People are always interested in what being an advice columnist is really like, here are answers to the most commonly asked questions based on my experiences and information gathered through interviews with other agony aunts and uncles.

Do you make the problems up?

Most magazines, newspapers, web sites or other places offering advice are sent so many letters there’s no need to write their own. However, letters that are published are often edited by agony aunt/uncle or editorial staff before being printed in a magazine, paper or website. The reason for this may be to protect someone’s identity; to maintain confidentiality; and where letters are lengthy and complex, to create a shorter story for audiences to follow. If someone has multiple problems it may be only one is focused on for publication/broadcast.

Why do people read problem pages?

Evidence suggests people read problem pages for entertainment, because they find them amusing, to get advice for themselves or a friend, to improve their life skills, or to reassure themselves they’re okay compared to other people, or that they’re ‘normal’, or their lives are not as bad as other people’s. For advice columns where audience/peer advice is given alongside the replies from agony aunts/uncles, people may tune in to see if their answer has been included.

Do advice columnists have all the answers?

Sadly no. And magic wands don’t come with the job either, no matter how much we could all do with them. Agony aunts and uncles can try and help people figure out their problems, consider their options, point them to places that might help them further, discuss potential solutions. However not everyone will be in a place where they are ready to hear this advice. They may not always understand what’s suggested. Or the agony aunt or uncle may suggest things that are not suited to their needs or feasible within their situation. For many life events there is not an immediate fix and sometimes there are no solutions. Within modern media and advice giving particular there is a pressure to give answers, suggest cures or recommend direct courses of action. Advice here runs along a narrative of hope, change, redemption or salvation. It is important that advice givers not only make their limitations clear, but also challenge the idea that we can make everything better. Sometimes we can’t. Sometimes we shouldn’t. Very often we don’t know what to do any more than the person seeking help. Pretending otherwise is dishonest but can be upsetting to hear if people are in crisis. It remains a good reason why columns and programmes should, where possible, always allow for dialogue.

How can I get a job as an Agony Aunt?

There are four general routes in:

Journalist route – either through being on staff at a magazine where you’re required to answer problems, or through making a career as a columnist who answers people’s problems (such as Irma Kurtz – Cosmopolitan, or Deirdre Sanders – The Sun). You may also be an established writer who crosses over into advice giving.

Celebrity route – in recent years celebrities such as Vanessa Feltz, Abbie Titmus, Jodie Marsh, Jordan (aka Katie Price), Molly Ringwald, Graham Norton and Jeremy Kyle have fronted advice columns, some already have a link with advice giving in other media (radio or television) and extend this to print media (and vice versa). Others are offered a column on the basis of being well known. A celebrity may or may not read any problems or write the advice column they are paid to front.

Practitioner route – psychologists, medics, and therapists who already have a practice in teaching, research or healthcare are picked to write columns based on the skills they have in their working lives. They may already have had some experience working in other areas of media.

The accidental route – this is less common now than in the past but a number of advice columnists got their job through being a secretary at a magazine, paper or organization and assisted with answering problems, before moving into the full time role of agony aunt or uncle.

What qualifications do you need?

Some agony aunts claim the only qualification you need for the job is common sense. Unsually it’s a bit more complicated than that with advice columnists coming from a range of backgrounds that bring with them different skills. Journalists have a background within media practice; some have undertaken specific training as a journalist. However there is no accredited course for being an advice giver and quite often the role of answering questions is given to reasonably junior staff. Some journalists have a team of people to help them answer the questions they get (on bigger publications) which can be as involved as actually finding answers to problems or ensuring everyone who requests them receives pre written standard answers/fact sheets. Celebrity advisors tend to have no formal qualifications for advice giving or journalism, although there are some who are celebrity counsellors/therapists who have a formal qualification. It is worth noting not all celebrity Agony Aunts write their own columns, in many cases they are paid a retainer to front the column which staffers at the magazine write for them (although many magazines deny this practice is commonplace). Practitioners are often qualified in terms of certification in therapy, counselling, clinical practice (as a medic, psychologist or psychiatrist). However not all media advisors who are professionally qualified provide contemporary advice and some may struggle to give advice outside their area (for example a counsellor asked to give medical advice or vice versa). Some established advice columnists who come from a journalism background question whether those who do the job from a therapy/medical background can match the demand for entertaining copy with accurate advice (they may manage the latter but not the former).

Is there a training course I can take to be an advice columnist?

At this time there is no training course, vetting system, nor mandatory skill standards required to do this job. Most people become aunts/uncles from a background in journalism, therapy, healthcare, or academia/research. Some learn on the job. Others appear to have impressive qualifications in medicine or therapy – but may not always be truly skilled for the position. As well as being able to respond to problems, you also need to be able to communicate in a specific style as suited to the media outlet you’re working for and the needs of your audience. And convey often complex messages succinctly. Training in how to communicate clearly, deal with crises and particularly address issues around suicide, self harm, abuse and violence – with an understanding of what these issues may mean in diverse country settings is undoubtedly an asset but not everyone who does this job has the time, resources or support to undertake such training, nor know how to access it. A minority of advice columnists offer work experience or training to young people who want to know what the job involves. Some advice columnists undergo training through charities or health organisations or take a counseling degree to help improve their work.

Are agony aunts real?

This question is asked far less for those who give advice on TV where you can see the person who’s answering viewer problems. On radio there is sometimes the question of whether the person you hear is the person named as an agony aunt or uncle, but usually the person who’s credited with that role will be the one you hear on aire. Some agony aunts are instantly recognizable either by their voice or their appearance and have become household names – for example Anna Raeburn or Denise Robertson in the UK. For print and online media, however, it is a bit less clear cut. UK readers of a certain age may have written in to Jackie magazine in the 1970s and 1980s, asking help from the Cathy and Claire page. This was hugely popular but neither Cathy nor Claire existed. Instead a range of staffers from the magazine took turns answering reader problems. On some newspapers it’s been reported the kindly middle-aged aunty who apparently hosts the page is actually written by a young male journalist. It’s not unusual for celebrities to appear to front a page in a magazine or newspaper but for their column to be partly or solely ghost written for them.

Do you choose which problems are answered?

It depends. Some media outlets allow you to have a say in the letters you answer or the phone calls you take on a TV or radio show. Others select for you what problems you respond to. If you’re answering through your own website or podcast you may have a wider range of choice in what to cover. Most media outlets have far more questions submitted than they can broadcast/publish so there is always an element of selection of which questions are publicly answered. Some people specifically request they do not want their question printed or broadcast. Some state they just want to offload their feelings but do not want a reply.

Do you publish/broadcast all the problems you are asked?

In most cases the answer would be no due to the volume of questions received. For every problem page, or radio/TV agony slot there will be more questions or callers than can be covered. Questions are selected for answer based on being engaging, topical and relevant (if, for example, a particular issue is under discussion on a radio phone in). In some cases they may be covered on a first come first served basis. For websites there may be more leeway where the constraints of print or broadcast media of word and time limits don’t apply so you may be able to publish more questions there.

Do you answer all the letters you are sent?

Again, it depends. Advice columnist Marjorie Proops (Daily Mirror) famously argued it was a duty of any agony aunt or uncle to answer every single problem sent in, regardless of what ended up in print. Many established agony aunts (including myself) agree with this sentiment as if you are making your living on the back of other people’s problems then everyone deserves a personalized reply. And that people with problems, however minor, deserve an answer if they’ve reached out for help. However not all advice columnists, publications, editors or producers feel the same and so for some media outlets only a selection of questions are answered, or automated replies can be sent out via email containing the numbers of helplines or charities. In some cases people are told the agony aunt cannot respond to everyone who gets in touch. Sometimes it is only the published question that receives any reply.

Are the letters you get sent serious, or a joke?

Most letters are genuine, that is they’re based on questions people have about their lives they want help with. If a letter is abusive, threatening or a very obvious tease then it may be ignored. However with taboo topics, people deal with them with humour or anger to hide their embarrassment. So they may still want help even if it seems as if they’re trolling. And even if one person’s idea of a joke is to ask about something like cross-dressing, sexual abuse, or addiction, it doesn’t mean other readers may not be affected and gain support from a reply. It is usually down to individual advice columnists and colleagues at print/broadcast media to decide how to respond to questions that might seem like a joke. Where advice columnists respond to all problems there’s a issue about time wasting where someone writes in with a question as a joke or as attention seeking but doesn’t actually have a problem. Since it’s often impossible to know the default option for those who do reply to all is usually to treat it as if it’s genuine.

Are you paid to answer every problem you receive?

In most cases the answer is no. If I had a pound for every problem I’d answered over the past 13 years I’d be very wealthy by now. Advice columnists used to be retained on a journalist’s salary and some still have that agreement. Increasingly, particularly following financial cuts across the media worldwide, advice columnists are paid to answer one or more questions per week or month or to appear on a regular TV or radio slot that may vary in terms of how often it runs and how long for. There are still others who are not paid but host and/or write an advice column as an exchange to promote their book, website etc. Journalists have raised the question of what happens where advice columnists are paid to answer a specific range of questions in print or broadcast media, but where they have many more questions in need of an answer (see above). Which means many advice columnists who do answer all correspondence will be doing so on a largely voluntary basis.

Should I pay to be an agony aunt?

No. If you are writing an advice column then you should either be paid for your work or decide if you wish to do it on a voluntary basis. There are some websites that encourage people to sign up to become advice columnists on the promise they can earn money from the job, but they have to pay to register to be part of this service. These are a scam and are best avoided whether you want to offer, or receive, advice.

Should I pay to get advice?

My view is no you should not. That advice should be free to all, with any costs borne by the media outlet (so they pay to print/host/broadcast advice columns and programmes as well as a fee for agony aunts and uncles). Not all editors agree, viewing the popular advice column as a lucrative part of a publication and putting it behind paywalls for online publications. Additional services such as calling a helpline or text service linked to the problem page are less popular now than in the past 20 years but can be costly for the caller while making a profit for the publication. Again this is an ethical issue for editors and advice columnists to address as sometimes there is a need to fund aspects of a publication to keep some content free. In my opinion if you are offering something that is sold on the basis of offering help and care through a media outlet that should be free to access. Obviously paying for therapy is a different matter, and many therapists can now offer paid-for support over Skype, phone or email.

Do problem pages help people?

It’s assumed they do. Most media outlets carry them, and they’ve been around for generations and are anecdotally reported to be the most popular part of a newspaper outside of news and sports reportage. However, they haven’t ever really been critically evaluated, and tested to see if they’re effective. I’d love to see research completed to assess this.
We currently don’t know if people act on the advice they’re given, if they find it useful, and if it changes their lives.

Why do people contact agony aunts and uncles, don’t they have anyone else to help them?

People write in for support, advice, reassurance, or attention. Some may not have anyone to ask for advice. More commonly, they may have someone to talk to, but feel their problem isn’t something they can share. If it’s a taboo topic, something that’s likely to disrupt the person’s life (e.g. an abuse revelation, or admitting to an affair), or something they feel is too private to share, or might be dangerous or life threatening to reveal, they may want to talk to a more anonymous source. It’s sometimes easier talking to a stranger, or a person you’re unlikely ever to meet. Sometimes they don’t want help, they just want to share their story with someone else who’ll keep it safe for them. And sometimes they talk to an advice columnist to help them prepare to talk to others (friends, their boss, family, a doctor) in ‘real life’.

Do the letters you’re sent ever affect you?

Of course. Some letters are heart-warming, others are distressing. Those from children about sexual abuse, adult victims of violence, parents separated from children, or people being victimised because of their sexuality, race or lifestyle are always hard to take. Those who are despairing or suicidal are always in need of prompt and empathic attention. It’s also often difficult when one problem is very serious and the next appears to be frivolous in comparison. In these cases you have to remember everyone’s problem is a problem to them, and it’s your job to provide quality information to whoever needs it.

What do people mostly want to know?

It may vary between advice columnists, media outlets, country settings and the audience demographics. But one of the main questions we’re asked is ‘am I normal?’ followed by ‘what should I do?’. People are afraid their thoughts, feelings, bodies or emotions are somehow not average, and want reassuring. Luckily the bounds of normality are far greater than we believe, so they’re usually reassured. Other people want advice columnists to settle disputes, provide other resources or places of help, or update them on the sex or relationship education they never got at school, which can often be responsible for anxieties about fertility, contraception, genital size/shape/smell, and psychosexual problems. Friendship, family and financial problems are common, as are health-related worries, and questions about genders and sexualities. Sometimes they don’t want to know anything but simply wish to offload or confess. They may use the advice column as a place to express grief, rage or fear they cannot share in their daily lives. Or they may use an advice column as a step to seeking help elsewhere, meaning they don’t want to know an answer to a problem but they would like some pointers in how to ask for help from another service.

Aren’t you responsible for splitting up couples, or breaking up families?

A reputable Aunt/Uncle doesn’t necessarily tell people what to do. If a person has a problem, it’s our job to clarify it for them, and refer them to sources of help and support. These places can help the person decide what action they want to take. That said, in cases where someone may be at risk in a relationship from physical, sexual or emotional abuse, or are mentioning suicide or self harm we will refer them to places of support. Appreciating people may find it difficult to seek help and may take time to get to support services.
 Part of the job may involve talking to someone over time/on several occasions while they build the strength to be able to exit a dangerous or abusive situation. For some people in some countries or locations being able to leave is simply not possible and in that case the role of the advice columnist is helping someone cope as best they are able while keeping them as safe as possible.

Do you ever hear back from people who’ve asked you for help?

It varies. Some advice columns and programmes are set up where those with a problem not only get a personal answer about their situation, but can come back and discuss this if they have further questions. Or may be chased up by the advice columnist if they have shared a problem that is particularly concerning (e.g. a terminal health problem or talking about suicide). However, many media outlets cannot afford to offer such a service and it is down to individual advice columnists to decide what correspondence they enter into, and where their boundaries lie. Experience suggests people may write to more than one advice columnist or source of help with their particular problem. And that most people do not enter into correspondence with advice columnists nor acknowledge an answer. For the more upsetting problems, not hearing back from someone can be difficult. Sometimes you hear from people years later, telling you that you helped them and they’re now able to let you know this.

Aren’t Agony Aunts and Uncles just getting rich and famous at the expense of other people’s misery?

There are some people who’ve become well-known advisors, others remain fairly anonymous. There is a trend of celebrities giving advice, which most in the research and therapy communities are concerned about. The way advice should really work is that the information given should become well-known. The aunt/uncle is really just there to convey information, evaluate evidence, and refer to additional sources. If people can remember the person, not the advice, then that’s a bad sign. Ideally they’ll remember the advice, act on it, and forget who told them it in the first place. Although some advice columnists who have become well known have used their position to campaign on issues around domestic violence, contraception, access to health care, addressing child sexual abuse, miscarriage and challenging the criminalization of homosexuality. Problem pages and phone-ins only exist because people have problems so there is an element of truth in the question of profiteering from others distress. It is again for this reason why offering the best answers to all who seek help is considered vital to the role (see above).

What makes a good Agony Aunt or Uncle?

With so many people/places offering advice nowadays, it’s often hard to know who to trust. Anecdotal evidence suggests people trust who they know, so someone who is familiar, established, and probably viewed as having some kind of life experience (judged by what the columnist shares on their own life or based on their age) Editors and producers judge a ‘good’ advice columnist based on audience figures – do your columns or programmes draw in readers/listeners/viewers? Can this translate into revenue (for example relate to advertising or sales of magazines or papers?) They may also look for qualifications such as being an established journalist, healthcare professional, therapist etc. Or the person may be already known for giving advice in other media outlets. The public may have a different set of needs that includes someone who’s giving advice and is up to date on the latest information, is aware of difference – so they can give advice to people regardless of their age, sexuality, ethnicity, disability and so on. But in many cases it seems people contact more than one advice column as well as additional sources of support they find and may not have any idea of who they’re asking for help, they just want someone to give them an answer. The easier to access a media outlet is, the more likely it seems people will use it.

Can men write advice columns?

Yes, they can and do. As with women as advice givers the quality of advice given can vary. And it is more common for women to fulfil the role of Agony Aunts. However there are some excellent male advisors – such as Gary Wood and Justin Hancock.

How much money can you make by being an advice columnist?

It can range from absolutely nothing to a three figure sum (in the case of some celebrity advisors). If you’re a journalist already employed to work for a magazine, TV or radio station then you won’t be paid any extra for answering questions on the advice column/show. The exception is if you are a well-known columnist working for a publication with a high circulation rate and an established and popular problem page (or similar for television or radio programme with popular advice slot), or if you are a celebrity. Freelancers are usually paid the standard rate for content. External contributors (professionals from health/psychology etc) can be paid per letter – sums can vary from £10 to £100. Usually you only answer a few letters per week, month or fortnight. So if you are lucky you might make between £500 to £1000 per month. For some websites you are paid based on the number of times your replies are viewed. The general trend among many publications is not to pay at all. Instead people are offered a column as a means of promoting their additional books/products/services. In a nutshell this is not a job to take on if you expect to make a lot of money. A minority of people make a living as an Agony Aunt or Uncle. Most people who do the job don’t make a lot of money. It’s also not a job that’s particularly secure. Plus there is the hidden aspect of the job that if you are not salaried to answer both the published/broadcast questions and every other letter that is submitted then you may be answering unpublished problems without being paid to do so. And the ongoing training you’ll need to put yourself through to keep up to date with courses, charities, research, legal developments etc also happens in your own time.

What does the job involve?

Depending on where you are giving advice it will involve answering one or more questions in print, online or through broadcast media. In print you’ll usually have a selection of letters sent to you, on websites a similar format applies (unless you’re doing a live chat). Broadcast media can involve live advice giving sessions where callers ask for advice, or pre recorded programmes based on particular themes. You may or may not also answer all correspondence received personally (or have help to do this). You would also need to stay up to date with charity information, courses and books/papers relating to the areas you’re giving advice in. Plus go on training courses as needed. Some agony aunts/uncles also become involved with charity work, activism and campaigning. Or do talks for schools or colleges or offer training to professional bodies and organisations. Some advice columnists also have other jobs they run alongside the advice giving such as being a novelist, medic, therapist or researcher.

What skills do you need to be an agony aunt or uncle?

To be a competent advisor you’ll need to be an excellent communicator – either via text or verbally (or both). You’ll need to be aware of a wide range of social and health issues (from eating disorders to self harm, domestic violence to psychosexual problems, and the positive and negative challenges we may address throughout our lifespan). You’ll also need to be able to signpost people to a range of reputable agencies and organisations to help with their problems. Indeed you don’t spend much time telling people what they should do, but you are expected to tell people what their problems may be due to, and offer potential solutions, sources of help and how to access them. You’ll need to be up to date with current social and healthcare trends, which includes any political changes or shifts within the evidence base. You’ll need to undertake regular training (although most media outlets don’t check whether you are doing this) and that training needs to be contemporary and accurate. In most cases you will be provided with no training, supervision or support so you should seek to implement this informally or formally yourself. You will also need time – to familiarise yourself with evidence, to go on training courses, to be updated on current practice and to answer questions. Some questions can be done in a matter of minutes; others could take hours or even days to get right. You’ll need to be able to work to deadlines, be comfortable working in print or broadcast media and if appropriate take on additional campaigning/mentorship/patron roles.

Can I set up my own advice column?

Anyone can be an expert. You can set up your own blog or website offering advice. Some people do this for free, others as part of their therapy service, some charge for the advice they give. Obviously if you are offering advice as part of wider work (as a healthcare provider, therapist etc) then you must ensure any activities within advice giving adhere to current evidence based practice and fall under your codes of conduct and supervision. If you have no particular qualifications you still can offer advice, although it may be specific to your area of knowledge/experience. For example if you’ve been a foster parent to many children you might give tips on childcare. If you’re into bondage you might tell folk how to do this safely. If you’re a sex worker you might want to offer tips on sex and relationships based on your observations on clients. Advice giving doesn’t have to fit the standard ‘problem page’ format, but can focus around questions you answer. Again this approach could get you a reputation and help you get a regular column somewhere, but it’s not guaranteed. Whether or not you intend to charge for your services do remember that you can also be held liable if you give poor advice or information someone claims was harmful. So you need to consider insurance and supervision. Using advice giving to sell products or make money may work but we are becoming more aware of poor practice so those only intending to do this work for profit or scam should be aware they could be chased up.

What would being an advice columnist qualify me to do?

Pretty much what it says on the tin. The job involves offering advice. So you can extend that role into other media formats, and give talks about the work you do. If it’s an extension of your professional work you may also draw upon your advice giving experiences in teaching and training sessions you run. Writing an advice column does not make you medically qualified or give you any qualifications in counselling or therapy. You cannot claim such skills simply from writing a column nor charge for professional services on that basis. If you have been writing an advice column but want to be a therapist or healthcare practitioner you need to retrain in those professions.

Where are Agony Aunt jobs advertised?

Usually via invitation or through journalism networks. Sometimes offers are sent out to agencies to find suitable candidates. Some people have got the role through having an agent who has approached publishers/broadcasters, while others have found a role after writing to editors/producers. Given the media is currently struggling financially there are very few openings for paid roles for advice givers and those that do become available tend to go to established experts, celebrities or existing staff.

That’s not to say you can’t consider the job, and you may find you do it informally helping out friends and colleagues. Remember the tradition of advice giving in media is really only an extension of the way real life communities operate – with particularly informed folk offering their ideas and support to others.

Should you answer questions from teenagers? Shouldn’t that be their parent’s job?

In theory, yes, parents should talk to their children. But we know that this may often be difficult. Parents may find some issues embarrassing or distressing, they may worry if they talk about something it’ll encourage problem behaviour, or they may not have enough knowledge on a topic to know what to say. There are some things that parents and children may not want to discuss together. And there are times, particularly when a child is at risk from their parent, that another advisor is more appropriate. We nearly always recommend teenagers talk to their parent, carer or family member. But we understand this isn’t always possible and on occasions where the parent is a risk to a young person or child we advise where else they can go for assistance.

Do you ever have question that resonates with your own experience and is it a challenge to be objective?

 Most advice columnists, like most people, have experienced numerous life events making some problems more meaningful to them. For some agony aunts and uncles drawing on their personal experience of mental health problems, eating disorders, bereavement, sexuality etc can be a way to connect with their audience and allow people to know they are truly understood by someone who has been there too. Other advice columnists prefer to keep their private lives separate from their advice giving and focus on more practical aspects of signposting to services to support those in need. They argue even if you have had life experiences they won’t cover all that your audience will have been through and even if you share an experience your ways of coping and reacting may be different to someone else’s. Some agony aunts list their qualifications in part on having lived through difficulties and crises, while others present a more aspirational persona of being able to cope with whatever life throws at them. Speaking personally the letters that resonate the most are easier to answer, I have to think more carefully about events I haven’t experienced to ensure I cover everything relevant. I don’t even try to be objective but I am always aware I’m only hearing one side of any story and one person’s version of events so to try and be aware there may be other interpretations and issues for them to consider.

People ask you what they cannot ask others (friends, partners). Do you notice change in what cannot be talked about with people we know?

 There are some topics people might prefer not to talk about with friends and family. That may be because they feel it’s taboo to talk about explicit sexual questions with people they know. Or because it may be dangerous in some communities, cultures or families to discuss things like sexualities, infidelity, wanting an abortion or sex before/outside of marriage. Not all friends or family members are sympathetic or safe, and it may be they are the source of the problem a person needs help with. People may prefer to talk to a stranger, someone they won’t ever knowingly meet, who can give them a second or impartial opinion. And sometimes if they are working out how they feel about something or what they want to do they may not want to tell friends or family who may try and fix the problem or tell them what to do. Sometimes people have nobody else to turn to. And sometimes they do tell friends or relatives, doctors or therapists but need someone else’s opinion or they don’t feel those people had given them a satisfactory answer to their issue.

Shouldn’t agony aunts all give the same advice?

All advice columnists have different styles, which many make into their trade mark. It may be they are known for being frank, feisty, judgemental, severe or loving and cuddly. Some will bring in their own life stories and personal histories, others focus solely on the reader situation. Some may talk about how they coped with problems while others will draw more broadly on wider society and choices people might make. For some the focus will be very much ‘common sense’ and telling people what they should or ought to be doing, while others prefer to outline diverse options and leave it to the audience to decide what to do. They may have very different reactions to and advice for people’s problems so solutions may well vary. This can also differ depending on the advice columnists’ background, skills, faith, beliefs and where they are working – so it may be in some countries there are particular issues they cannot talk about even if they would like to. I can’t speak for all advice columnists but I am not keen on having standardised approaches to advice giving, which takes away from diverse audience needs and preferences and may not play to the varied skills advice givers possess. One suggestion is that advice giving could be standardised by having clinicians vet all replies from advice columnists but this assumes the problems we mostly deal with are medical (they aren’t) or that clinicians possess specialist skills that allow them to oversee largely social issues. Given we know many health professionals, educators and therapists are not always as good as they could be (hence people writing to advice columns) the idea that the medical profession is privileged as knowing the most about how to solve our problems is a concern. Advice should all be given to the highest standards possible, and certainly that is not always the case currently. But that doesn’t mean it should be uniform.

Do people ever get angry with you?

Often people getting in touch with advice columnists are angry. Rightfully angry about problems in their life, health or other circumstances. They may be afraid or distressed, which they express aggressively. For those writing or emailing for help they may be unable to express their rage anywhere else and so use the advice column for this. While people may get agitated during discussions on radio or television. We are often uncomfortable with people being angry or despairing and it can be more difficult particularly on live broadcast media to work with someone when they are very angry as both the agony aunt and audience may struggle to follow what the issues are. However that doesn’t mean people can’t talk about things that make them angry. Sometimes they may be angry with an advice columnist if they feel (or have been) given poor advice or are being told things they do not want to hear. Usually through conversation this can be addressed although as with any other profession abusing advice columnists isn’t acceptable and where threats or abusive language is used it may be people are excluded from advice giving services. This is rare. What is more common is people NOT being angry, where the advice columnist sees them discussing their situation in impassive or distracted ways or where they are afraid to say how upset they are. In which case you may spend time giving people the permission or tools to express feelings of rage, resentment or regret.