Directive & Non-Directive Helping Styles

Directive versus Non-Directive Helping Styles


Source: Clipart Library

Based on observational work, the Social Scientist John Heron came up with six styles of helping that enable us to determine the most appropriate type of help required at a given time. He further divided these helping styles into Directive Helping and Non-Directive Helping.


Directive Helping is when the Helper assumes a role in which they bring something new to the interaction that the person being helped perhaps didn’t have. It is an authoritative style of helping, where you are seen as the expert. The three styles of directive helping are:


  • Advice – I know more than you and I am in a good position to tell you what to do.

  • Inform – I know what you need to know and I can provide it.

  • Confront – I know what you should be facing up to and are not acknowledging.


The other three helping styles are Non-Directive in that the Helper gives the person being helped the opportunity to work things out for themselves. It is a facilitative rather than authoritarian approach; you are both working together. If anyone is seen as the expert, it is the person being helped as they are best placed to know what they need. The three styles of non-directive helping are:

  • Support – I am interested enough to listen and to try and understand.

  • Catalytic – I am helping you to think things through for yourself.

  • Cathartic – I encourage emotional feelings to be expressed openly.

While directive helping has gained somewhat of a bad reputation, there are times it is needed. If you have information that could help someone, should you really withhold it just remain non-directive?


The greatest danger in providing directive help is that we are satisfying our own personal need to rescue or help people. You might also find that some people lead you into being directive when they adopt a passive role.


It is a principle in self-empowerment to only use directive helping when it is absolutely necessary, and then only when it has been asked for or when permission has been sought to give it. 


So, the challenge is to be non-directive whenever possible. Helping someone problem-solve is one way to be non-directive, as is Motivational InterviewingAt its very basic level, motivational interviewing is about providing an environment that gently eases someone towards making their own self-directed decisions. This can be done by providing the non-directional helping styles already mentioned, but also by well-timed open-ended questions that help people realise their own goals and their own capabilities to reach those goals. 


Reflective listening is also really important; by reflecting back to someone what they have said or done, you can help them to explore their options and their capabilities. In this respect, motivational interviewing is a conversation, where you ask questions and reflect back, which ultimately helps the other person discover their own answers and develop their own motivations. While it is more time consuming and effortful than telling someone what to do or how to do it, it is important for helping people to develop long-term coping skills. 


If you require any assistance with helping styles, or require written content on the topic, please do email me at

Categories: Behaviour Change, Counselling, Psychology

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