When A Client Asks A Therapist For Advice

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When a client asks a therapist for advice on an important life issue it’s a no-win situation for the therapist as long as the question is taken at face value because the client is robbed of personal efficacy. If the advice is enacted and things don’t work out it’s the therapist’s fault. If the advice is enacted and things do work out it’s the therapist’s victory.

Therefore the goal in these cases has got to be to move the conversation away from the manifest content, away from the request for concrete advice about a concrete situation, and towards the true underlying psychological meaning of the encounter, which is the unconscious transfer of existential responsibility.

Whether we recognize it or not many of us set up our lives so that authority figures make most of our important decisions for us. This strategy reduces painful existential anxiety by letting us wash our hands of our existential responsibility. When we’re faced with multiple choices and the decision is left up to us existential anxiety skyrockets as we realize that one course of action will by definition make the other possible courses of action fall by the wayside.

In a way then asking a therapist for advice is the micro-version of asking God to guide one’s hand. There’s no anxiety, only certainty, when a powerful, all-knowing presence sanctions behavior.

The point of therapy is not to foster more dependence, more authoritarianism, it’s to foster freedom and responsibility. As a therapist this means saying no to direct advice and yes to helping clients see why receiving this advice is so important to them. It means helping them trace the visible and invisible sources of authority over the course of their own lives, to help them better understand how they have unconsciously conspired to allow these sources of authority to usurp their human freedom. Therapy is about gaining the psychological tools necessary to make important decisions not about being spoon fed advice.