One of my favorite moments in a therapy session is when a patient asks me, “What should I do about this situation?” It almost always makes me smile. If I’ve worked with the patient for a long time, I might ask, “What in the history of our relationship makes you think that I’m going to give you the answer you want?” If they are a new patient I might simply say, “Well I don’t really like to give advice like that.”
And yet, you naturally want to work with a therapist who practices their job with authority- who is knowledgeable, trained well, competent. And so the phrase we use to describe when a therapist authoritatively practices therapy in a competent way without exercising authority over their patient is “symmetrical asymmetry.” The relationship is symmetrical in that there are two subjective personalities who are autonomous and self-advocates. And the relationship is asymmetrical in that these two subjective personalities have different skills, experiences and realms of authoritative knowledge. The therapist may be able to steer the therapy process, but cannot steer you.
So, no advice, no guidance, no life coaching? We still haven’t answered the question- Then why go to therapy? There are thousands of valid answers to and opinions on this question but one might be this- to form a healing relationship with someone who won’t tell you how to run your life. We get advice and guidance and suggestions from people all day, every day. In our culture, every one has an opinion about what we should be doing. Try getting sick- every person in your life will have an answer for what treatment you should take part in. Maybe it’s important to have a relationship with someone who is trained in identifying their own agenda for you and putting it aside. Someone who can be supportive of you and what you want for your life, without needing you to do what they want you to do.