I am often asked by people what is the best therapy “advice” that I have ever given. It may appear that answering this question would be difficult because I see a wide variety of individuals who come to me with a wide variety of reasons for seeking therapy. However, the question is not a difficult one for me to answer at all. The reason is because I generally don’t give advice!
Let me explain. Think about a time when you were confused, overwhelmed and in emotional pain. Quite likely, you sought the advice of a close friend or family member whom you trusted. You told your story, you cried or yelled, you got a supportive hug and then waited for your support person to tell you what to do to “solve” the problem. You then took their advice, felt 100% better and moved on with your life? Right? I highly doubt it! Even if your support person offered advice, you likely met that advice with a “yeah…but” reason for not taking it (that is if you didn’t just meet it with an outright “NO!, I can’t do that!”). Or, maybe you can think of a time that you took someone’s (well-intentioned) advice quite literally. What happened? Were you thrilled with the results? Did following the advice seem inauthentic? Did the following through with the advice lead to further problems?
Quite likely, you have seen one or more of these scenarios play out. Your plan to seek advice and support from your family or friend can sometimes lead to you feeing more frustrated, confused, judged and upset than before you started! The reason for this, is that in order for us to solve the dilemmas that face us, we need to come up with the solution ourselves. We need to create a “buy in” to our solutions. Although friends and family can offer support, their well-intentioned offers of advice are based on a variety of factors: their morals and values, their personal experiences, their biases (toward you or the other party in your conflict), among other things. Taking advice can often lead to more confusion and a lack of a “buy in” to the solution as we didn’t come up with it ourselves!
This does not mean that seeking the support of friends and family is a bad idea! Quite the contrary! We all need support to hear our stories, dry our tears and give us hugs. In fact, quite frequently, the simple act of telling our story to someone else can produce clarity that letting our problem run “the internal loop” between our heads and hearts cannot.
However, time and again, I have people confirm for me that seeking therapy allows them to tell their story to a “neutral, third party” who is only privy to their perspective. A good therapeutic relationship can help you “re-focus the lens” through which you are viewing the problem. Talking about your issues and feelings can help you gain insight and start to see things differently and with clarity. The good news is that the therapeutic relationship supports you in this, but ultimately, the change in perspective is yours, and yours alone.
Now the cynic within you may say, “YES! That’s precisely the problem with therapy…the therapist only hears one side of the story!”. My answer to this is a resounding “YES! You’re right!” However, a skilled therapist is trained to listen, ask questions skillfully and support the individual in reflecting upon their situation. These questions and reflections have the effect of encouraging the client to see their troubles from a different point of view, and sometimes, even cause a shift in perspective about the problem or their relationships with others who are involved with the problem. It is hoped that this shift in perspective can open up dialogue and help the person move toward solutions.
That is why therapy does not include advice-giving. If the purpose of therapy is to increase perspective, reduce discomfort and move toward solutions, then individuals who seek therapy with these goals in mind are sure to work through their issues and ease their discomfort.