People who have graduated in psychology or who work as psychologists know well that, besides asking for a free consultation, there is another custom that leads many people to make a basic mistake when they hear that a friend or family member is a psychologist: ask for advice about life .
Of course, asking for and giving advice is not a bad thing in itself. In fact, people who are psychologists can quietly give advice, and can even disseminate advice in the media, but make it clear that this is not the activity that defines their profession. That means that, in the context of a psychologist talking about his or her work, they do not give advice ; in other situations they do.
Assuming that the profession of psychologists consists of giving advice leads some people to ask for their help by posing a problem and ending the subject with a “what should I do? But, although it may seem strange because of the myths that circulate about the profession, psychologists do not give advice. Here is why.
Psychologists: dealing with individual or collective problems
People with a background in psychology know things about behavior and mental processes that predispose them to know better how to deal with certain situations usefully and effectively, yes. But that doesn’t mean they can give advice to someone “on the fly.
In fact, it is not even true that all psychologists deal with the life problems of specific people . This is only done by those who are dedicated to psychotherapy and clinical intervention; there are also many other branches of psychology in which either work is done for organisations and not for isolated individuals (organisational or human resources psychology), or research is carried out using data on many people, as occurs in psychological research and in cognitive sciences.
In both cases, psychologists do not intervene on cases of individual psychological problems, so asking them for advice does not make much sense. But neither does it make sense when the person does engage in psychotherapy and mental health . Why?
Magic Solutions to Universal Problems
As we have seen, many psychologists do not focus their work on dealing with collective problems, or problems demarcated by legal entities, not individuals. However, those who intervene in individual cases do not give advice either, for three basic reasons.
The need to attend a consultation
If you want individual attention, you have to buy the whole pack of individualized attention, not just the appearance of it.
In other words, you have to attend a consultation , a context in which, despite having that name, the client will not ask questions that need to be answered.
We psychologists do not have in our memory a book in which all the vital guidelines to follow and what has to be done in each case are stated. First, because a book like this does not exist , and psychologists are normal people, of flesh and blood, and not oracles with the capacity to come into contact with something like divine and universal laws.
But then, what is psychotherapy? This brings us to the second point of why the task of a psychologist is not based on giving advice.
Psychotherapy is a task for two
Understanding which options are the best to deal with a problem is something that should be done by both the psychologist and the patient , not only by the former.
Knowing what to do depends on the will of the person seeking help and on the specific characteristics of his or her life, and the role of the psychologist is to provide guidance on the spot , not to convey categorical answers to vital questions.
Of course, if psychologists had a list of laws of life as a tool, there would be so many of them that they would not fit in a room, let alone in a psychotherapist’s long-term memory. Simply, the characteristics of a person’s problem can be so many and so varied that there cannot be a defined protocol of action for each one .
Thus, much of what a psychologist does in the office is simply listening to understand the client’s problem and to have the opportunity to develop a series of individualized measures. For this reason alone, it is impossible for his work to be summarized with a “give advice”, something that can normally be done in a bar after 10 minutes of conversation. No; the psychologist listens and asks many questions over a long period of time and in several sessions .
But what comes next, when the psychologist understands the problem, is also not giving advice.
Acting on the focus of the problem
Giving advice is simply that, issuing a series of statements that talk about what should be done in a particular case. But psychologists don’t do that. Talking about what should be done is not, in itself, something that brings a person very close to the solution of that problem, because to believe that would be to fall into the error of assuming that psychological problems appear simply when a person does not know what to do.
Thus, a person with a gambling addiction would simply need someone to insist on the advice to stop gambling. Once that person becomes aware of the problem from what he or she hears from the other person, the problem would be solved. Too bad that in the real world this doesn’t happen: psychological problems are not born out of a lack of information, but out of something much deeper: inappropriate behavior patterns that must be corrected by doing more and talking less.
Therefore, the work of psychologists is not to inform people about what they should do, but to guide them towards a model of behaviour that is useful to them and that allows them to be happier. This is why the product of psychotherapy sessions are not aphorisms and maxims of life , but rather intervention programs such as the Self-Instruction Training, something like routines that are used in a gymnasium made for our brain.
Mental health psychologists create the conditions necessary for their patients to redirect their actions and thoughts in a more appropriate way, according to their own objectives. Perhaps this temptation to ask psychologists for advice comes from the fact that they are not very clear about the latter, about what they want. In advice, the objective to which one must aspire is already given: “do this”. Fortunately or not, what happens in a psychologist’s office is much more complex.