Most of us have heard things like, “I don’t need a therapist- that’s what friends are for”, or “Why would I pay someone so I can talk about my problems? I have friends”. You may have said these things yourself.
Yes, friends (or family) can be good sources of support, and it’s great we don’t have to pay them to talk to us. But, talking with friends may not always be effective, and it could even involve some risks, while seeing a therapist can have a number of advantages. Here are some of the reasons why:
1. Friends are biased. They like you and may be sensitive to your feelings. They’re also invested in maintaining the relationship, so they may hesitate to tell you what you need to hear. Therapists don’t know you, don’t have any preconceived notions about you, and have no personal investment in your life.
2. Therapists have training. To become a therapist takes significant training- on average, 4 years of college and at least 2 years of graduate school (at least 5 if they have a doctorate), as well as at least another year to get licensed. Even if your friend IS a therapist, it would be best to get your own therapist, as every other reason on this list will still apply.
3. Therapists are bound by confidentiality. Therapists are trained to keep all identifying information about their clients private, and they are bound by their codes of ethics and by state laws to do so. If they don’t, they will face serious consequences like loss of their license, reputation, and ultimately their livelihood. You may have an understanding with family or friends that you keep each other’s business private, but no one is bound by anything to do so, and we know that oftentimes secrets get out- either intentionally or unintentionally.
4. Friends judge. It’s human nature, we can’t help it. Whether it’s overt or covert, friends may disapprove or have their own opinions about us, our choices, or our situations. Some things it’s best not to share with them. Therapists, though also human beings, are trained not to judge, and to accept their clients for who they are. It’s how clients feel comfortable and it helps create an environment for change, which are necessary elements for counseling to be effective.
5. Friends may not see things that a therapist would. Again, therapists have training. They also often have several clients at a time, many dealing with similar issues. And they may have years of experience in helping people with problems just like yours. It’s unlikely any friend would have similar training or experience.
6. Friends can leave, while therapists are not allowed to abandon their clients. We all know friendships change, people grow apart, falling-outs happen, and so forth. Unless something happens to your therapist, he or she is going to continue to be there for you, until you decide you are done with therapy, or until you have a conversation about it not being beneficial. Therapists don’t abandon, and certainly don’t ghost clients, whereas friends can do whatever they want.
7. You can be yourself with a therapist. Once you get comfortable, you can express yourself in any way that you need to, or you can take time to figure out just who you are supposed to be. On the other hand, we might hesitate to be our real selves in front of friends, or at least certain friends, for fear that they may judge or disapprove.
8. You can fire a therapist, but it might be harder to get rid of a friend. Let’s say a friend turns on you, turns out not to be a great friend, or something similar- yet knows a lot about you. You might hesitate to end the friendship or to tell that person how you really feel. On the other hand, a therapist/client relationship is a professional one, and since therapists respect and must keep your confidentiality, you can end the relationship without those same fears.
9. A therapist will push you in ways your friends may not. A therapist’s job is to help you to grow and to work toward your goals, whatever they may be. Friends may or may not support you, or they may or may not share the same goals, so friendships are not inherently designed for you to grow.
10. Friends may be more invested in you NOT changing. Let’s say you and your friends are big partiers and you go out drinking every weekend, but you decide you are growing tired of this, you want to drink or party less, or you want to start saving your money or developing healthier habits. Well, your friends may not be on the same page. They may view this as “no fun” and they may frown upon you wanting to change, pressuring you to continue as you have been. Therapists, however, will always support your goals, particularly ones that may promote a healthier lifestyle.
11. Friends might grow tired of listening to you. With friends you might have to monitor how often you complain about your love life or your parents, your repeated poor choices, or your drama of the week. They may view you as dramatic, unstable, or worse, and they may decide you are too high maintenance for them to have as a friend. Therapists, though…this is their job! Therapy isn’t just about problems and helping you to get better at solving or dealing with them, but a therapist should be working with whatever you bring into the session. There is no growing tired of you or abandoning you.
As stated, friends and family may be great sources of support and occasional sounding boards for problems or concerns. However, it might be best to keep certain issues separate- to keep friends as friends, to protect ourselves, or not to burden our friends with our problems. And similarly, this is why therapists keep therapeutic relationships professional. Not only is it legal and ethical, but it’s been shown to be the most helpful to client outcomes.
I encourage anyone who wants a place to safely process issues to try seeing a therapist. There are many wonderful therapists out there who help people with the very same issues each day. If you would like to find a referral, you can do so here.