Psychotherapy or Advice

What are the Very Basic Goals of Psychotherapy ?

Help the person acknowledge and face emotional wounds instead of hiding or avoiding them; find adaptive ways of processing their emotional pain; understand and change self-destructive patterns of behaviors and self-destructive cognitions, promote healthy patterns, gain new insights and self-awareness, find the root causes of suffering and treat the root causes so that the symptoms of suffering disappear, and help the patient explore and express their real Self.

“But what should I do?”

It doesn’t happen often, but once in awhile, I will meet with a psychotherapy patient who asks me some variation of the above, for example: “What should I do?”  Or “Tell me what to do” or “Why can’t you just fix me?” Or “Don’t you have a magic wand?”

The thing that is most challenging about patients who directly ask these types of questions is that they are usually those who are experiencing the most pain and confusion.

It makes sense that people who are struggling, hurting, or experiencing despair would want someone to tell them what to do to make it stop. And, often, I would like to help them make it stop too, so there is a very strong pull to provide an answer for them.

Giving advice is not psychotherapy

However, giving advice is not psychotherapy. Psychotherapy is a place to explore your feelings, behavioral patterns, cognitive patterns, relational patterns with others (interpersonal) and learn about yourself (intrapersonal). Psychotherapy is a place of self-discovery. It’s a place to find out how you have become tangled up in suffering and a place to learn how to untangle yourself from suffering.

Psychotherapy is a place to gain a better understanding of your inner world (e.g. intra-psychic coping mechanisms) and your unique personality organization (e.g. adaptive traits and maladaptive traits), motivational systems, your perceptions of the outer world, and your subjective experiences of relationships (e.g. object relations). Understanding these psychological processes result in many positive changes for patients in psychotherapy with clinical psychologists.  It’s what doctors who specialize in clinical psychology go to school to learn ~ how to conduct evidence based clinical assessments, analyze the test data clinical profiles, and provide evidence based gold standard psychotherapies ~ through decades of education and training.

Sometimes it takes time and reflection to see the constellational  patterns of oneself and it isn’t a quick fix, as much as both Clinical Psychologist and patient sometimes wish it were.

Sometimes just acknowledging and sitting with that pain, confusion, and wish for an immediate answer is actually the best thing to do in that moment. For example, thereby, not using old patterned ways (e.g. intra-psychic defense mechanisms) that are often self-imposed resistances that prevent healing. 

This does not mean that I withhold information from patients when I think it might be helpful. If I notice a theme, a pattern, or have some concern that a patient may not be acting in their best interest, I speak up. It also doesn’t mean that I am non-directive.

There are times when I am directive with patients. I integrate many cognitive-behavioral-emotional-physical-energy interventions in my work; and I tend to use them when people need symptomatic relief or when people are trying to break negative habits.

These are specific interventions and prevention approaches to specific problems and these are not the same thing as telling a patient what to do with major life decisions.

If you want a Clinical Psychologist to tell you what to do, as opposed to helping you figure out what is right for you, it could be worth thinking twice about what you are seeking. Some people want others to tell them what to do because it means not having to take responsibility if things don’t work out. Friends and counselors can give you advice. But if what you are looking for is just someone to give advice or tell you the things that have worked for them, it may not be that psychotherapy is what you are looking for; and may indicate the patient is not willing to take self-responsibility in their own healing.

Moreover, if you are going to psychotherapy for emotional suffering or if you are attending therapy for very advanced treatments for personality pathology; and you find that your therapist fills the time with advice, suggestions, or anecdotes about their life, it could indicate that they have some discomfort with allowing the therapeutic process to unfold. Be cognizant that you can find someone else who creates the space for your process of becoming conscious and finding the answers that are right for you.


Dr. Shawna Freshwater

Shawna Freshwater, PhD

Shawna Freshwater, PhD

Hi, I am Dr. Shawna Freshwater, a PhD licensed Clinical Psychologist, Neuropsychologist, and Holistic Practitioner. ** I provide Psychotherapy, Coaching, Healing, Diagnostic testing & Mental Health Check-ups. ** I meet the needs of my patients and clients that are confidential and convenient to their schedule. ** I offer Remote / Online secure interactive video conferencing to USA residents and International clients. ** I also provide Concierge services at your home, office, or private location of your choice if you reside in South Florida Major Cities. ***Please see my website for more information about my credentials and areas of expertise. Thank you. Dr. Freshwater


  1. James M on June 26, 2024 at 1:17 pm

    Great article Dr. Freshwater. Very detailed and well explained to understand what I believe to be a complex issue , such as emotional related problems. Thank you

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