Study on Advice-giving

Here is a surprising study on advice-giving.

When you think about it, if the study holds water, then this is a huge reason why self-help groups are helpful.

What the study said nothing about was whether advice-giving helped the recipient. I learned in coaching school that giving advice is a bad idea all around. Was this true? Maybe, but maybe not always.

I hate receiving irrelevant or insulting advice, don’t you? Here’s an example of insulting advice that was once given to me (paraphrased):

“If you don’t have a car you will have to take the bus if you want to get to work, friend.”

Yes, the “friend” was tacked on there. Oddly, I didn’t even know this person, so she wasn’t a “friend.” She knew nothing about me and went ahead and assumed I didn’t know how to take a bus. I was insulted by this unwanted, unhelpful and insulting advice.

Here’s an example of advice that wasn’t relevant.

“It’s easy to get off disability. I did it! People do it all the time! What is wrong with you?”

This “advice” is based on her own personal experience of being on disability for under a year. She is ignorant of the facts. Very few people who are on long-term disability ever make it off. Being on disability increases difficulty getting back into employment. There are many reasons why this occurs. The exact figure is 0.5 PERCENT. This means that for every 200 people put on disability, one will eventually get off of it. This figure remains unchanged even after the Ticket to Work program started.

This advice was not relevant because she was representing her own experience of being on disability a very short time. My total ended up being about 35 years. According to Social Security, very few get off after this amount of time. It is extremely rare, I was told.

While irrelevant or insulting advice is certainly unhelpful (or even hurtful), what about simply stating the facts without making insulting slurs toward the advice-seeker? Read the article carefully. People who are trying to accomplish something may, or may not, be informed. Just learning a basic fact you didn’t know before can be immensely helpful. Another way to give advice that might be helpful is to steer a person toward a source of information.

Here is an example:

“I just started taking lithium a month ago. I am noticing that my skin is broken up into pimples. Should I go back to my doctor and get a drug for pimples?”

Advice might be: “Did you know that acne is a side effect of lithium?”

Will a person be insulted if I say this? Some might get mad at me and claim I have no right to “interfere” because I am not a doctor.

Oh, oh, how I wish someone had informed me, decades ago, about the harms of lithium. Simple facts! I wish someone had told me that the pimples I had in my late 20s and early 30s were signs that my kidneys were deteriorating. I don’t care if that person is a doctor or not!  The facts would have helped, especially since my own doc wasn’t supplying them.

Simply stating the facts without judging the person would be more helpful than “opinion” or using value-based words.

For instance, saying “Psychiatrists are evil sociopaths” reeks of paranoia, or rather, they might think you are! I hear this from people all the time. As a listener, for me, it’s very important to realize that if a person was deeply harmed, they are likely also to be very angry. We need to realize that a statement made in anger is just that, it’s not paranoia.

I have even heard psychologists, therapists, and psychiatrists confuse trauma and resulting (and understandable) expressions of anger with paranoia.

Paranoia is real, and people do experience it. But to say, “I was harmed by my psychiatrist” isn’t a paranoid statement. If you think it is, then please tell me, where is the paranoia? Where is the departure from reality?

A statement such as “All psychs are evil” is a sweeping generalization and contains no specifics. It is also a value judgment. I personally do not say that, (though in the past while traumatized a few years back I made some generalizations about “doctors” which I likely should not have said).

What can you do when you see someone falling down a rabbit hole and you want to prevent that person from years of lost productivity, medical problems, and early death? What can you do that is helpful that doesn’t sound preachy and doesn’t make the person think you’re paranoid?

After you share the simple facts, the person may reject the facts or rationalize what you are saying. Another reaction is to get on the defensive, defend the diagnosis, defend the words of some doctor who gave that diagnosis, and defend the drugs like they’re miracle pills.

Sharing specific experience that you witnessed first-hand, or that happened to you personally, is a way to share facts. Personal experience IS factual if reported truthfully. Consider the following:

“I was held in Walden Behavior Care’s Alcott Unit for over a week in July 2012 and after eight days I learned, much to my shock, that the attending psychiatrist didn’t know why I was there. The nurse practitioner never read the notes except for one thing: My weight.”

Or….”I was at Newton-Wellesley Hospital as inpatient when a guy was admitted who dropped dead during the admission interview.”

Or…”I developed diabetes insipidus, a kidney condition, from lithium when I was 26 that went undetected for the next 28 years.”

Where is the paranoia? Where is the confusion of the facts here, or distortion of reality?

You may not like hearing these things, but you can’t use your own discomfort as a reason to accuse the speaker of “mental illness.” It’s projection, isn’t it?

I still get accused of mental illness, psychosis, or paranoia. I feel like I have to walk on eggshells around certain people who might suddenly accuse me of psychosis if they don’t like what I am saying, or if they feel uncomfortable. Even other survivors and people who claim to be activists accuse each other of nonexistent mental disorders, just to silence each other or discredit each other.

I do not think it’s any form of compromise to refer to books. When attempting to be helpful, you could say, “Here is a book called Anatomy of an Epidemic that explains why the field of psychiatry is corrupt. RJW was a finalist for Pulitzer. Why don’t you take a look?” Hand the person the book, or any of those wonderful books out there such as Psychiatry and the Business of Madness by Bonnie Burstow.

Now you have steered the advice-seeker toward a source of facts. The advice-taker may or may not open the book. You can try supplying a link, but if they already see you as paranoid, they’ll be afraid to click on the link. They don’t want to know the facts if they come from someone they think is paranoid or “mentally ill.” This is why referring to books written by others might work more effectively.

Or of course you might hand them the FDA insert that comes with the pills. You can pick these up at most pharmacies.

Oh, how I wish someone had informed me, way back when. We need to keep sharing information and personal experience. We need to keep talking. We cannot allow accusations of MI to silence us. We have to realize that an accusation such as, “But you’re not a doctor”  is essentially a statement about social status as a way of discrediting or silencing.

While it is true they don’t want to hear, don’t want to listen, don’t want to believe, we need to be persistent. When it comes to “advice,” actually, about the best advice I ever got was “Be persistent.” I am grateful to the person who said that.

Why don’t we take a moment to thank those who informed us? Some of the advice we may have received, ages ago, was lifesaving, even if given inadvertently! Let’s take a moment here to think about those who gave us great advice and acknowledge their wisdom and insight.




Feedback and comments welcome!