Myth Madness: ‘Therapy Relies on a Therapist’s Wisdom for Answers’

man looking up at tall tree

Myth No. 5: “Therapy relies on a therapist’s wisdom for answers.”

Reality: Most of my former clients came to therapy expecting me to fix them, or to at least impart some wisdom. Over time, I’ve come to see that a big part of my job as a therapist is convincing people that I’m there to help them find their own answers, not to give them answers. It’s an understatement to say it’s difficult to convince people of this, and it’s no wonder many new therapists go out of business. Solving people’s problems for them not only creates bigger problems, it takes an enormous amount of energy to have answers and solutions for everyone. Thankfully, the paradox of good therapy is that healing comes from the client.

“Each patient carries his own doctor inside him. … We are at our best when we give the doctor who resides within each patient a chance to go to work.” —Albert Schweitzer

Unfortunately, our culture has made therapists into some kind of mythical creatures, imbuing them with powers of insight and wisdom they really don’t have. Yes, therapists are good at understanding people, seeing patterns, and making differential diagnoses, and yes, therapists have a lot of good advice. But therapists should not be directing people’s lives unless a person is highly dysfunctional and needs a higher level of care, such as hospitalization or residential treatment.

Therapists who habitually provide advice and wisdom to people in lieu of helping them access their own resources are often satisfying their own emotional needs to feel needed, smart, and appreciated. This behavior is at the expense of the client’s progress toward becoming self-sufficient. Therapists who spend their time giving endless advice and direction to people encourage dependency, precluding people from trusting themselves and becoming a fully functional and optimal human being—what I would call a major disservice and violation of the commitment to do no harm.

The therapist’s job is to help people tap into their own resources and wisdom—what one very wise fishing enthusiast once described as teaching people to fish for themselves. My experience is that people know themselves, or have the potential to know themselves, better than anyone else, including their therapist—I don’t care how brilliant the therapist is. A good therapist is able to guide a person into himself or herself, can help the person ask the right questions and be his or her own therapist.

In short, a good therapist certainly brings his or her wisdom about the healing process to the therapy, but without the therapy relying on the therapist’s interpretation, insight, or compassion as the healing catalyst. Rather, a good therapist is tasked with helping people access their own insight, wisdom, and self-love.

Editor’s note: For more articles examining common myths and fears surrounding psychotherapy, please click here.

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  • Audra

    October 12th, 2013 at 4:39 AM

    I totally agree. What good is therapy in the end if you are the one giving us the answers? Isn’t it better for someone in the long run to show them that they have the answers within themselves all along, and they just have to be shown how to find them? Everyone is going to have some kind of inner strength and knowledge that will be much better equipped to handle what they know about themselves than anyone from the outside ever could. A therapist, a good one, can lead you there, can show you the way, but ultiamtely, someone who is good is going to teach you gow to discover those answers all on your own.

  • Betsy

    October 12th, 2013 at 6:39 AM

    Loved this note on helping our clients heal. Although I am not a psychotherapist, I find that much of my therapy (speech) entails helping families and caregivers cope. We only can help them if we teach them skills, give them tools that they can internalize. Sometimes the learning takes time depending on the acceptance of the need to use the tools and the adaptability of the clients and their families.
    Unfortunately many are just looking for us to turn the loose screw or do it for them. We must have patience with them, but always be teaching and reinforcing the concept that they can reach some attainable goal. Some don’t really want to gain control of their lives. They are afraid of that. I guess I’m preaching to the choir again!
    😋Betsy Schreiber MMS Speech Lang Path

  • Marianne

    October 12th, 2013 at 9:23 AM

    give me a fish and feed me for the day
    teach me to fish, and feed me forever

    I suppose that’s the wisdom that a therapist wishes to impart to their clients. You want them to come up with the answers but not just those which will help them today. You have to want to give them the answers that will help them for a lifetime to come. It won’t be easy given that most of us want things immediately and don’t want to have to work for them, but once the relationship has been established I think that most people who are in therapy for the right reasons will come to appreciate this approach versus just giving them what feels good right now.

  • Lila

    October 14th, 2013 at 3:48 AM

    The best therapists are the ones who can see past their own egos and look more toward what the patient has to offer himself and not necessarily what they have to give to the patient.

    I like to think of the therapist as more of a facilitator for change but not the only means for getting there. It’s just that for most of us this is the way that is going to feel the most comfortable.

    Typically, this isn’t something that most of us could do on our own- if we could then we probably would have done it years ago! We need that one person who can help us get the process in motion.

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