if you got yourself with you, okay.' Jack was right there.
in any deeper."
And my cousin said to Jack 'She's a bad
Jenny : ' 'Yes. I just wish I could say girl. She does the awfullest things.' But Jack

16 MISS VIRGINIA M. AXLINE
didn't pay any attention to her. He made his
brother to help her with math and reading
choice and he decided he liked me better. and had offered to pay him to help her and
And I can say no now, too, if it's something
he had agreed to do it. She expressed fears
I don't think I should d o . "
and anxieties about failing again and
related how terrible she felt other times
Then she took more positive steps. when the rest of the class passed and she had
She got a job after school rather than hang stayed behind—a failure. After she had
around the corner drug store with the rest worked through her emotional problems,
of the gang. She decided to do something then she was ready to do something about
about her study problem and told the remedial instructions in reading and arith-
counselor that she had asked her older metic.