"I wish you would tell me what to do."
It’s a horribly familiar feeling… Waking up each morning with a dull knot of anxiety in your gut. It would be wonderful to have some relief, but every day, seemingly every minute, there is a reminder that soon you will have to make a choice. No matter what decision you make there is a lot to lose and possibly the lives of those you love will be changed.
‘Should I leave my partner?’
‘Should I quit my job?’
‘Will I lose my family if I tell them that I am gay?’
It is often in these moments of crisis that people turn to counselling. Simply explaining why the situation is so anxiety inducing can seem to bring a feeling of temporary relief. Yet even though it feels a little better, there is still an important decision to be made. “Tell me what I should do!”
‘The therapist is the expert, right? They should tell me what to do. Otherwise, what am I paying them for?!?’
This is often a difficult moment in therapy and it’s not unusual to feel angry when a therapist doesn’t give their opinion. But really, is the therapist an ‘expert’? They have never met your partner or family or worked a day in your profession. Imagine for a moment how it would be if the therapist did tell you what to do. Would you do it? If so, why?
It can be infuriating to realise that you are not going to get the answer you hoped for. A massive disappointment. Yet, if the therapist does have expertise, perhaps that is the reason they do not tell you what to do. The majority of clients that I work with have a multitude of people in their lives who are all too willing to give their opinions. Is that what you need? – another opinion.
Counselling can provide a wonderful space to thrash out ideas; to explore the possible avenues and consequences of each potential scenario. Sometimes having another person to explore with can provide insight and clarity that was not there before. In some situations, a counsellor may be able to point you to resources or organisations that can provide direct support or information. A Cognitive Behavioural Therapist may teach you some helpful skills, a Life Coach might give you some advice, but even in those more ‘directive’ approaches to counselling, it’s unlikely they will make decisions for you.
One of the most powerful reflections in moments like these can stem from the frustration itself, “I wish you would tell me what to do!” It is here that, with the help of the counsellor, you might explore why it is scary to decide yourself. Perhaps you don’t trust yourself or perhaps you are simply so frightened that the fear is incapacitating.
It would be wonderful if a therapist had psychic abilities or were a human ‘magic 8 ball’, holding all the answers to life’s dilemmas. Sadly, most therapists won’t tell you what they think you should do, and for good reason. Where the real value lies in situations like this, is in working through difficult decisions, finding resolution and hopefully a greater sense of autonomy. This is going to be hard and it may hurt for a while, but therapy can help.
Counselling can give you the space to explore, to come to a conclusion that is right for you, to find ownership of your choice and the confidence to navigate through uncharted territory.