The 1 Thing A Good Therapist Will Never, Ever Do

There are rare cases when a therapist might intervene if your health or safety is at risk, but for the most part they should be guiding you rather than explicitly instructing you.

Counseling sessions can feel like a heart-to-heart with a close friend — a friend who won’t see you outside their office and is totally OK with trauma-dumping. But unlike get-togethers with a bestie who will drink wine and offer (sometimes unsolicited) life advice, your therapist should be more focused on empowering you.

In fact, there’s one thing a good therapist will never do, even if your friends would: tell you what to do.

This may sound a little counterintuitive at first. If your therapist can’t give you advice, then will you ever learn how to cope with anxiety or set boundaries? Actually, yes. A good therapist will help you find those answers for yourself, without being bossy or overbearing.

“Therapists exist to help you uncover your own inner wisdom,” Sally Scheidlinger, a psychotherapist in San Francisco, told HuffPost. “By telling you what to do, a therapist is essentially saying, ‘You don’t know what is best for you, but I do.’”

“This invalidates your judgment and robs you of the ability to uncover what may be right for you,” she added. Not to mention, no one wants to go to a session where you are being lectured the whole time.

Here are a few other reasons why you won’t find many therapists telling you exactly what to do:

You’re the expert in your own life.

In news that surprises no one, you know yourself the best. Even better than your parents, your significant other — and yes, your therapist.

“Clients — and not their therapists — are the experts on their own lives,” Patrice Le Goy, an international psychologist, therapist and adjunct professor at the Chicago School of Professional Psychology, told HuffPost. “They know far more than a therapist ever could and only share what they choose to.”

A therapist will never know everything about their client or the client’s situation, so “it is not possible to give someone the most helpful advice,” Le Goy said.

Schiedlinger agreed. “Even if your therapist has known you for a long time, they do not know all the intricacies and nuances of your thoughts, values, history, and experiences,” she explained. “You know your system best, and it is your therapist’s job to help you discover and address barriers standing in the way of accessing your internal guidance and knowledge.”

There are so many factors that play into making a decision that even if a solution seems obvious to a therapist, it might not be the right choice for the client. Yes, even if your therapist is an expert in their field.

“You are the expert of yourself, and [therapists] are there to help you uncover that expertise,” Schiedlinger said.

There could be unintended consequences.

When giving friends advice, we don’t think about the unintended consequences — but therapists do. Schiedlinger said when someone with a different point of view, like your therapist, tells you what to do, it could cause you to shut down part of yourself.

“Those parts may feel siphoned off or ignored after hearing your therapist’s opinion,” she explained.

And once a definitive opinion has been given, you might be “unwilling to discuss those feelings,” according to Schiedlinger. Counseling is supposed to be a safe place, so this would obviously not be a great situation to be in.

On top of that, giving someone advice they don’t want to hear (like encouraging them to leave an abusive partner, for example) could create backlash. “Some individuals might rebel against that notion and seek to do the opposite of what they have been told,” Schiedlinger said.

Or they could blame the therapist. “It’s a therapist’s job to help you come to conclusions on your own and make decisions from that empowered place,” Hannah Yang, a therapist and founder of Balanced Awakening, told HuffPost.

She added, “If a therapist tells a client what to do, and the client does it then doesn’t like the result, the client can then blame the therapist and say, ‘they told me to do it,’ which isn’t a good situation for the client or the therapist.”

You might become dependent on your therapist.

If your therapist encouraged you to leave your spouse or to quit your job, then you could become dependent on them for every decision, big or small. Moving forward, you might not feel equipped to make choices yourself.

“I think it is a common misconception that therapists give advice and tell people what to do,” Le Goy said. Instead, “therapists should want for their clients to become independent and not ‘need’ them to make decisions.” This will allow clients to make their own mistakes.

Schiedlinger noted that people who “seek that direct guidance” from their therapist will become “dependent on that feedback.” “And therapists should be working to help you build independence, not create an over-reliance on the therapist,” she added.

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There are rare cases when a therapist might intervene if your health or safety is at risk, but for the most part they should be guiding you rather than explicitly instructing you.

Suggestions and other methods from therapists are OK.

Just because your therapist shouldn’t be giving you advice, doesn’t mean they can’t offer suggestions. In fact, that’s an important part of their role.

When you have a “good rapport and a trusting relationship” with your therapist, then they should definitely “offer suggestions and encouragements,” Le Goy said.

“There is a balance that must be struck between challenging clients to keep moving forward and letting them make their own choices and working through the consequences,” she explained. A good therapist will maintain this balance to the benefit of their clients.

Therapists can also help their clients learn to make decisions themselves in a number of ways. This includes “encouraging them to build trust in themselves and their ability to meet their own needs,” Le Goy said. “Therapists can also help clients build resilience so that they are not as fearful of making mistakes and are willing to try different options.”

Another way therapists might help their clients is by exploring different scenarios during their sessions. “Imagining how they might feel and what they might say or do if they take different paths can help clients better understand their fears and concerns,” Schiedlinger explained.

They also might express their opinion if your well-being is at risk. For example, what would happen if a client tells their therapist they want to leave their abusive partner?

“I will often validate that desire, help safety-plan and also ask if other parts might feel differently,” Schiedlinger said. Directing clients to think about their potentially conflicting feelings — like wanting to stay in the relationship — might help remove any shame and see its normal.

“By shutting down those parts that may have different feelings, we invalidate and repress them, leaving clients feeling alone and not fully heard,” she added.

Yang said therapists might ask their clients things like “take a moment to consider this idea,” or “how does that feel in your body?” She also asks client questions like, “What’s the best/worst case scenario?”

“I think empowerment is very beneficial for healing, and as such would also give the client a lot of encouragement and coaching around their ability to trust their intuition, reasoning, and any other factors at hand that make them feel more comfortable in making the decision for themselves,” she said.

Note when your therapist crosses a line.

Sometimes, therapists give you straightforward advice instead of encouraging you to make the decision yourself — and it can make things awkward.

“There can be a challenging power hierarchy at times in therapeutic relationships and clients don’t always feel comfortable telling their therapist when they are unhappy,” Le Goy said. “However, it is so important that clients communicate their true feelings. Otherwise resentment and distrust can build, and the therapeutic relationship no longer works.”

If your therapist does give you advice, Schiedlinger suggested “to pay attention to how you might feel and share that with your therapist.” She said this will give your therapist a chance to explain, “and you two may be able to repair the relationship after receiving a better understanding of their motives.”

Please note, if you feel your client-therapist relationship is “unrepairable” or you “no longer feel safe or trusting in the relationship,” know that you can end your sessions at any time and find a new therapist.

“You deserve a space that feels safe to explore your inner life and wisdom in a nonjudgmental atmosphere,” Schiedlinger added. And one where you are totally in control of your own decisions.

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