Therapist telling me what to do: Is this normal?

As a BetterHelp affiliate, we may receive compensation from BetterHelp if you purchase products or services through the links provided

In this blog we will discuss whether it is normal for your therapist to tell you what to do. 

We will also discuss why therapists don’t usually tell you what to do, what you can do if they are telling you what to do, and whether your therapist is being ethical or not in their practice. 

Therapist telling me what to do: Is this normal?

In some therapeutic orientation, it is the norm that your therapist provides you with instructions to do or apply certain things in your life as part of treatment. 

The answer to this particular question depends on your therapist’s orientation; if they work with their clients using a directive approach versus if they work with their clients using a non-directive approach.

Directive Approach 

If your therapist works in a more directive orientation, it is likely that they will suggest what is considered “homework”. These could be suggestions which include reflective after sessions or certain tasks that you need to apply yourself to outside of sessions. 

This could be anything, ranging from going for walks, signing up for dance classes, engaging in exercises etc- all of which is aimed to help your and your mental health; primarily being suggestions and not orders.

However, an ethical and directive therapist will collaborate with you on deciding what tasks you are to do and be sensitive to your motivation to apply or not to apply. 

An important aspect of ethics when it comes to a directive therapy is not to make decisions for the clients nor to impose certain decisions on the clients about their own life and how to solve a certain issue but rather to guide and direct.

This means that your therapist will suggest certain plans of actions and it will be entirely up to you to choose or disregard.

Usually, the conversation about these tasks will come up as you discuss your issues in the sessions and the therapist will make “suggestions” which means you are not forced to apply and it will be up to your free will. 

Even when there is a plan of action that is being built or created, this plan formulation will include your inputs because a healthy therapeutic relationship is one that includes collaborative effort and are not “orders” that you must follow- at the end of the day your therapist is not a life coach. 

Directive approaches to therapy is usually observed in therapists who follow orientations such as Solution Focused approach to therapy where the main goal of the therapist is to help clients achieve goals however the therapist does not override the client’s boundaries due to their assumption that the client is the “expert” of their own lives.

Even in such orientations, there is collaborative effort to form the plan of action to meet the goals of the clients and resolve challenges that the client brings to the sessions. 

Non Directive Approach

On the other hand if your therapist is non- directive, they are someone who will primarily listen and reflect on what the client brings to the sessions. 

The classic examples of non-directive therapists are Sigmund Freud and psychodynamic approaches to therapy where the focus is on listening and not instructing the clients. 

Most therapists prefer to have a non-directive approach and at times a combination of the two. Where they mostly listened while the clients rambled on about what was happening in their life or what had happened in their past. 

The therapist in this case might suggest ways which facilitate changes in perspective of thinking, point out coping mechanisms, and reflect feelings etc.

Even if they do suggest certain actions and homework, they will not quiz you on whether the client has actually followed their directions- it is left entirely up to the client.

Though they are non-directive, they will take effort to psychoeducate the client and leave it up to the client to discern whether they want to apply it in their life or not. 

The way your therapist might approach your sessions, particularly if they are being directive, could be because of their approach or because of the client’s leaning towards change. 

They could be more directive because they have discerned that you need a more directive approach or they could choose to become non-directive as you move past this strange crisis. 

Whichever the orientation of your therapist is if your therapist’s directiveness is bothering you, here are a few things that you can do:

  • Bring it up in sessions and let them know that their approach is bothering you or you are uncomfortable with their approach. 
  • Explore your feelings about being directed, you might learn about yourself. 
  • Evaluate whether your therapist is being ethical or not- an ethical therapist will collaborate with you and they will not impose on your personal boundaries. 
  • Consider changing your therapist is the method persist and you find yourself dissatisfied with this approach

Why don’t therapists tell you what to do?

Here are some reasons as to why most therapists avoids using a directive approach:

  • Therapists prefer to use a non-directive approach because they understand that the experiences of each individual makes them unique and one solution that might work for others will not work for someone else. 
  • They might also use a non-directive approach because they prefer to help empower the client to understand themselves, develop an awareness about how they feel and think, and let that inform the decisions they make. 
  • They prefer to be non-directive because they are strong believers that directive approaches tend to limit the clients’ choices, their ability to think for themselves, and limit their ability to grow out of their present state. 
  • Therapists are non-directive because they believe that simulating who client’s lives are like outside of sessions but allow them to make decisions on their own would be a healthier approach than to foster dependence on a therapist. 
  • They also choose to be non-directive because they believe that telling clients which step they should take is breaching boundaries which can become unhealthy dependence.

Therapists usually follow a non-directive approach and in some cases a combination of both approaches however in either cases, the boundaries are respected and kept firm and clear. 

What this means is that while the therapist might make suggestions, they will not impose on your boundaries nor will they make these suggestions as ultimatums- the client will be free to take suggestions or to discard them. 

They might also help you make plans of actions and in the process suggest certain steps that you can take but they will not force these plans of actions onto you.

An ethical directive and non-directive therapist will prefer to work collaboratively with the client where the client will have a say into what works and does not work with them and in the process give space to the client to make changes and accommodations even in these plans. 

A therapist might psychoeducate a client, such as give you information about certain psychological constructs and might even suggest that you see a doctor or additional medical assessments etc- however even in this case, your therapist will not impose these suggestions on to you.

Is your therapist being ethical?

If you start noticing that your therapist is being too direct and is imposing their values and beliefs of what you should be doing on to you with no regard for your own boundaries, your therapist could be behaving in unethical ways.

An ethical therapist knows how to listen to you and is attentive to the conversation to find an underlying message, if this is not what they are doing- it could be a sign that they are unethical. 

It is important that you make sure that your therapist is being ethical and some of the ways you can discern that for yourself includes:

An unethical therapist is that they judge you or shame you for what you might have said or decisions you have made etc. 

An unempathetic therapist is an unethical one, so if you feel like your therapist is judging you, you should consider moving on from this therapist. 

When you are working with a therapist, and you notice your therapist is starting to take advantage of your vulnerability, you need to find yourself a new therapist immediately. 

This could manifest in ways such as, they ask you out for dinner or they tend to make sexual suggestions or romantic propositons etc. 

If you find that your therapist has not been mindful in their responses via email, chat, or calls nor have they helped you feel safe, heard, and supported and the non responses continue- it is possible that your therapist is breaching ethicality and it is best for you to move on to someone else. 

Therapist confidentiality is a major ethical aspect of the mental health professional field. This means that your therapist should not be sharing any information about you unless they think you are an immediate danger to yourself or someone else. 

If you have any reason to believe that they have broken confidentiality, for example your details with someone else who they are not supposed to consult with, you have the right to terminate and move on. 

In such a case where your therapist is exhibiting unethical behaviours, it is very likely that they are being unethical. It is best that you choose to change therapists and that you find someone else to work with.

Should I Consider seeing someone else?

If you find that your therapist has not been mindful nor have they made adjustments and accommodations to help you feel safe, heard, and supported after you have addressed the issue to them, it is possible that your therapist is breaching ethicality and it is best for you to move on to someone else. 

In such a case, you can let them know that you would like to terminate the sessions with them and be direct in your feedback while doing so. 

You have every right to change therapists if you find that the way this therapist works is not the kind of support you need or require. 

For every therapist, there is a certain ethical guideline that one has to follow. Therapists that are unethical pose the threat of harming a client. 

So once you have had the conversation, pay attention to how they are accommodating of your needs while you also respect their boundaries as your therapist. 

Pay attention to how they are dealing with your crisis needs and your anxieties, make sure that you feel safe and that you trust your gut. 

Conclusion

In this blog we have discussed whether it is normal for your therapist to tell you what to do. 

We have also discussed why therapists don’t usually tell you what to do, what you can do if they are telling you what to do, and whether your therapist is being ethical or not in their practice. 

References

Why Won’t My Therapist Just Tell Me What to Do?webmd.com/mental-health/features/do-therapists-tell-you-what-to-do

When Your Therapist Tells You What to Do. https://medium.com/invisible-illness/when-your-therapist-tells-you-what-to-do-1bd408a95a53

What was missing from this post which could have made it better?

[Sassy_Social_Share type="standard"]