Advice Versus Guidance in Therapy

What is the role of the therapist?

“What do you think I should do?”. If I had a nickel for every time I heard this question in therapy I would be writing this post from my own personal island. Client’s often feel lost, confused, and conflicted. They may be attending therapy to find the answers to very difficult questions. They may feel that you are a professional with a lot of knowledge on how to help others, your advice is perceived as invaluable and perhaps superior to the advice friends and family offer.

If you’re the therapist, you may feel a strong desire to immediately solve the problems that your client presents but the strong pull to offer advice should be observed and often times repelled. Advice is not therapy and therapy is not advice. Sure, you can offer small bits of advice to help minor issues or to supplement your approach, such as suggesting journaling to track thoughts and behavior. But when it comes to the major issues presented by the client, advice is usually not sufficient and it can even be counterproductive.

For example, if someone comes to you and states “My parents are forcing me to become a doctor but I’m not sure that is something I really want to do”. In your mind, you may think “Who cares what your parents want? Do what YOU want to do”.

Though that is the advice you might want to give, you probably shouldn’t. Guidance is what you should be providing instead. What is the core of this issue? Most likely the relationship between client and parents and the expectations placed upon the client. That is what should be explored further. Guiding the client through their issues and addressing the conflict between family members and ideologies may be the better way to go.

Perhaps the client needs to learn how to be more assertive or they need to build their communication skills so their desires are better understood? It could be something else entirely but you will never know if you simply give advice. Advice can be a roadblock and the end of a conversation because you have already provided an answer, one that may actually be superficial, that is something you definitely want to avoid.

I know it’s not easy because we desperately want to help our clients and to provide immediate satisfaction and support, but it is an urge we should keep in check for the greater good. As always, patience is key. Our clients deserve more than what simple advice can offer.

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