First rule of therapy: Don’t give advice.
Therapy is about facilitating a person finding their own answers. It’s about helping them remove obstacles to happiness and contentment. It’s about offering options relevant to the situation without making it about right and wrong.
That being said, the reality is that we therapists often offer advice just like everyone else, and it’s often misplaced.
For instance, I was recently feeling quite low due to being in pain from a tooth infection and surgery recovery. I was miserable and my dear friend, also a therapist, told me to look at a TikTok video she had just posted on how to feel better. I did look at it and I did NOT feel better.
She’s my friend, though, so I texted her that what I really needed was a hug and the virtual hug she sent me did make me feel better.
Pain and emotion are in our limbic systems. Thinking and rationality are in the prefrontal cortex. When someone is conveying verbal information, it does not make it to the limbic system. In fact, when the limbic system is activated by emotion, it shuts down the prefrontal cortex’s ability to think. A hug goes directly to the limbic system to help calm us and allow thinking to come back online (see My Pocket Therapist: 12 Tools for Living in Connection for more information about the brain and how it affects our behavior).
So, what makes it so hard to not give advice? Well, when we care about someone, we feel Connected to them (with a capital C from Addict America: The Lost Connection). When we are Connected, we feel their pain, so wanting them to feel better is also about wanting to feel better ourselves. But feeling better is not easy nor even possible sometimes. What we need to offer is empathy – sharing their pain but not getting lost in it. Be with them without needing to fix it.
Carl Rogers’ Person-Centered Therapy, which is the foundation for almost all therapists, promotes genuineness, acceptance, and unconditional positive regard. These qualities are incredibly healing without any other interventions. Without them, other interventions are less
So the next time someone you care about is hurting, offer them a hug, hold their hand, and just be with them. Listen without giving advice, be available to give them what they say they need, and don’t try to fix it!
Be in Light,