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Life defends its ‘non-directive’ counselling

By on Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Life's website

Life's website

The charity Life has robustly defended the ethics underpinning its services following criticism of its non-directive counselling from a leading Catholic figure, Dr Joseph Shaw.

The ethical scrutiny, which has prompted widespread controversy among Catholics, began following a debate on the BBC Radio 4 Sunday programme, during which Ann Scanlan of Life described the charity’s counselling services as “non-directive”, prompting questions about Life’s avowed pro-life ethos.

In a blog post Dr Shaw wrote: “The hope of the organisation that using non-directive counselling 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.”

The practice of non-directive counselling means that women are not directed towards a specific action, prompting concern from some Catholics about the financial donations to Life from the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales.

Joanne Hill, Life spokeswoman, said: “Life speaks out constantly about the moral wrongs of abortion. Hundreds of thousands of schoolchildren have heard our pro-life message, as well as the millions who listen to us on the radio and television.

“With 40 years’ experience of crisis pregnancy counselling, Life knows the vulnerability, distress and pressures women experience when faced with a crisis pregnancy. As such, Life has adopted a person-centred, non-directive approach to crisis pregnancy counselling. The role of the counsellor is to help a woman explore her personal circumstances and feelings, the options open to her, and her feelings toward those different options. Life enables women to do this.”

She added: “Some women, however, do choose to have abortions following counselling. We do not and could not refer for abortions. In such situations, Life directs the woman back to her GP.”

The bishops’ conference defended its financial support for Life in a statement. It said: “Life upholds the utmost respect for human life from fertilisation until natural death and is opposed to abortion in all circumstances. Life has also established Zoe’s Place hospices for babies and young children which fulfil a profound human need in society.”

Life is a non-denominational charity founded in 1970. It has recently been invited to advise the Government on sexual health, an invitation regarded as a significant political coup for the pro-life movement.

Jim Dobbin, the Labour MP and chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Pro-Life Group, has appealed to every “genuine pro-life person” to “unequivocally” support Life’s services.

Phyllis Bowman of Right to Life said: “Those of us involved in the day-to-day battle for the unborn child cannot afford to be moralistically self-indulgent. Pro-life workers prefer to be instructed by Our Lord who told us to be ‘as subtle as serpents and as gentle as doves’. This could well be the working motto for Life.”

Leading Catholic academic Dr David Jones of the Anscombe Bioethics Centre said that non-directive counselling could be morally defensible under Catholic ethics.

He said: “Thomas Aquinas teaches that while correcting someone can be an act of charity it is not always an act of charity if it is not likely to help in practice. Sometimes it is more helpful not to say anything but to help people come to see something for themselves.

“It is also an important piece of Catholic doctrine that all human beings have access within themselves to the ethical principles of the Natural Law. This may be obscured by sin, ignorance and bad habits, but even a stubborn heart can be touched by the Holy Spirit.”

He said that non-directive counselling should be distinguished from “value-free” information-giving.

He continued: “There is a certainly a role for directive parents, teachers, preachers, and judges. Nevertheless, from a Catholic perspective, there could also be a role for a non-directive counsellor, if this means someone who aims to help people to come to see these things for themselves. Catholic counselling should always be value-driven but may express these values also by giving someone space to reflect on what their heart tells them.”

Lay Catholics who comprise a significant proportion of Life’s clientele have also emphasised the unique range of services Life provides, including fertility treatment in line with Catholic teaching.

  • Seangough

    well done LIFE!

  • James Preece

    If only Madeline Teahan’s article were as non-directive as LIFE’s counselling policy.

  • http://twitter.com/LMSChairman Joseph Shaw

    I respond here: http://bit.ly/nf1rsp

    For a ‘robust defence’ I’d like to see them actually responding to my questions. NB I never said that what they do is wrong; I’m just asking them to explain themselves. This they are clearly unwilling to do.

  • http://ccfather.blogspot.com/ Ben Trovato

    I notice the questions I raised in my blog, which I think was what sparked this off (and was then picked up by James Preece, Caroline Farrow and thence Joseph Shaw) have not been addressed either…

  • http://ccfather.blogspot.com/ Ben Trovato

    (Sorry forgot to link to the original post: http://bit.ly/qx8NTF and followed up http://bit.ly/o9sGPg and http://bit.ly/qiNa46)

  • Caroline Farrow

    Though I would support and echo Phyllis’s comments in their entirety, Joseph Shaw does raise a valid point which has yet to be answered satisfactorily.

    With that in mind, I do not believe that Catholics should have any qualms about supporting LIFE either practically or financially for the reasons stated in my blog posts.

  • http://twitter.com/MuInFuAnMe Multum Incola

    Yep, Dr Shaw is right about this. No one’s hating on them, just asking for an explanation. We at MIFAM have recently covered the issue of non-directive counselling in the area of vampirism, there could be points of overlap here, but we’ll leave you to decide that: http://multum-incola-fuit-anima-mea.blogspot.com/2011/07/anti-dracula-group-defends-non.html

  • http://twitter.com/LMSChairman Joseph Shaw

    Madeleine Teehan: perhaps you could explain why you didn’t get in touch with me in preparing this article?

    And why you have presented Dr Jones’ views as a response to mine, when they were not, either by his intention or in fact (since we don’t disagree)?

    Quite apart from the stunningly one-sided nature of this article, this suggests a lack of basic journalistic standards.

  • Seangough

    let me give a short defence of Life against your ruthless accusations.

    As far as ‘i never actually said what they do is wrong’ the name is concerned, your articles title claims they practice NDC for fame, the article claims it’s for money and power, and you encourage Catholics not to support them. Life are strapped for cash as it is, and are making redundancies: you really should retract what you have said!

    http://seandgough.blogspot.com/2011/07/short-defence-of-life.html

  • http://twitter.com/MuInFuAnMe Multum Incola

    Speculation though, isn’t it. It’s the old ‘ask a question by suggesting a statement’ job. LIFE had plenty of opportunity to respond to it and give the ACTUAL explanation. But they haven’t really…

  • Seangough

    What do they need to explain, their endorsment of NDC?

    If so, they have…

    Joanne Hill, Life spokeswoman, said: “Life speaks out constantly about the moral wrongs of abortion. Hundreds of thousands of schoolchildren have heard our pro-life message, as well as the millions who listen to us on the radio and television.
    “With 40 years’ experience of crisis pregnancy counselling, Life knows the vulnerability, distress and pressures women experience when faced with a crisis pregnancy. As such, Life has adopted a person-centred, non-directive approach to crisis pregnancy counselling. The role of the counsellor is to help a woman explore her personal circumstances and feelings, the options open to her, and her feelings toward those different options. Life enables women to do this.”
    She added: “Some women, however, do choose to have abortions following counselling. We do not and could not refer for abortions. In such situations, Life directs the woman back to her GP.”
    In summary, Life completely disagrees with abortion, but it realises (from 40 years experience) that women in crisis pregnancies are generally desperate and don’t actually want to abort their child, therfore rather than telling them they are bad people, they help them to remove, and make sense of their problems rather than their babys. And it work’s, if you don’t believe it, go to one of the 25 Life houses in Britain and see.I stand by my point – Dr Shaw, should retract his statement, Life is in a most difficult situation financially, and asking catholic’s to withhold payment is criminal! 

  • http://twitter.com/MuInFuAnMe Multum Incola

    Apologia pro Dr Shaw!

    Referring to Dr Shaw as a ‘nitwit’ on your blog (more than once), not very charitable! I can assure you that he is not a nitwit at all, he’s simply someone who disagrees with you. Why the presumption of stupidity/bad-will? Dr Shaw is many things but he is neither stupid nor of bad will. In fact I remove my hat to him given the amount of abuse he takes from his fellow Catholics (recent slagging off from Stuart Reid as a big-girl’s blouse for example). And of course you have referred to his question as ‘disgusting’. And all this flack for what exactly, hmm? What is he so guilty of, other than being generally right, and expressing his arguments in such a way that the only response possible is the equivalent of ‘ya mum’? 
    At the risk of embarrassing myself in front of him and his lovely family, inflating his ego to bursting point and also of looking like Dr Shaw-pseudonym account, the fact is that he’s much, much smarter than pretty much anyone he finds himself in a dispute with, and people feel very threatened by this. This is the only possible explanation I can see for the lack of any serious discussion about anything he’s said recently, the preponderance of juvenile insults from you, Reid et al, and the total failure of any of his interlocutors to actually QUOTE AND ADDRESS HIS POINTS FROM HIS BLOG. I for one am very glad to find myself on his ‘team’, I really wouldn’t want to be on a team opposing him! Keep up the good work Dr Shaw!This is the problem of the blogosphere isn’t it, it makes people see fellow Catholics of differing opinions as faceless enemies who should be belittled and ridiculed. And it’s you who says that division is destructive! 

    PS I was undecided about the issue of NDC until I saw the total failure of anyone to actually address the points Dr Shaw raised, let alone in any kind of convincing way.

  • Seangough

    I’ll grant you it was unnecessary to call i a nimwit, I’ve changed it, and i offer my apology, I was somewhat annoyed. Like I have said, Life are currently in a financially difficult situation, and to claim the catholic church should not support them financially is terrible.

    As for the failing to address the point’s made, were these the four points i addressed in my blog by any chance?

  • Caroline Farrow

    Just a general point here. Joseph called my blogpost in defence of LIFE “rubbish” which I found a little harsh coming from someone I’d never met, although he later conceded that his choice of language was perhaps a little harsh!

    Whilst I disagree with Joseph, I respect his opinion and believe he has raised a valid ethical point.

    Being perjorative is not a helpful stance, plus I hardly think a Doctor of Philosophy falls into the category of dimwit, nor is it particularly respectful.

    As MA notes, disagreeing with someone does not render them stupid. As for your parody MA, very witty if a little unfair!

  • http://twitter.com/MuInFuAnMe Multum Incola

    I’m in a difficult financial situation. I have massive student debts, no job, I’m not qualified for anything (yet), and I could lead a Catholic life much better and be do a lot of good if the hierarchy gave me £10,000. I could go to Mass every day and do all sorts of good things. Why shouldn’t I be given some cash from the hierarchy? Claiming that the Catholic Church should not support me financially is terrible!

    Your four points were strawmen I’m afraid :( And were not grounded in sound moral philosophy it seemed.

  • http://twitter.com/MuInFuAnMe Multum Incola

    Thank you for your kind words about the wit, be RE fairness, what’s unfair is not being protected from being sliced up and flushed out and then having your liver used to test Nestle’s cheerios. We’re not talking about moral neutrals here, human lives are at stake, not to mention immortal souls.

  • http://twitter.com/MuInFuAnMe Multum Incola

    “Life directs the woman back to her GP.”
    I believe that’s at least material co-operation with evil. 

    Oh criminal as well! This is like the blooming bank crisis. LIFE are not a Catholic organisation, where is this obligation come from? Better to support Good Counsel Network, they’re in an awful situation and have NO moral ambiguities floating around them. Mr Gough, this obligation you’re referring to is bizarre to me.

  • stephen

    I on the other hand do not respect Joseph’s opinion, because he is plain wrong and rather objectively and obviously so.

  • stephen

    ‘I believe that’s at least material co-operation with evil.’ And you are wrong to believe so, self evidently!

  • stephen

    Multum, 

    Is your Dracula blogpost charitable then? Pot, Kettle, Black!

  • stephen

    Human Lives are indeed at stake which is why Life know that:

    ‘There is a place within a woman that no man has ever known. A place touched by God and a few brave souls with healing hands and prayerful hearts who dare to journey with her and rock her gently leading her back to herself’ Abortion victim 

    The immortal souls considering abortion need non-judgemental gentle non-directional counselling where the  direction is left to the grace of the loving Holy Spirit. 

  • stephen

    ‘Joseph Shaw does raise a valid point which has yet to be answered satisfactorily.’ Really Caroline, I haven’t picked up on that yet, which one of his points is valid, or hasn’t been answered? 

  • stephen

    Really Ben what were they? I must have missed them!

  • stephen

    Joseph, they certainly are not ‘clearly unwilling’ to do so. That is a slanderous thing to say!

  • http://twitter.com/MuInFuAnMe Multum Incola

    My Dracula blogpost is silly, and good-natured I might add (no ire was expended in its writing). It makes a parallel between Dracula and abortion. It suggests that NDC is misguided, and that because of to take a ‘neutral’ approach to a grave moral evil is reckless (and yes we know that they have an overall opposition to abortion and do good work, but that ‘fundamental option’ is not a valid theory in moral philosophy from a Catholic perspective). It’s also satirical rather than disputatious. I don’t think any accusations of uncharity stick, I’m afraid. 

    Saucepan, espresso machine, green!

  • http://twitter.com/MuInFuAnMe Multum Incola

    And therefore he is an idiot and we should make fun of him and insinuate he is of bad will?

    If it’s so objectively and obviously wrong you shouldn’t have too much trouble convincing intelligent people of good-will that that’s the case :)

  • http://twitter.com/MuInFuAnMe Multum Incola

    Non-judgemental advice? So is saying that abortion is a grave moral evil that destroys a life, and renders the liklihood of it attaining eternal beatitude a good idea? Is not the approach taken by GCN more sensible, and more of a moral good? 

  • http://twitter.com/MuInFuAnMe Multum Incola

    Oh sorry, yes you’re right. It was self-evident. Silly me! Forget everything I’ve said. Dr Shaw, forget it, because some guy on the internet has told me it’s self-evident :P

  • http://twitter.com/MuInFuAnMe Multum Incola

    Hearing, you will not hear!

  • http://twitter.com/MuInFuAnMe Multum Incola

    Jolly as it has been guys, I’m afraid my brief period of commenting on here must come to an end because I have a pizza to eat, gum to chew and blank walls to stare at. Peace out, let’s all be friends! In Domino, Multum Incola.

  • http://ccfather.blogspot.com/ Ben Trovato

    Bad luck Stephen.  Perhaps you should do the research before you comment.

  • Caroline Farrow

    The point that has yet to be answered (unless I have missed it) is whether NDC might aid an anti-life outcome by remaining silent on key issues in order to retain impartiality.

    Dr Shaw asks whether a counsellor would be able to offer either information or an opinion which they knew would influence a person in a positive way? If the answer is yes, should LIFE’s BACP accreditation be removed? If a counsellor is not able to give this information, then is the silence a material co-operation with evil?

    I suspect the answer is that LIFE do the former, which can still be classed as non-directive as they are not using tactics which involve coercion or indoctrination. If a client still proceeds with an abortion, despite having been made aware of all the options and information, the counsellor is not going to offer unhelpful value statements upon them.

    LIFE are not aiming simply to help Catholics in their decision making (despite the bizarre assertion that most of their “clientele” are Catholics, does Madeleine have any evidence of that) but to help all women facing crisis pregnancies. Offering statements on sin or moral evil in this context would be highly inappropriate and counter-productive.

    Though I normally cringe when I hear people talking about Christ meets you where you are, it seems appropriate in the context of LIFE. Whilst not validating the sin, Christ asks for conversion of hearts, but he does not compel. The duty is upon the sinner to recognise their error. NDC enables just this. If armed with the knowledge of the horror of abortion and also what the alternatives might be, a woman still decides to proceed, there is not much any counsellor can do. If an NDC has given all the information and made clear that abortion is unnecessary then they are not co-operating in evil.

    To refer a woman to her GP, is not a co-operation either. A GP will be the one to make the referral to an abortion provider or a hospital, most women are not so clueless that they may access counselling services but not a GP!

    To withdraw support from LIFE because they are not explicitly Catholic, particularly when they do not go against any explicit teaching of the Church is hardly outward looking. This objection though valid is complex and contentious, how many people truly consider that helping women through difficult pregnancies and enabling fewer abortions to be performed, might technically constitute an accessory to evil?

    No doubt this is heretical, but on that terrible day of judgement will the Lord in his infinite wisdom and mercy say “Caroline, you thought you were helping to save souls, but you know what, you didn’t read the small-print. Though more lives were saved than would otherwise been the case, your efforts enabled silence which enabled death”.

    If LIFE were condemnatory, they would not get clients. BACP gives women a certain reassurance. If this is removed then fewer women will come for help. It is pointless evangelising or even trying to evangelise to a non-believer. Catholic theology and morality may be of use when appealing to fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, but it isn’t going to aid a Sikh or Muslim in distress. Hence the truly Christian attitude is to aid without judgement or condemnation. Which is what LIFE, in my opinion, do.

  • http://ccfather.blogspot.com/ Ben Trovato

    Caroline wrote:
    “Dr Shaw asks whether a counsellor would be able to offer either information or an opinion which they knew would influence a person in a positive way? If the answer is yes, should LIFE’s BACP accreditation be removed? If a counsellor is not able to give this information, then is the silence a material co-operation with evil?

    I suspect the answer is that LIFE do the former, which can still be classed as non-directive as they are not using tactics which involve coercion or indoctrination.”I hope you are right, but fear you may be wrong.  According to Regerian theory, non-directional counselling is not simply about avoiding ‘coercion or indoctrination’, it is about withdrawing to a morally neutral stance and not giving the individual being counselled any facts or views that might sway her decision.  It is intended to help the individual to explore her aspirations, values, etc etc in order to reach a decision, based on the a priori belief that any decision freely reached by an autonomous human being is ipso facto a good decision.Given what we know about Original Sin and its tendency to distort our judgement (particularly where our own interests are concerned) and the massive societal and relational pressures under which a woman confronting an unwanted pregnancy finds herself, I think that such an approach is not necessarily the best one in all cases.  It may be in some cases, but LIFE has committed to using only that approach in order to get its accreditation.  That commitment removes from the individual counsellor the possibility of trying another tack if the NDC approach is not working – and the price of that is the child’s life and the mother’s well-being (to say nothing of what it does to the counsellor.)

  • http://ccfather.blogspot.com/ Ben Trovato

    ‘Rogerian’  (wish you could edit these things…)

  • stephen

    I did Ben and it appears that you have not asked any pertinent questions whatsoever. And certainly if you worked with Life you probably could have talked with them first before adding to an unnecessary,damaging and ill-informed nonsense controversy! 

  • stephen

    I did Ben and it appears that you have not asked any pertinent questions whatsoever. And certainly if you worked with Life you probably could have talked with them first before adding to an unnecessary,damaging and ill-informed nonsense controversy! 

  • stephen

    Intelligent people of good will who need convincing that Life Charity is a good thing, haven’t encountered any yet, just ill-informed armchair sniping. 

  • stephen

    Intelligent people of good will who need convincing that Life Charity is a good thing, haven’t encountered any yet, just ill-informed armchair sniping. 

  • stephen

    But not charitable!

  • stephen

    Good idea, some humble pie might also be a good idea. 

  • stephen

    Good riddance I pray the Lord teaches you some humility!

  • http://ccfather.blogspot.com/ Ben Trovato

    Stephen, I have supported Life for many years; I have founded a Life group, and run it for many years till we moved area; I have been the regional rep on the national exec; I have been to numerous Life training courses and conferences; we still support Life – my wife has launched and co-runs the local group. I am a huge fan of their caring and educational work.  It is from a position of knowledge and affection that I raise these important – indeed fundamental – questions about their counselling practice.  If you do not tink my questions pertinent, I think that reflects more on your ignorance than mine.

  • http://ccfather.blogspot.com/ Ben Trovato

    Unlike your ‘good riddance’ comment, of course…

  • http://ccfather.blogspot.com/ Ben Trovato

    The term ‘rather objectively’ shows a fine grasp of philosophical thinking…

  • http://ccfather.blogspot.com/ Ben Trovato

    Stephen, you repeatedly assert your (frequently pejorative) judgements, but never engage with any of the arguments.  That is both tiresome and ineffective.

  • Seangough

    I have had some thought on this, and i have come to the conclusion as to why this discussion is taking place in the first place is because some people have lost hope in the pro life cause and have decided that rather than trying to create a culture of life, by dismantling the culture of death, they will pick on the weak, poor,  easy target of Life who slave day in and day out for women and their unborn children. 

    It is self evident that Life a a fantastic charity, one of the best! 

    This makes you no different from BPAS and Marie Stopes, who also spread lies and propaganda

  • http://ccfather.blogspot.com/ Ben Trovato

    Sean, 

    your analysis is simply wrong.  

    If you had read my comments, you would have seen that I, who initiated this, continue to support Life.  I also support many other pro-life organisations.  I know that we will overcome the culture of death eventually, but do not believe that means we should use illegitimate means to do so.  My question – and it is a question – is whether a commitment only to use Non Directional Counselling is legitimate in this context.  My tentative answer is no, and I have yet to see any serious engagement with my initial questions and with the moral and philosophical questions articulated by Dr Shaw.  

    Nobody here has been attacking LIfe generically – just questioning this particular aspect of Life’s work.A simple apology for your libellous assertion ‘This makes you no different from BPAS and Marie Stopes, who also spread lies and propaganda’ will suffice.BT

  • http://ccfather.blogspot.com/ Ben Trovato

    In my haste and irritation, I forgot to mention the honourable exception of Caroline Farrow, whose blogpost did engage with issues in a thoughtful way.

  • RJ

    “Catholic theology and morality may be of use when appealing to fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, but it isn’t going to aid a Sikh or Muslim in distress. Hence the truly Christian attitude is to aid without judgement or condemnation.”
    You seem to be implying here that Catholic morality is about judgement and condemnation.

    More importantly though, I think you are implying that holding abortion to be an objective evil is somehow ‘Catholic morality’ – surely it’s natural law morality accessible to all, whether one has faith or not.

    How best to make people aware of that is another matter. Some believe that the best way is to allow people to come to that conclusion (or not) by themselves. That is the point at issue here.

  • H J McCracken

    I read “On becoming a Person” by Carl Rogers in 1963. After I finished university, I trained as a Marriage Guidance Counsellor (as it was known in those days), now called Relate. I was fortunate to work with Carl Rogers at La Jolla’s Western Behavioral Sciences Institute (WBSI) San Diago for six months. As I recall he said that counselling has to be non-directive if is to be called counselling where the client is always in charge of the decision that is made, never the counsellor. To the best of my knowledge the ethics of counselling has not changed. Once the counselling becomes directive, it is entering into the field of psychotherapy, where different and special training is required. Counselling and Psychotherapy are not synonymous if ethical standards are to be maintained. When I returned from America, I was invited to become a Catholic Marriage Guidance Counsellor. I lasted only one hour at interview because the monsignor interviewing me had different views about what counsellors should do. He said at all times, church teaching must be obeyed, and the clients have no rights in the matter. That was forty years ago, and it seems that little has changed.