“Why Won’t My Therapist Just Tell Me What to Do?” A Response from Ben King

September 25, 2017

Last week. NY Magazine posted this What your Therapist Really Thinks article by Lori Gottlieb, which addressed the question “Why won’t my therapist just tell me what to do?”

Throughout this article, the author makes several great arguments as to why a therapist doesn’t, and in many cases shouldn’t, give their clients advice. When a client asks me what I think they should do, it’s usually asked before we have any substantial discussion on the subject. Rather than answering the question I guide them through a thought process that will lead the client to clarity on the outcomes of each choice. We’ll look at pros and cons and address any fears they might have surrounding their decision.

What I find is that indecision usually stems from a lack of understanding or anticipation of the outcomes. A client might be stuck between wanting to ask a coworker out and fear that it could make work uncomfortable if it doesn’t work out. When they’re stuck on a decision, it’s because their brain is spinning its wheels: they continue to think about how awkward it would be or how good looking and fun their coworker is. These thoughts don’t get them anywhere close to a decision.

If that client could take it one step further by weighing each outcome and its pros and cons or risks and rewards, then they’ll have a clearer picture of the issue. Then I encourage them to go even further and think about how they would handle either situation response. If the coworker rejects the offer, we talk through how they could handle that to avoid awkwardness or hurt feelings.

If you’re facing a similar situation, you can work this through in your head or write it down on paper. I’ve found that writing it down can be helpful because it’s all laid out in front of you and can make your potential responses very clear. This may not be an exciting strategy, but it is effective. Remember that indecision usually stems from being stuck in a thought process. A therapist is trained to help you along that thought process for yourself and should help to guide you to your own answer rather than providing you with one themselves.

Ben King, MFT
Former Staff Therapist

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