Is it true that counsellors “cannot give” advice or information? I have found that my position has changed over the years, that I have needed to investigate my primary bias as a counsellor, that other people “should be” in the flow of experiencing and I am there purely to facilitate their own growth.
Continuing my personal reflections, as a counsellor, on the “Counsellor’s Creed” which has been circulating amongst practitioners:
5. I will help you find the answers that are right for you, but I cannot give you advice or information (except when appropriate.) I cannot do your growing for you. You must find your own answers during and outside the process of therapy. I will accept you and your behaviour every step of the way. I accept that your values will often differ from mine. I respect all cultures and orientations, and will confront any prejudices and biases I find within me.
There is so much contained in this point that is really crucial to an understanding of therapy and relevant to most clients’ concerns. While it doubtless varies across cultures, where I practice, in Poland, most people coming to me expect to be told what to do. That is what they consider that they pay me for, my specialist psychological knowledge and advice. If I begin therapy by putting to them in no uncertain terms that I am not going to give them advice and they have to find the answers themselves, they are likely to hear simply that I cannot help them and not come back.
In fact this illustrates a possible contradiction in point 5 — the counsellor holds the strong ideological position, that the client has to find their own answers, and simultaneously says that she will “respect all cultures” and accept differing values. Of course it is perfectly possible to recognise the client’s need to be given advice and still not give it, but this needs skillful handling and not just lip service along the lines of: “I respect your need for information but I’m not going to give it to you and here’s why!”
I have found that my position has changed over the years, that I have needed to investigate my primary bias as a counsellor, that other people “should be” in the flow of experiencing and I am there purely to facilitate their own growth. Very often people are not in touch with their experiencing which is why they have come for help, and very often it would be less than genuine of me to withold information which I have which may be of help to them in managing specific manifestations of that discomfort in their lives.
The important thing to remember, I think, is that I am not imparting specialist knowledge from on high. My area of specialist expertise is not organising the client’s finding of solutions or doing things to help themselves, it is being with the client, in their need to be given a road map, and in their need to let go for awhile of the terrible pressure of having to do everything themselves. Once this pressure has been alleviated and the isolation broken down, then clients come up with solutions spontaneously, by themselves. But this is a long way off and can seem quite impossible at the start.