The difference between advice and counselling

When you look for advice, you tend to choose someone you consider wiser than you, or someone who looks as though they’ve got their life together. This is because ultimately the only advice another person can give you is, “Be more like me! This is what I would do in your situation. You should do what I would do.” If you want to be more like that person, then the advice will suit you.

But everybody is different, and the other person’s values, priorities and aims in life may not be the same as yours. And in some cases, such as when the advisor is a relative or close friend, there may be ulterior motives for wanting you to choose a certain course of action.

Look up the word ‘counsel’ in the dictionary and you’ll find the definition ‘advice’. Yet professional counselling is not about advice at all. Professional counselling works with you to find the way forward that helps you to be more truly yourself, guided by your own values, priorities and spiritual path. A good counsellor will help you understand who you are, without trying to impose their own values on you. This is within certain limits of course; there are some general values that are expected of a counsellor and you can expect to be challenged if, for example, your decision veers towards harm or unfairness towards another person.

Personally I have experienced great satisfaction as a counsellor from helping people find their way forward. Equally I have found counselling enormously helpful at times of difficulty in my own life. And there have been other times when counselling wasn’t helpful at all. These were the times when the counsellor spent too little time exploring the issues and was too quick to come up with advice. (Even counsellors can fall into that trap at times.)

If someone comes to you with a problem, try to refrain from advice-giving and simply listen, showing that you care. Often that is all that’s needed. People usually know who they are – let them talk and they will most likely come up with their own answers.

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