ADVICE OR THERAPY
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CAN A THERAPIST GIVE YOU ADVICE?
Can a therapist give you advice? well, I suppose. Your spouse could also give you advice for FREE. Your next door neighbor could probably give you lots of advice as well as your coworkers, your employees if you’re a boss, your children. I mean just about anyone can give you advice and probably pretty darn good advice. The folks we least want advice from probably have the best advice for us!
I think there are some therapists who thrive on giving advice, and typically this urgency to be an advice giver reflects, to some degree, where, in their own life, they are unsuccessful. They can’t be successful in their relationships with their loved ones or they don’t know how to be free of their own addictions, they don’t know how to stand on their own two feet and be assertive, but maybe, with their advice, which they are not willing to take for themselves, YOU can be successful.
There’s nothing wrong with advice, but it’s just not therapy. Therapy is about healing. The word, itself, comes from the Greek therapuein which means to heal. If you want advice, go to a lawyer, a card reader, your mother-in-law, your spouse! Read Ann Landers in the newspaper. There is plenty of advice out there. Go for it. But if you get advice in therapy, you might want to question if you’re getting what you went to therapy for in the first place. You might want to start asking the therapist if he puts into practice his or her own advice and what their batting average is in putting that advice into practice! Yes, be a pain in the butt!
I’ve never been into giving advice. Perhaps having good mentors and supervisors from the very beginning has helped me realize that there is no good end to being an advice giver rather than a therapist. But on any given occasion, I am tempted to be that advice giver, even though, it never sets well with me, and I can’t pull it off for any length of time. I too quickly see the discrepancy between my good advice and the way I live or don’t live my own life. And I cringe every time a client says, "I did exactly what you told me." Oh my God, what did I tell you? I don’t remember telling you to do anything. So, as a therapist, even when you’re not giving advice, clients are going to hear whatever you say or whatever feedback you give them as ADVICE!
At rock bottom, it’s easier being an advice giver than a healer. The draw to being an advice giver is seductive. As therapists, we need to support each other in resisting the temptation. One way to resist the temptation is stay involved, in some form or manner, in your own therapy, your own healing journey. For over thirty years, I went to "traditional" therapy every week. Over that time, there were three different therapists, each willing to be my therapist, not my friend, not my colleague, but my therapist. At this time, I meet weekly with another therapist. We share the time to hold each other accountable for how we are living healthy lives or not. We have found a way to transcend what could be just a close relationship to being a measure or a bar for each other.
So again, be a pain. When your therapist seems to be dishing out the advice, and not free advice, ask them, if the advice works for them. You, as a consummer, have a right to know, if your therapist is at least somewhat healthy or not.
Therapy or healing is a daily journey during which you take responsibility for your life, take responsibility for growing up, reassert your faith that you have inside you what it takes, that God-given capacity, to live a healthy, vibrant, joyfilled, and peaceful life. The healing journey takes you beyond, way beyond, blaming and being stuck as a victim. The healing journey can take you to a place where you are free, where you no longer have to walk on eggshells, no longer have to live in constant fear and anxiety, no longer have to hold your breath waiting for death to jump out from around every bend. On the journey, you learn that your needs are legitimate and deserve to be met first by yourself and also by your loved ones. But you also learn that your loved ones cannot and or will not always meet your legitimate needs, AND, here’s important kicker, YOU WON’T DIE if your needs are not met. You’ll be perfectly okay, a tad out of sorts, but nothing worth giving up your joy, peace, and sobriety over. And obviously, this healing journey takes place twenty four seven. That hour a week in the therapist’s office is just one stop on the journey.
There is no advice in the world that I can give you to assist you on this healing journey. What I can do as your therapist, like the poem, Footprints , is walk along side you. And from that vantage point, I can ask you what you see in front of you, and I can ask you what keeps you from going forward. I can ask you why you keep looking back, and if there is something or someone back there you need to go find and or retrieve. Sometimes, there are parts of ourselves that we need to reconnect to and bring back into our soul. And I can grieve with you when you realize that what you went back to retrieve is no longer there.
I don’t know if, as in the poem, I can carry you, but sometimes I try. But I gotta be sure I know where in the heck I’m going. Do you get that? If your therapist is going to carry you in any manner, his or her own personal therapy is critical at that moment. And, of course, I will never be able to carry you across the "finish line." Those final steps are yours and no one elses.
And the way it works, you cross one finish line and a new journey begins. It’s not a race. There is no first or second or third place finishes. It’s just a journey.
What’s really kind of cool is I have those four therapists I mentioned above living in my head! Each one of them is always asking me questions, good questions, but never judging me or criticizing me. And there’s some place in there, I don’‘t know if it’s simply my memory or my imagination, or if it’s a place not in my head, but in my soul, where I can go and actually feel their individual presence, their touch, their face, their smile, their beckoning to me to cross the finish line for today.
I hope that my "work" with my clients provides that same benefit for them.
So I have something to offer you as a therapist or as your therapist, but it ain’t advice!
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Therapy, not advice
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