In first sessions with my clients, I usually welcome them, introduce myself, discuss the contract and any questions they might have, and I also ask them about their expectations towards our sessions before we have a look into the presenting issue(s). A typical reply is ‘I need/want/wish for/expect advice!’ – this is when I say ‘This is not my job’ and start explaining how counselling works.
Counselling is not advice-giving – here is why
Imagine yourself being a client. In our counselling sessions we talk about your life, the situation you find yourself in and how you are perceiving it, the issues you struggle to deal with. Who is the expert of your life? Right, you are the expert of your life! Even though you might not feel that way – in counselling you will learn to trust yourself (again) and realize how much potential you have to take control and solve your current issue(s) yourself. You know what is best for you.
Counsellors are there to listen, understand, support you and challenge your perspective of the current situation so eventually you will be able to find the solutions you are looking for yourself – without them telling you what to do. By not giving advice and leaving the decision-making and solution-finding to you, the counsellor prepares you for future situations you might find yourself in when you are not in therapy anymore.
Counsellors cannot make decisions for you because in the sessions they do not get to know everything about your life. By telling you to do xyz to solve an issue, another important aspect of your life might be affected that was not considered. Also, advice fosters dependence while counselling aims to empower you to face the challenges in life.
It is up to you to find and make meaning in your current situation. A counsellor basically supports you to look up a word in the dictionary instead of just telling you what it means. This is a process throughout which your counsellor accompanies you by providing a non-judgmental space in which your awareness can grow, hidden patterns can be explored and a different perspective on the situation can be developed. Giving advice would be judgmental, assuming you need to be told what to do.
Possible consequences of advice-giving in counselling
What could happen in case counsellors would give advice?
Well, sometimes it might be difficult for us counsellors to keep our advice to ourselves. We consider though that if we would give advice to our clients, the following could happen:
- Giving advice would connote “I know better than you do” which is not the case – Remember: You are the expert, and also an independent human being with the ability to make own decisions.
- If your counsellor would tell you what to do, wouldn’t it remind you of your mum, dad or older sibling telling you what to do? You would feel patronized or belittled and that’s not what you actually want and need, right?
- You might start thinking that the advice given is the same you have already read on the internet or heard from another professional such as a lawyer for example. Why would you pay for counselling to get the same?
- Just imagine you get advice from your counsellor and it turns out to be not helpful at all. Counsellors can get sued for giving advice which is also a reason to stay away from it.
And what happens if I still ask my counsellor for advice?
You will not get advice – as you have most likely understood by now. Instead, counsellors help their clients to explore the choices they have in their current situation. Not giving advice does not mean that your counsellor cannot give you suggestions.
Depending on the approach of your counsellor you might get some input about possible behaviours or actions and social skills training – we call it psychoeducation. The decision to implement these is yours to make.
In conclusion, not getting advice from your counsellor is a actually a good sign that nothing is wrong.
If you think that you can benefit from professional support on this issue you can reach out here.
Franziska Richter is a transcultural counsellor with Willingness Team, offering counselling sessions to individuals and couples. She is particularly interested in trauma, addictions, migration, sexuality, and eating disorders.