How Psychoanalytic Therapy Works

Why doesn’t the therapist advise on what the client should actually do?

How Therapy Works

How Therapy Works

This is the next topic I wish to address in the series of blog posts, ‘How psychoanalytic therapy Works’.  Many clients are initially surprised when they ask a psychoanalytically informed therapist for advice on an issue they are struggling with only to hear, “what are your thoughts about that?”.  A client may be perplexed and complain that if you are not going to advise me on what to do, what is the point of my coming to see you.  However, there are a number of reasons why a therapist may not provide advice on a decision a client is trying to make in their life, the most important of which is that to do so, could directly conflict with one of the major objectives of the therapy itself.


From a psychoanalytic perspective, there is a fundamental philosophical orientation that people are to be respected in their right to be their authentic selves and to be empowered to direct their own lives.  All too often, people who come for therapy have internalized beliefs that they should not think or feel the way that they do and should instead, think or feel what someone else has decided they should.  A major goal of therapy, even if it is not the overt goal but more of a background theme, is to help a person stay in contact with their authentic selves and the struggle with the conflicts that this creates in their lives.  It can be disrespectful for a therapist, no matter how wise or experienced, to tell a client how they should behave in their lives.  It can undermine the client’s growth and health if a belief is reinforced that they are not able to make the right decision for themselves on the important decisions in their life.


The therapist can help with the decision, however, by assisting the client in identifying their own true thoughts/beliefs/feelings/motivations and then make choices that take those experiences into account.  Additionally, a problem is created when a therapist gives advice to a client because if that advice is taken and the outcome is positive, the client may not feel that they have the right to take credit for the outcome and will feel less empowered and capable.  On the other the hand, if the client acts upon the advice and the result is not what the client had hoped for, the relationship the client has to the therapist can suffer a major rupture as they try to work through the failed decision.  For these reasons and others, it is more likely that the therapist will try to help the client identify the myriad thoughts and feelings that they have about the decision at hand, and additionally, why they may be experiencing a lack of trust in themselves to make the best decision they can make.