Why won't my counsellor tell me what to do?
So there you are in the consulting with a new counsellor... and they are not saying much. They expect you to do all the talking. What is going on? After all, they are the expert; and you are paying them to help you! How are you expected to know what to say? Perhaps you feel confused, irritated or just disappointed with the whole process.
Developing a good working relationship with your counsellor may take time. Therefore it may be worth bearing in mind that it is a bit different from other relationships and there are reasons for this – good therapeutic reasons.
Firstly, there is no ‘one size fits all’ technique that ‘fixes’ every problem. In order to understand what is going on for each person, we need to find out what it is all about – to explore - so that we can get more of a sense of the whole picture. We need to know where we are now, before we are able to think about making changes. It does not help to make generalised assumptions about what might be causing problems. We are all different. Therefore, there is a good reason for encouraging someone to talk at some length about their concerns and their life.
It may not be clear at the start of counselling what exactly is causing the problem. Allowing a space to explore can help clarify what is going on and make sense of things more easily. After all, if it was all so obvious, why would you come for counselling in the first place?
It can also be much more empowering to have a space to explore and discover and make sense of things, rather than be just told what to do. It reaches to a much deeper level; and is likely to be much more effective in helping to make more fundamental changes. Being involved rather than just ‘told’ makes a difference.
The counsellor is therefore there to support and encourage and empower the individual, but not to take over. This is different from many situations, where we expect the ‘expert’ to tell us what to do. For example, if we went to see our GP, we would expect them to find a solution for us. Counselling is not that, nor should it be.
Being involved and working in your own therapy can be challenging. It can take courage to face difficult circumstances and difficult feelings. However, it can also be rewarding, if you are able to do this. Your counsellor can be there to help and support you through this process, providing a safe space for this process to unfold.
Of course your counsellor may also be asking you questions – questions that may be hard to answer. These may be questions for which there is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’, just different and subjective points of view. Considering where you stand is an important thing to think about. It can help guide you in the decisions you may want to take. It can help you find your voice. Is that not better than being told what to do?
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Andrea Harrn Psychotherapist and Author of The Mood CardsMay 13th, 2011
Imi Lo: Psychotherapist, Art Therapist, Supervisor (MMH,UKCP,HCPC,MBPsS)March 29th, 2015
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