Your Friend Is Not Your Therapist...Unfortunately
Why Seeing a Therapist is Different Than Venting to a Friend
You’ve probably heard someone say, “My friend is my therapist.” After all, friendships are some of our most meaningful and important relationships. And while friends can be wonderful sources of compassion and a shoulder to cry on, there are distinct differences between a trusted friend and a therapist and specific reasons why it’s often beneficial to see a therapist instead of relying solely on a friend.
Unlocking the Benefits of Therapy: Objectivity, Professional Training, Time Prioritization, and Solid Boundaries
- A therapist has objectivity, professional training and offers a confidential setting. A therapist has the training, education, and tools to help you understand and navigate the mental health concerns and challenges you’re facing. Friends can offer advice, a listening ear, and a shoulder to cry on, but they won’t always know how to help you build the skills to lead a more fulfilling life. Therapists can offer a perspective that can help you make positive changes in your life. Therapists can pull from a network of resources and offer books, workbooks and strategies that can change your life. Therapists have gone to school and been educated in specific therapeutic modalities and have been trained to help people understand and process their thoughts and feelings. They also have a completely objective point of view. Friends typically know the close people in their friends’ lives and, as much as they can try to remain unbiased, are ultimately subjective in the opinions they offer.
- A therapist has solid professional boundaries. Therapists can help offer an objective outside perspective that your friends can’t. They can help you explore your inner experiences and background with a nonjudgmental lens and no preconceived notions. You don’t have to sugarcoat the truth when you are with your therapist. You are free to be honest without worrying about whether a friend will be offended by what you say about a mutual friend or family member. You can be honest without worrying about hurting someone’s feelings.
- A therapist has the time to really prioritize YOU and your feelings. A session with a therapist is a time when you are free to explore and express YOUR feelings. The focus is on you. When having a venting session with a friend, you may think, “I’m taking up too much time talking about me!” or maybe you feel like you’re listening to a friend talk so much about their problems that there’s no time left for you to bring up yours. A therapist is there to listen to you with their undivided attention. It can be a great feeling to speak to someone when you know their number one concern for the session is to support you, hear you completely and provide a space of unconditional positive regard. Therapists can challenge your thinking and suggest new ways to live your life.
- You don’t have to feel guilty or uncomfortable about taking up a therapist’s time. Therapists are there for YOU. Maybe something significant happened over the week and you really need to talk to someone, but all of your friends are busy with other obligations and don’t have the time to chat right away. When you’re with your therapist, you don’t have to worry about taking up too much of their time or “burdening” them with your troubles - it’s their job to dedicate their time to you and listen to you talk about yourself and your experiences. Feeling seen, heard, and attended to this way can be incredibly validating.
So, while our friends can be incredible sources of support, working with a therapist can help ensure the focus is solely on you. It can give you the tools and cognitive and emotional skills to live a better life and have better relationships. Friends can be essential to one’s support system, but they shouldn’t be the only part, especially in times of heightened stress.