I ended my last post with three questions about Life's use of non- directional counselling: could they? Should they? And what does it do to them if they do?
The idea of non- directive counselling is that the counsellor should use open questions and active listening to help the client to clarify his thinking and understanding and to reach his own conclusions, leading to positive (from the client's point of view) actions and outcomes. When skilfully practiced, with a client who has a well-formed conscience, it can be a beneficial approach.
It is actually extremely hard to do when the counsellor has a strong point of view on the topic under discussion. Even if the counsellor manages to refrain from leading or prejudicial questions, there is a host of ways (from the intake of breath, the raised eyebrow or the smile to the tone of voice, intonation patterns used in questions etc) in which the counsellor may inadvertently confer positive or negative judgements on what the client says.
With good training and regular practice, of course, some people will become skilled in this; but when the stakes are as high, the beliefs as strong, and the passions as involved as they are in discussing the issue of abortion, I suspect that total impartiality at every level is rarely achieved. And if it is, what does that do to the counsellor? (I will come back to that question below.)
This strikes me as much more contentious. I imagine that the reasons for Life adopting this approach are several:
If they explicitly offered pro-life counselling, they would not be reaching women who need help and support
Non-directional counselling is respectable in academic, counselling and political circles
It may well be that on occasions a non-directional approach helps women with well-formed consciences to reach the correct decision: that is, not to have an abortion.
However, one is driven to ask, what is their objective in offering counselling?
Is it in the hope of persuading women not to have abortions, albeit through a non-directional approach? And if that is the case, does not that place at least an implicit lie at the heart of their work in this arena? And does that not also make the likelihood of a truly non- directional approach much less?
Or is it for some other reason? In which case, how are they being true to their pro-life mission? And does not that place a lie at the heart of their relationship with those who support them as a pro-life organisation?
So it seems to me that there is here an issue of organisational integrity that cannot easily be resolved.
I should add that if the women with whom they are engaging were likely to have well- formed consciences, then the approach might be defensible, at least on pragmatic grounds. William Coulson was for a long time the right hand man of Carl Rogers, the famed and acclaimed prophet of non- directional counselling. A Catholic, Coulson eventually recanted from his work with Rogers, recognising the enormous damage it had done, not least in Catholic circles. Coulson's point was that if someone lacked a well-formed conscience, then to throw him entirely onto his own resources when addressing serious and difficult issues was inhumane. He will inevitably fall back on the standards of the world (or, I would add, the flesh or the devil...)
In our current culture, the average woman is subjected to so much propaganda normalising abortion, and selfish decision making (autonomy, independence, liberation, self fulfilment etc) that to deny her any other perspective is a likely to lead in a particular direction. So how non- directive is that in fact?
My third question is, what does it do to committed pro- life people to be taught to practice, and then repeatedly to practice, non- directional counselling about this issue?
My concerns are that it attacks their own integrity, and that it will also expose them to great distress as women leave their meetings and go off to abort their children; the counsellor will always be wondering, at some level, could or should I have done more to help that woman and save that baby's life?
I do not wish to denigrate Life, an organisation for which my wife and I have both worked for many years, and which does a huge amount of good work. But I do believe that this is too important an issue to be left unaddressed.
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