As the Dow Jones industrial average plunged more than 500 points today, advisors said they were trying to reassure clients by getting them to focus on long-term investment goals rather than on short-term market fluctuations.

Stocks suffered their worst one-day loss since December 2008. The Dow industrial index shed 512 points in a sell-off that wiped out all of the 2011 gains for the major averages.

"I tell my clients that when we started we created a plan. We don't want to make changes in investment strategy in times of crisis,"' said Robert Haley, founder and principal of Portland, Ore.-based Advanced Wealth Management, who reminded clients that investment strategy changes should be spurred by changes in their goals or life situations, not market volatility.

As financial advisors fielded calls today from clients' suffering stock market jitters, several advisors said they simply advised clients to be patient and sit tight.

"We know that ugly stuff like this is going to happen from time to time,'' said Robert O'Blennis, chief compliance officer and financial advisor for Overland Park, Kan.-based Retirement Planning Group. "I try to reassure them, to commiserate with them. Sure, this is a tough time right now, but the future that we're looking at for a client is five and ten and twenty years out."

A Fidelity Investments spokesman said clients are being given the same cautionary advice about market volatility that it gives its own financial advisors.

"The most important point is for our advisors to tell clients that market volatility is to be expected,'' said Fidelity Investments spokesman Stephen Austin. "We've always said to clients that you are invested for the long term."

Fidelity Investment advisors are also telling clients that "we've been here before," he said.

"It (stock market volatility) can be unnerving for investors," Austin said. "But history has shown that some of the worst short-term losses in the stock market were often followed by rebounds."

Diane Pearson, a financial advisor for Pittsburgh-based Legend Financial, an independent fee-only firm, says her firm has taken an active role in preparing clients for possible market dips. With the recent debt-ceiling debate creating anxiety on Wall Street, the firm's investment committee was discussing what to do in the event of a severe market downturn as recently as last week, she said.

The firm also started telling clients early this year to expect an unstable stock market in 2011. "We've told them that it is going to be a very volatile year, similar to the daily movements we saw in 2007 and 2008," she said.

"We have developed most of our client portfolios with some kind of hedging already built with it, just to weather these kinds of days," Pearson said. "Having commodities within the portfolio has been a big factor, and we've been holding gold in the portfolio for at least that last five to six years."

Tom McFarland, a fee-only advisor for The Darrow Group in Concord, Mass., said the firm's advisors have been apprising its clients of worldwide market volatility. He noted the economic factors fueling this year's unsteady market are quite different from the environment in 2008.

"Unlike the financial crisis of 2008, everybody knows what the issues are," McFarland said. "Governments-Spain, Portugal, Ireland, and Italy-are spending too much money. The U.S. is right there, too. We're borrowing 40 cents out of every dollar we spend."

-Jim McConville