Giving advice can feel sooo good, but may not be helpful

Giving advice can feel sooo good, but may not be helpful

Life & Death Matters Post

Giving advice is such a common response when someone presents a problem or appears to be in distress. Giving advice when someone is asking a practical question like “how do you empty a catheter bag” is appropriate. Giving advice is usually the result of good intentions and a strong desire to ‘fix’ whatever seems to be the matter. But sometimes giving advice can be disempowering in the sense that it can make people dependent upon us, particularly if we are seen as an ‘expert’ in our field of work.

Questions you can ask yourself that will help you know what is needed include:

  • “How do I know this is the most appropriate response in this situation?”
  • “By giving advice am I creating dependence or independence??”
  • “Will giving advice in this situation help or hinder this person in making other decisions in my absence?”

Rather than giving advise you might consider asking (in your own words!) questions such as:

  • “So how would you define the problem?”
  • “How does it specifically interfere with you or how does it affect you or your life?”
  • “How would you like it to be different?”
  •  “What would it look like if things were the way that you want them to be?”

You can also help people explore their previous coping and problem solving experiences:

  • “How have you approached problems like this in the past”
  • “What helped you to resolve things then?”
  • “What do you think would be most helpfulright now?”

For family and clients, these types of questions are more likely to facilitate their own awareness of intrinsic resources, strengths, and wisdom, qualities which are often overlooked and devalued in traditional health care.

Giving advice is one of the roadblocks Elizabeth Causton will be addressing in the online course  “Compassionate Communication” starting October 9th.


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Courtney Murrell is a PSW who works in hospice palliative care.

When she is not at work, she is spending time with her family, going on hikes or writing. Courtney is a lifelong learner and loves to share her passion for writing as a wellness practice.

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