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Giving information




Staff can often feel like the most helpful thing they can do is to give a patient advice, especially if the person seems very stuck in their situation and/or it seems obvious what the patient should do. But it’s usually more complicated than that! And what’s a mentalising angle on advice? That it’s somewhere between unhelpful and irrelevant because, as you hardly need us to remind you, it’s all about what’s going on in each other’s minds. It’s not about working out what we think the other person should do, but like most therapeutic approaches, is to support people to work out their own solutions.


Giving advice and giving information – what’s the difference and which is best? Advice is suggesting what the person may do. Giving information means giving them the facts so they can decide for themselves what to do.


Q.I  In which of these situations might it be appropriate to offer advice or give information? When is it definitely not a good idea?

  1. A patient wants to stop taking their medication
  2. A patient with an open wound wants to self- discharge
  3. A detained patient asks you not to tell anyone else, but they are planning to slip out of the ward tomorrow and go home to see their dog
  4. A patient asks you if they should forgive their wife for having an affair
  5. A patient asks you what kind of pension they should invest in
  6. A patient asks about how they can cope with ward rounds, which they find very intimidating
  7. A patient says that they find working makes them too tired to be a good parent. They ask what you’d do in their situation
  8. A patient asks you what you think are the chances of a horse called Temazepam winning the 3.30 at Ascot.
  9. A patient says they feel uncomfortable about claiming Disability Living Allowance even though they are entitled to it. They ask for your advice about what to do.



The following are the sorts of factors staff need to consider before doing what comes naturally, advising someone who is either asking for your opinion or who you feel you can really help by suggesting to them what to do:

  • People don’t necessarily want to be told by someone else what to do. It can make them feel less able to sort things out for themselves
  • The process of trying to work out what to do can be as valuable as the solution, or options, they come up with
  • It’s very unusual to have enough information about the person and situation to be able to give advice that is as useful as the ideas the patient themselves can generate
  • It may be the wrong advice!
  • Usually it’s possible to guide the person through the options, so that they can make the decision themselves without being influenced by what you think is best


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