Signs That Say Your Therapist Sucks Part I: Giving Advice

Since starting my journey to become a therapist I have been confronted with a repeating question. A question I have often asked myself and now that I tell people I am a therapist; I have noticed not enough people know the answer to this question. What are the signs of a bad therapist? For some reason, when someone holds a high enough degree such as a Ph.D. and even a master’s degree, they are considered experts, and nobody questions them. But how are we as a society of consumers supposed to distinguish between experts who are truly experts and those who barely passed the final exam? How can you tell the difference between a therapist who is doing all the right things from one who is not? Not all things are created equal and that goes for therapists too.

Giving Advice

Before we begin, let’s define what advice-giving looks like. I define giving advice as telling a person what they should and should not do when they are capable of making their own decision. As a therapist I often get questions like “What should I do?” or “Should I pick option A or option B?” This topic might be hard to understand and even unsettling for some. Therapists are not to give advice or tell clients what to do with their lives. Simply put, therapists state observations and ask questions. Particularly open-ended questions in contrast to yes or no questions. The relationship is different between client and therapist. Not only do you pay your therapist to give you therapy and not advice, you tell your therapists things you might not have told anyone else, this creates a different type of relationship than that of co-workers, family, and friends. Therapists are experts on therapy and therapy is a process, therefore; therapists are experts on the process of therapy, not your life.

Another reason for therapists to not give advice, advice comes from personal experience and perspective. Think of the times you have followed through on advice someone else gave you. How often did it work? Plenty of times advice we get from another person backfires. The reason is that they give advice according to how they would do it themselves, but you are not these other people are you? Imagine an avid cat owner who advises an avid dog owner on how to get the dog to stop having accidents in the house because they got their cat to use a litter box. Have you ever advised another person based on your personal experience so you assumed if it worked for you it will work for them? Hopefully, by now it makes sense why therapists giving advice is not a good thing. The final reason why therapists should not be giving advice segues into another topic, codependence.

Fostering Codependence

As a therapist, my goal is to work myself out of a job. Meaning, I want my client to improve to a point where they fire me. I do not want my clients to need me, I want my clients to only need themselves. Therapists do various things to get in the way of client independence but one of the big ones is advice-giving. As we have discussed earlier, giving advice is bad therapy and now we will discuss how advice gets in the way of a client being independent.

Clients often do not trust themselves to know what is best for them. Often a sense of being lost and confusion triggers the desire to seek professional help. However, a good therapist knows that everything our client’s need is already inside them, they are just struggling to find it. A bad therapist will give advice and foster codependence. Let’s slow down and define what codependence is.

Codependence is when one thing depends on another for survival. We as humans depend on the air we breathe to fill our lungs every time we inhale. No air, no life. In relationships, we often see this with children. Infants are completely codependent on caretakers. As adults, the goal is to be independent. Have our own home, our own car, and a job to pay our own bills. Independence or in other words, freedom. Now let’s talk about how advice-giving decreases independence.

When a therapist gives advice to a client it sends an underlying message. No one physically hears the message, but everyone involved feels it. The subliminal message is, “I am the expert, listen to me, trust that I know what is best for you.” One of the goals of therapy is to increase self-trust. Giving advice is the direct opposite of that. Every time you take someone else’s advice your underlying message is “Yes, I trust you more than I trust myself.” Therapists are educated in protecting a client’s autonomy, in other words, a person’s independence. Protecting a client’s autonomy is a basic ethical guideline all therapists must follow. Harming a client’s ability to be independent is unethical behavior. Taking advice from a therapist is hopefully starting to sound irrational. See, a good therapist will encourage you to explore yourself to find what you need within yourself to solve your own problems. To be independent.

Allow me to ask you a question. Do you want to be an independent person who solves all of their own problems, or do you want to rely on the advice-fueled codependent relationship with your therapist and hope that your therapist will never quit, move, die, or retire?

James Marrugo, MA, LPCC

Speak Your Mind


6200 S Syracuse Way Ste 260
Greenwood Village, CO 80111

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