Why won’t my therapist tell me what to do?

Often, clients attend therapy with the belief that it is the therapist’s responsibility to tell the client exactly what to do to feel better and / or get what they want. To the client’s surprise, therapists typically refrain from giving direct life advice, leaving clients to ask: Why won’t my therapist tell me what to do?

…Because you’re not stupid;

…Because that will defeat the whole purpose of therapy;

…Because your therapist is not smarter/wiser than you; and / or

…Because your therapist may not even know what you should do. 

Let me explain. Over the years, media have popularized assumptions and stereotypes about therapy. The most common assumptions / stereotypes I have experienced as a therapist are: 

  • Better therapists usually have an “older, scholastic” look;
  • Clients lay down on a couch in every session;
  • Therapists “know all” and will tell clients how to live their lives;
  • Therapists always ask, “How did that make you feel?”; and
  • Therapy is all about talking about your feelings.

While there is significant truth to the last two assumptions, therapy is not limited to discussing feelings and therapists are not mechanically bound by some trance to only ask clients “how did that make you feel?” 

The purpose of therapy is to feel empowered. An effective therapist seeks to support clients connecting with and developing confidence in themselves. Therefore, if I told my clients what to do, I would limit their ability to generate their own sense of self-confidence. Further, I would be engaging with clients from the belief that they are incapable of finding the right answer within themselves and, by extension, would encourage them to depend on me for answers. 

From my perspective, therapists are actively trying to work themselves out of a job! I often share with clients in my care that “I don’t want to see you here for years and years to come. I sincerely want you to stop coming to me!” Clients and I will both laugh at this because we understand that our goal is to help them learn to trust themselves to create the life they want. 

Additionally, as a therapist (and human being), I do not have all the answers to life. We are not inherently omniscient, nor are we trained to “fix” people, have all the answers, or tell people what to do. Rather, therapists are skilled in:

  • active listening;
  • asking questions;
  • being curious;
  • noticing feelings;
  • noticing patterns or disconnects in thought, speech, and behaviour;
  • providing empathy; and
  • providing psychoeducation.

Remember, therapy is about empowerment. Therefore, whatever comments, statements, suggestions, or questions a therapist offers in session are for the purpose of empowering their client, not themselves. If a therapist decides to tell clients what they should do as some sort of dictator, the therapist is now only thinking of empowering themselves, not their clients. 

If a client believes their therapist should have all the answers to everything, then that client also believes that their therapist has experienced everything. To my knowledge, no one human has lived through every life experience of everyone else. This is why a therapist does not need to have the same experience as a client to provide helpful therapy. For example, it is not mandatory that I have lived through sexual abuse to be able to provide helpful therapy to a client who was sexually abused. My experience and training provide me with what I need to connect with clients; While I may not have first-hand knowledge of sexual abuse, I do have experience with fear, guilt, low self-esteem, pain, and shame – which are some of the common emotional scars from sexual abuse. This personal experience helps me connect with clients who are experiencing similar emotions, even if the causes of our pain differ.

As a therapist, I am here to connect with clients and use my skills to help them better connect with themselves. If you struggle to connect with the internal confidence that you can make the right decisions and know the best course of action, I will work with you to develop a better sense of self-awareness, self-confidence, and self-trust so that you eventually do come to believe in your capabilities. 

“Why won’t my therapist tell me what to do?”, you ask. 

Why do you want your therapist to tell you what to do? Is it because you do not believe you can figure it out for yourself? 

Let’s chat, shall we?

Megan (she / her) is a Registered Psychotherapist in Ontario, offering online and in-person sessions in downtown Toronto. She is a member of the Canadian Association of Spiritual Care and works primarily using Narrative and Solution-Focused Therapies.

Learn more about Megan at https://cwcp.ca/clinician/megan-mootoo/