Therapy is not magic nor is it a process where a therapist is able to “fix” you. I sometimes joke with clients that if I had a magic wand under my chair (or on my desk in times of tele-therapy), I could wave it and all would be better. This certainly would make therapy go faster, wouldn’t it? Alas, this is not the case. But it’s true that many come to therapy with some preconceived notions of what the process entails and one of the most common fantasies is that their therapist will give them advice.
“Just tell me what to do!”
It’s not to say that there are not therapists out there regularly dispensing advice as I believe there are. But for those who see themselves as a guide for growth and personal empowerment for their clients, they will refrain. There are plenty of good reasons why your therapist will likely not give you advice.
Your therapist is not you.
As much as your therapist delves into the intricacies, characters and emotional waves of your life, they are not in that life. You share a sacred space together to do your work but he or she is not walking in the footsteps of your day to day.
Your therapist is not wiser than you.
Another common misconception is that therapists have perfect mistake-free lives and surely must be more wise. This is not true. Therapists are humans too and can have similar challenges. Keep in mind it also can be much easier to guide another person than see through your own forest. Yes, therapists train to hold their professions and likely know more than you about relationship dynamics, depression, anxiety, trauma and the impact of family of origin issues but they are not inherently wiser. You are also wise but may simply need help tapping into your own inner wisdom.
Your therapist probably seeks to empower you.
Whatever obstacles have been standing in the way of you creating the positive change you seek, you are in therapy to identify and understand your blocks then move towards their resolution. The most powerful work happens when you meet all of those markers, your sense of self strengthening along the way. This road to personal empowerment can’t happen if the therapist gives you all of “the answers” or tells you what to do.
Advice giving is not therapy.
The work of psychotherapy involves training around the complexities of human behavior, need for emotional safety, brain science and many therapeutic modalities that therapists use in their toolbox. Some are loyal to one paradigm and others more eclectic. The bottom line is that it’s a journey taken together between therapist and client where trust is established in order for the deeper work to begin. It is not meant to be a bandaid only but ideally triggering lifelong changes.
If you’re in therapy or considering it and hoping to get advice, that’s ok. You’re not the only one. When I’m asked for advice, I always remind them of the importance of coming to their own conclusions. But of course I will hope to help guide them to that place. Therapists have a unique vantage point in their close knowledge of their clients without the emotional entanglements of literally being in their lives. They are trained to see seek to understand your whole picture with curiosity, gently leading you to your own conclusions.
If you’re in anywhere in California, learn more about my California Online Therapy and Counseling practice. If you’re outside of California, I also provide one-time consultations for specific issues that are psycho-educational and not to be considered psychotherapy.2