Why I don't give advice

Years ago, as a college freshman in my introduction to psychology class, I made a comment to a professor about feeling nervous giving clients advice in counseling- after all, what if a client took my advice and it didn’t pan out? What if something awful happened because of my advice? My wise professor gently told my naive self that, actually, my job as a counselor would not be to giving advice. My job would be to provide compassion, empathy, perspective, skills, and space to help people improve their lives by changing their thoughts, beliefs, and actions.

Fast forward to today, where I am a clinical counselor in private practice, and these ideas are no longer theoretical. They make up the work I love and am honored to do.

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Clients do ask me for advice from time to time. Actually, it’s not that uncommon.

Folks often start counseling because they feel unsure and confused about their next steps. Maybe that’s you- you’ve been trying to handle anxiety on your own for years and have come to the conclusion that it’s just not going to improve without working through it with a professional. Good news is, there are so many excellent therapists, especially in the Twin Cities. Bad news is, if you’re looking for advice from a therapist, you’re not going to get it.

Why I don’t give advice as a therapist

  1. Our conversations will help uncover your true values and desires. Once you have clarity on those, you’re able to confidently make your own decisions.

  2. My values and ideas for how to handle a situation may not align with yours- and that’s okay! You are the expert on YOU, and you get to make the decisions in your life. Learning to trust your instincts and honor your own perspective is part of the transformative work of counseling.

  3. Sometimes there is a different level of meaning behind the question- maybe when you’re asking me for advice on what to do in a relationship, you’re really asking if you are okay, if you are normal. Or perhaps when you ask me for advice on what to do with your career, you’re really telling me you don’t trust yourself to make decisions. These are more helpful and therapeutic conversations to have.

We are used to seeking advice from the people in our lives- our parents, partners, friends, colleagues- and so it can make sense to do that in counseling.

BUT- and this is something I tell all my clients in our first session- the counseling relationship is unique for a reason. Talking to a therapist is not the same as talking to a best friend or a physician or a hair stylist. A counselor’s job is not to give their opinion on what you should do or what the “right” way to handle a situation might be. So, what will I do instead?

What I do instead of giving advice

  1. Help you to see a blind spot, something you aren’t seeing because of your close proximity

  2. Help you to reframe, to see something (or yourself) in a new way

  3. Provide a safe, warm environment for you to process the past and present

  4. Help you increase your tolerance for ambiguity and the unknown

  5. Teach you skills to modify your behavior to achieve your desired results

I understand how frustrating this can be- you come into counseling because you want some answers- you want clarity and guidance. You are absolutely free to ask my advice, but forewarning, you’ll likely get a response you weren’t looking for :)

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