I’ve taken a course on counselling psychology and have attended a counselling sessions myself. All the literature I’ve read has said counsellors should not give advice. My question is why is this possible?

I know when talking to a counsellor they think they’re being self-empowering by not “giving advice” or asking leading questions, but I don’t believe it’s possible to have a neutral conversation with someone where they have no effect over you. In a sense, is the way councillors/psychologists speaking to people actually underhanded as they try to dress-up advice as non-advice? I know at advance stages of counselling the 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. Wouldn't it be better for a councillor to clearly say what he thinks instead of trying to trick a client into thinking they came up with the idea? For example if a counsellor says “you’ve listed many bad qualities about your girlfriend” while this may be a fact, the councillor is trying to steer you in a certain direction. Wouldn’t it be more honest to say “you’ve listed many bad qualities about your girlfriend, maybe you should breakup with her?” even though the breaking up bit is considered advice?

UPDATE: I think I've finally found the words to express what I'm thinking. I know councilors are not supposed to give advice and act in a very "neutral way" as to allow the client to sort things out for them self, as this is seen as self empowering. It's been my observation that councilors (inadvertently) just find ways to mask what they are asserting as a question or a seemingly neutral statement. For example, client "my neighbor was parked in my drive way and it made me late for work", councilor "I could see how that would make a person mad" (this implies the correct response would be mad). client: "my date cancelled on me", councilor "do you feel let down?" (this is planting the idea in his head). Now wouldn't it be better if the councilor gave advice like "there are plenty of fish in the sea". I know councilors are not trained to ask leading questions or make leading comments, but as humans, I believe it is inevitable to do this, and it's much better just to say something directly than to (subconsciously) think up a way to hint at it.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ This question seems primarily opinion-based to me, and as such is off topic here. $\endgroup$
    – Krysta
    Apr 29, 2015 at 14:16
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    $\begingroup$ However, I think it would be on topic to ask about the techniques that councillors use to avoid "giving advice" and "leading the client". $\endgroup$
    – Seanny123
    Apr 29, 2015 at 19:53
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    $\begingroup$ No one is going to argue for the absolute here. That's why I think it would be best (more interesting and productive) to assume that there's no way to successfully 100% not lead/advise the patient/client, but instead asking about techniques or heuristics used to minimize this "leading" or "advising". $\endgroup$
    – Seanny123
    Apr 30, 2015 at 0:08
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    $\begingroup$ Asking “you’ve listed many bad qualities about your girlfriend, maybe you should breakup with her?” in many cases asking that question is going to cause the other person to defend the decision to be with their girlfriend. There are cases where it can be useful to put the client in a defensive position but often it isn't. Often the role of a counselor is to provide the client space to look at uncomfortable issues without feeling judged or feeling like he has to defend himself. $\endgroup$
    – Christian
    May 4, 2015 at 13:19
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    $\begingroup$ how can a counsellor avoid giving advice to a client $\endgroup$
    – user8378
    May 18, 2015 at 0:54

4 Answers 4


Counselors can be taught to "not give advice" and there are good reasons for this school of thought. But in professional practice such passivity is only one style among many counselors may choose. If you find yourself unhappy with your counselor's style, do both of you a favor and keep looking for greater compatibility. Better results will follow from greater comfort in sessions. The burden of finding the best match is on the client - the counselor will try to help the client as well as possible with the style the counselor believes is best for the client, but if you don't like such passivity, look for another counselor and say what you want during the first meeting (on the phone, even better.)

As to "why" some counselors believe it is helpful to not give advice: much work in psychotherapy requires the client to make every step, every decision following the client's own insight; this is a process of internal awareness and growth which places the counselor in the role of facilitator. A facilitator will make it easier for the client to make progress, but will not tell the client answers even if the counselor has opinions or preferences. As you put it, the goal is for the client to become more "self-empowering."

I hope this helps. I have a Counseling M.A. and years' practice in a variety of healing arts. , , ,

  • $\begingroup$ Are the different "styles" of counselors labelled differently? Like, do they advertise their style somehow that would make finding the one you seek easier? $\endgroup$ Apr 30, 2015 at 17:19
  • $\begingroup$ Yes, randomblink. Different styles are normally referred to on business cards and ads. Some phrases are too mysterious for my taste, for example, what does "Client Centered Therapy" mean? That's why I recommend calling several therapists and going with the one who makes the most sense to you and promises to treat you the way you want to be treated, conversationally speaking in particular. Watch for the "Freudian" label, they are everywhere and will not hold a normal conversation, they spend most sessions being quiet, letting you talk: that is not okay with everyone.... $\endgroup$
    – Neil Alers
    May 7, 2015 at 21:14
  • $\begingroup$ -1 because I too am trained in counselling and the golden rule in counselling is to never give advice. You are not the client and therefore you cannot tell them what they should do. You give them their options they can look at in therapy in order for your client to come to their own decisions as to what to do in a given situation. You have put across the wrong impression. If you really think that you are correct, reference to reputable sources are required $\endgroup$ Oct 11, 2020 at 7:55

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.

  • Advice
    Persuasive one-way exchange involving the advice-giver offering an opinion, making a judgement or making a recommendation.
  • Guidance
    Encouraging a one-way exchange involving the guide showing the way, educating, influencing or instructing.
  • Therapy
    Facilitative two-way collaborative and supportive relationship that allows clients to explore their problem, understand their problem and resolve or come to terms with their problem.

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).

You asked:

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:

  1. 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

  1. Act in your client’s best interests.
  2. Treat clients with respect.
  3. 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


I am a counselllor and use many different therapies and techniques with clients. Different therapies offer different ways to work with a client. CBT is more of a teaching therapy teaching the clients strategies and coping skills to help them with solving their issues. Psychoanalysis as mentioned in an above comment as Freudian is one of the foundations of psychology and works with the belief that all disorder stems from the childhood. This is because this is when we learn the most and learn how to react and behave in certain situations. It is a very good way to work on issues stemming from childhood. Erikson's theory expanded on Freud's theory and included other stages we go through to become fulfilled as human beings.

As for the reason we don't give advice is not because we don't want to or we like to avoid it, it is merely a legal; one, we are not legally or ethically covered to give advice and if we did and it went wrong we would get sued. It is ok to ask the opinion of the counsellor however that is not important what is important is why does the client need to hear it from someone else and have trouble knowing what to do. This can also be stemed from a childhood issue where they don't have good enough boundaries and rely on the thoughts of others to make decisions for them so when it goes wrong they have someone else to blame other than themselves. Also it could be that they constantly need other peoples approval another issue stemming from childhood which caused them to not be strong enough in themselves to make sound decisions.

Good psychologists and counsellors are aware of a lot more than just issues and what should you do about it, we are trained in problem solving and helping people to become autonomous. The saying "you can give a man a fish and feed him for a day or teach him to fish and feed him for a lifetime" applies here. Counsellors teach their clients about themselves and help them understand why they are like they are and then help them learn new ways to solve their problems. So they don't always need to be asking others what they should do. Be strong make a decision, learn from mistakes, readjust your goals and keep moving forward toward success. There is no need for approval, blame or asking of opinions. Sorry it is a long one but legally that is how it is.

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    $\begingroup$ A reference to the segment of the law forbidding from giving advice would be appreciated. $\endgroup$
    – Seanny123
    Dec 29, 2015 at 17:33

I want to stress why this can be very risky to not only a client's situation, it can disrupt their affairs with family, friends and professional connections.

A life-coach can give advice just like a friend can also. Any connection from one's inner circle is natural to want a listening ear and another's view and opinion when one wants support and help. Ethical boundaries are strictly held in the field of a professional working in the mental health field like a social worker, psychotherapist and counsellor. Therapists can give their views and opinions only when asked from their patients/clients and unsolicited advice is a big no-no. And advice that was not asked for is very unethical because we never know what this client is capable of. For instance, a mother tells her new psychologist that her children are not listening to her when she asks them to do stuff and rants how she is tired of repeating herself. The ethical situation would be for a therapist to first sympathize and then ask the mother why she thinks her children are not listening. If a therapist tells the parent to set rules for the children, this is breaking a boundary. How old are these children? Do they come from a family of divorce? Did the mother explain briefly the situation that her children are adopted and have had trouble focusing in school when things get rough with the family? The children may suffer from ODD (Oppositional defiant disorder). Sometimes it can be the mother herself where she constantly yells and this causes the children to rebel and distant themselves from her fearing her own energy. The mother may blame the children that are not listening and lie to the therapist that her children are selfish and rebellious when in truth, the children fear the mother for always yelling and have learned a coping mechanism of just shutting themselves in their rooms. Parents are very responsible for their actions as well and many times, the behaviour must be changed for all parties and not just the children to unify a family together with healthy boundaries and trust. If the mother leaves this information out to the therapist, the therapist may assume that the children are not coming from a dysfunctional family and how setting strict rules does not work for all kids as they can rebel.

To conclude, this is why a therapist should not give advice on their own terms. It can damage a client's reputation. Especially if the therapist is new and the counsellor has not yet taken notes on how the environment is in one's situation. The therapist must ask further questions to understand as to why the children are not listening and should ask about the situation at home and if there is a strong bond between the mother and her children.

  • $\begingroup$ While I agree with some claims, as with another answer you posted, there are a lot of bold claims in your answer without corroborated evidence. We work differently to many SE sites, where we have a strict policy that all answers should be backed up with reliable references so that the answer can be independently verified, regardless of the reader's/answerer's background. If you still have trouble with this, feel free to visit the help center or Psychology & Neuroscience Meta. Unreferenced claims can be challenged and lead to deletion of your answer. $\endgroup$ Oct 11, 2020 at 7:51

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