THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THERAPY AND GIVING ADVICE
Updated: Nov 15, 2018
Once in a while I will meet a client who will ask me "But what should I do?"
It makes sense that people who are struggling, hurting, or experiencing despair would want someone to tell them what to do to make it stop. And the thing that makes it more difficult is that, often, I would like to help them make it stop too, so there is a strong pull to give an answer.
But psychotherapy isn't giving advice.
Therapy is a place to feel safe and accepted, to realize that you are good enough as you are. Remember:
'change occurs when one becomes what he is, not when he tries to become what he is not.'
Therapy a place to gain a better understanding of yourself and your relationships. It's a process rather than an end result and you come to therapy to learn how to do that. It’s what mental health professionals go to school to learn how to provide. Giving advise would be the easy thing to do; but think of this: would someone having a panic attack feel better if you told them they need to calm down? If you are feeling angry, does it help when someone tells you you are over reacting? No.
What helps is to feel seen and heard, taken seriously, having someone opposite to you that can be with you through your worst fear.
Sometimes it takes time and reflection to see the patterns and it isn’t a quick fix, as much as both therapist and client sometimes wish it were. Sometimes just acknowledging and sitting with that pain, confusion, and wish for an immediate answer is the best thing we can do. Because it is what it is, and just like a feeling of anxiety the more you wish it away the stronger it becomes.
This does not mean that a therapist withholds information from clients when they think it might be helpful. If I notice a theme or have some concern that a client may not be acting in their best interest, I speak up. It also doesn’t mean that therapists are non-directive. There are times when I get very directive with clients, if I think that it is in their best interest.
I will bring your attention to patterns in your behavior, to your body and breathing; We will use techniques and exercises, I will keep bringing you back to what you need and what you feel, but the bottom line is that you are the only one that has the answers- I am showing the way to them. We share the work and we share the responsibility, you learn from me and together we discover who you are.
Specific treatment approaches to specific problems are not the same thing as telling a client what to do with major life decisions. If you want a therapist to tell you what to do, as opposed to helping you figure out what is right for you, it could be worth thinking twice about what you’re seeking.
Some people want others to tell them what to do because it means not having to take responsibility if things don’t work out. Friends and counselors can give you advice. But if what you are looking for is just someone to give advice or tell you the things that have worked for them, it may not be psychotherapy that you’re looking for.