Why Therapists Don't Give Advice
Updated: Apr 12, 2018
Okay, well some do... but I will speak for myself on why I choose not to.
1. Because I don't believe it's the most helpful thing I can offer you.
In general, the clients that ask for my opinion or advice the most often do this with the other people in their lives as well. Sometimes these clients appear disappointed when I tell them I'd rather help guide them to their own answers. Sometimes they look at me like I am copping out. Or like I am being sadistic. (Moving forward, perhaps I will direct them to this blog!)
The interesting thing is the few times that I have given some semblance of advice, clients often appear ultimately disappointed or unsatisfied with this as well. Part of the work as I see it with clients like this, is to help them connect more deeply with their inner truth and intuition, and learn to trust themselves more and rely on others less. It is my job to help them wade through the blockages and muck and fear which stands in the space between them and their inner knowing. This, I believe is far more gratifying and helpful than taking a guess and making a decision for them.
2. Because you probably get enough of that from other people in your life.
Sometimes without even asking for it. There are many "fixers" out there, and giving advice has become a sort of 'go-to' socially appropriate response when someone we know expresses unpleasant feelings or indecisiveness about something difficult that they are going through. And while our friends and family members often have good intentions and want the best for us, their advice may (even subconsciously) be motivated by additional factors.
Sometimes people give advice because they don't know what else to do or say. Sometimes the advice-giving response is to appease their own anxiety or discomfort about your unpleasant feelings. Also, the kind of advice that people give is often strongly colored by their own experiences. If they suggest you don't go to a certain restaurant because they recently got food poisoning after eating there, this could be very helpful to know. If they suggest that you choose a particular major in school because it's the path they wish they had chosen for themselves, this could be more problematic. And lastly, the advice from others is often inevitably influenced by their own self-interest and needs. They may be more likely to vote for you breaking up with your partner because they are your best friend and they miss spending more time with you.
3. Because my telling you what to do brings with it the assumption that I know better than you what is best for you.
I don't see it that way. I'm not a guru, fortune teller, magician, or expert on your life. My advice may likely be wrong. While I have the privilege of getting to know many of my clients very deeply, I will never know any of them better than they know themselves. I think it would be dis-empowering to them and power-trippy on my behalf to ever assume that I do. I had a graduate school professor describe the therapist's role as somewhat of a shepherd; our job is to guide you to your own truth, while walking right beside you.
4. Because there can be a great benefit in just sitting with uncertainty without the need to do anything at all.
Sometimes we are motivated to do something as a means to avoid or escape the unpleasant feelings associated with indecisiveness and uncertainty. We may jump into a heady space, desperately searching for rational reasons why we should or should not go through with something. But to go too far into this space can cut us off from our feelings and intuition... which is nice sometimes because then we don't have to feel as much anxiety! Unfortunately, as it is often said in the field (originally coined by Robert Frost); the only way out is through. While logic and reason are important to incorporate when decision-making, I find that tapping in to the true feelings involved without jumping to any conclusions right away can be very powerfully illuminating. And as your therapist, I cannot do this for you. And I cannot rescue you. But I will sit in the discomfort and darkness with you and help you get yourself out.
While the dynamic can take some adjusting to, a great benefit of therapy is that it offers a unique space where you can have the unique experience of a nonjudgmental, unbiased person in your life whose only motivation is to help you to understand yourself better and to connect or reconnect to the truth within you.