24 Jan
Neelima Krishnakumar

Difference between therapy and advice

therapy or advice

Very often clients meet with a therapist in a confused state of mind. They meet the therapist with an inherent feeling of instability of their own minds.

But this feeling has to be experienced and sorted out by the same mind which makes up the confused state.

They feel that their experience of pain and confusion are genuine. They look up to the therapist for comfort and help for which they have visited him/her.

But giving advice is not part of therapy. Advice is mostly superficial and therapist is to explore it more deeply.

Therapy is actually a place to explore the feelings of the client about themselves. It is a place of self discovery.

The therapist can at best help the client to find out how he has become tangled up so that an attempt at untangling can be carried out together.

The therapy is successful only if the client gets a better understanding of his inner world and his relationship.

Many a time it takes time and reflection to see the inner pattern because of the client’s reluctance to open up in full.

Very often the therapist has to acknowledge the pain and confusion of the client and wait patiently till the inner problem is sorted out by the client themselves.


This doesn’t mean that information has to be withheld from the client. Many a time, speaking up directly with the client is the best possible way.

Sometimes CBT has to be integrated into the therapy when patients need symptomatic relief or when they are trying to break habits.

The most extreme that can happen is when the person is having suicidal tendencies or aggressive habits. In such cases, a list of people from their family circle or friends circle has to be made, to fetch immediate medical help.

Mindfulness meditation, relaxation techniques like JPMR, guided imagery, etc can be employed in simple cases.

Communication techniques and relation building exercises can be employed in cases regarding close family relationships.


But a therapist has to be careful not to advice patients with major life decisions.

The therapist can give hints to help him reach the decisions. A therapist can always point to what is the right decision in a given environment rather than telling what to do.

Some patients insist to specifically advise them what to do. But this may be because he can distance himself from responsibility if things don’t work as planned.

Friends and family members can be dependent on giving advice and counselling.

For e.g. – If a person asks his best friend for an advice regarding his failing relationship with his spouse because of spouses infidelity, the friend might ask him to get a divorce and move on. But a therapist will respond using a solution focused response saying something like “What can you do about your spouse’s infidelity?”  The difference here is that a friend or family member gives advice by answering your question whereas a therapist always helps you to find the answer for your own questions.

A psycho therapist should always avoid giving advice because then it no longer is part of psycho therapy.

If the client finds the therapist fill the time with advice, suggestions or anecdotes about their life, it could indicate that he has some difficulty for the therapeutic process to unfold.

Better search for someone else who creates the space for the process of becoming conscious oneself.


This doesn’t mean that opinions should not be shared. The therapist has to be cautious about giving advice because the client is usually visiting him only to get advice.

But such advice is not going to help in the long run. Encourage the client to share his experiences; but don’t indulge in giving council.

If you have a compulsive habit to give advices, the following questionnaire is going to help.

  1. What are my motivations for giving advice? Is it to boost the ego and hence make myself feel important?
  2. How often am I giving advices?
  3. How to ensure that my advice is going to help the client?
  4. Am I crossing the limits? Am I blocking the client from taking decisions by filling him with details?
  5. Would I take my own advice if I were a client?


Remember that when the therapist imposes specific suggestions, he is blocking the client in taking decision. This is counterproductive. But when the therapist teaches their client to solve their problem themselves, they are actually helping the client to develop an insight into the problem all by himself.

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Responses 2

  • Radhika Goel
    Radhika Goel   Jul 22, 2017 04:46 PM

    When faced with a difficult decision or any other problem that can have profound consequences on a person's life they look to others for help and advice to avoid being responsible for the consequences. People often approach therapists when the burden gets too much and their existing resources are not enough to cope with the stressful situation before them. In such a situation, they are looking for someone to tell them what to do and find a quick fix to the situation. However, contrary to popular belief, therapists should not and do not offer their clients advice, they help them to find their own solutions. The therapist's job is to lend an ear, have positive regard and explain to the client what bothers them so that they are able to navigate through their own problems. 

    Thank you for bringing this forward and I think these five questions that one should address before giving advice can prevent us from making bad decisions.

  • Stephanie Shapiro
    Stephanie Shapiro   Jan 29, 2017 08:40 AM

    The points in this article were wonderful! I will certainly use this in my private practice- thanks for sharing.


    Stephanie Shapiro,LCSW, PhD Candidate

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