I have only come across this question today, and seeing as you asked this question in 2015, I hope you have been able to work the answer out now during your training. However, to address this question here with supporting citations, here is my answer.
Many people know that friends and family want the best for them so they may find
it difficult to avoid offering advice or opinions when you share your thoughts.
But occasionally their advice is not sufficient, or we are too embarrassed or ashamed to tell them what is bothering us, or we just don’t have an appropriate person to turn to. Counselling is a really useful option at these moments (McLeod, 2003).
There is one issue with that if seeking advice and opinions. Counselling does not involve the provision of advice. Many people come to therapy expecting the therapist to act as an expert offering specific advice and guidance. This often leads to confusion as this is not the case in a therapeutic relationship.
Advice given from friends, family or even counsellors can be totally incorrect for the client and therefore the client should be given the opportunity to work the answers out for themselves.
Other forms of helping will usually involve the individual being given advice or guidance
on the most effective way to solve a problem or achieve a goal.
For example, a teacher may help a student by advising them on how to revise in order to
successfully pass an exam (Short & Thomas, 2015).
You gave an example where a counsellor might say:
you’ve listed many bad qualities about your girlfriend
While you are not criticising your client when saying this as a counsellor, this is criticism of a third person who is not there to defend themselves.
A client may present qualities in their girlfriend which may be seen as bad qualities, but they are the client's view of their girlfriend and not the counsellor's. Who is to say that the client may have the wrong impression? There is always 2 sides to a story when looking at relationships.
A therapist who is working ethically will not sit in judgement of the client, their experiences, or others around them.
Therapy does not usually involve criticism, although it can be challenging for the client.
Other forms of helping may use constructive criticism to highlight areas for improvement
or motivate further action.
For example, a personal trainer may help a client by criticising them in order to motivate
them to work harder in the gym (Short & Thomas, 2015).
With regard to expertise in the client's situation:
Therapy involves equality between therapist and client – it is essential that the relationship between the therapist and client remain equal throughout the therapeutic process in order for the client to take ownership of their own growth and development.
Other forms of helping may involve a power imbalance as the helper holds more expert
power than the person being helped.
For example, a lecturer may help a student in many ways but the relationship is always
imbalanced because the lecturer has the power to award good or bad grades (Short & Thomas, 2015).
Counselling involves exploring your thoughts and feelings along with looking at your options in how to move forward in life.
Therapy does not have a guaranteed outcome – it frequently focuses on the self-exploratory
journey rather than the eventual destination, and goals established at the start may not be
the desired outcome by the end of the process.
Other forms of helping may set a specific outcome at the start and the relationship may
be considered a failure if this outcome is not met by the end.
For example, a dietitian may help a client by instructing them to eat a wheat-free diet to
alleviate allergies and this will have a successful outcome provided that the client follows
the advice (Short & Thomas, 2015).
Sutton & Stewart (2002) gives distinctions between therapy, guidance and advice.
Persuasive one-way exchange involving the advice-giver offering an opinion, making a judgement or making a recommendation.
Encouraging a one-way exchange involving the guide showing the way, educating, influencing or instructing.
Facilitative two-way collaborative and supportive relationship that allows clients to explore their problem, understand their problem and resolve or come to terms with
Therapists should not give advice as this would result in the therapist taking control of the life of the client rather than the client learning to control his/her own life (Sutton & Stewart, 2002).
In a sense, is the way councillors/psychologists speaking to people actually underhanded as they try to dress-up advice as non-advice?
Not only will a therapist who is working ethically not sit in judgement of the client, their experiences, or others around them; they will not offer advice as it will affect the client's autonomy, as explained just now.
Any therapist who is found to be advising on what to do (underhandedly or overtly) can find themselves in trouble with their governing body.
Ethical frameworks for governing bodies of counsellors and psychotherapists (e.g. BACP, 2018, BCPC, 2011, NCS, n.d., UKCP, n.d.) state that all therapists must follow the principle of autonomy in therapy.
Autonomy: respect for the client’s right to be self-governing (BACP, 2018).
BCPC members aim to respect the dignity, autonomy and integrity of each individual (BCPC, 2011).
Respect for the dignity and rights of the client (Autonomy)
Clients have the right to self-determination and to be shown dignity and respect for making their own lawful decisions (NCS, n.d.).
All Practitioners undertake to:
- Work in ways that promote client autonomy and well-being and that maintain respect and dignity for the client (NCS, n.d.).
Best interests of clients
- Act in your client’s best interests.
- Treat clients with respect.
- Respect your client’s autonomy (UKCP, n.d.).
Even psychologists registered with the American Psychological Association (APA) are to respect client autonomy.
Psychologists respect the dignity and worth of all people, and the rights of individuals to privacy, confidentiality, and self-determination. Psychologists are aware that special safeguards may be necessary to protect the rights and welfare of persons or communities whose vulnerabilities impair autonomous decision making. (APA, 2003)
Let's examine some of your assertions and examples.
You also said:
[T]he counsellor is supposed to challenge the client’s incongruent views. Which views the councillor challenges are up to him, so that’s exerting change on the client.
Challenging views which may be incongruent with reality may invoke change within the client's views, but done autonomously, it may not. The client has the choice whether to thoroughly examine their thoughts or not. If they choose to stick to their point of view in an autonomous therapy session, their views will not change.
In an example you said:
client: "my date cancelled on me", councilor [sic] "do you feel let down?" (this is planting the idea in his head). Now wouldn't it be better if the councilor [sic] gave advice like "there are plenty of fish in the sea"
You are correct in your assertion that asking "do you feel let down?" is "planting an idea in the client's head" as it is a leading question (you can only answer yes or no). This is not ethical practice, again under autonomy rules. The client should be given open questions in order for the client to be able to answer in their own way. A better example question to the statement first given would be "and how did that make you feel?". This leads to a myriad of answers which could come from the client such as "angry", "annoyed", "upset" or even "let down". There may be a surprise nonchalant response in some occasions.
APA (2003) Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct (Last Amendment 2017) https://www.apa.org/ethics/code
BACP (2018) Ethical Framework for the Counselling Professions. https://www.bacp.co.uk/events-and-resources/ethics-and-standards/ethical-framework-for-the-counselling-professions/
BCPC (2011) Bath Centre for Psychotherapy and Counselling Statement of Ethical Principles. https://www.bcpc.org.uk/uploads/files/Statement-of-Ethical-Principles-2011.pdf
McLeod, J. (2003) An Introduction to Counselling. Buckingham: Open University Press.
NCS (n.d.) Code of Ethics (Last Updated May 2020). https://nationalcounsellingsociety.org/about-us/code-of-ethics
Short, F. & Thomas, P. (2015) Core Approaches in Counselling and Psychotherapy. Hove: Routledge.
Sutton, J. & Stewart, W. (2002) Learning to Counsel. Oxford: Spring Hill House.
UKCP (n.d.) The Code of Ethics and Professional Practice (Last Updated October 2019)https://www.psychotherapy.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2019/06/UKCP-Code-of-Ethics-and-Professional-Practice-2019.pdf