If you have friends you feel you can open up to and talk about your personal problems, that’s fantastic! Enjoy and make the most of this wonderful connection (while also being mindful to not use them as free therapy and that friendship is about give-and-take and is, therefore, reciprocal. No one likes to feel used.
However, the thing about friends is that, as I just mentioned, they’d also like attention and sooner or later you’re going to have to listen to them too. And maybe you’re totally up for that (I hope so for their sake) but other times, when we’re going through a really hard time, it can be difficult to listen to other people’s problems. Whereas a therapist won’t be burdening you with their issues and you don’t have to ask about their day and their feelings during a session. It’s this glorious hour that’s all about you!
Now, for some, that’s not actually all that glorious and they get self-conscious and feel selfish and self-centred. For those, it’s, perhaps, even more, important to talk to a therapist because it indicates a life of service and never being given the space to speak about themselves and feel heard, seen and understood. And that’s a crying shame. It feels wonderful to be truly listened to.
Because that’s the other thing about friends. They tend to listen to answer. A truly great listener, like a therapist, listens to understand.
When we, or our friends, listen to answer, it’s about giving either advice or turning the conversation back on us/them. Again, there’s nothing wrong with a friend who turns the conversation back on them – that’s friendship – back-and-forth but with a therapist, you don’t have that (but also, if a friend always makes it about themselves, they may not be very good friends and they may have narcissistic tendencies. Having said that, they might also be neurodivergent and wants to show how deeply they relate to you and your story by sharing a similar story. You can tell the difference between whether the person is really nice and has good intentions or whether the person tends to take advantage of you and tends to always have to ‘win’ whether it’s at being better than you or by having suffered more than you, as in ‘you think you have it bad, listen to my story…!)
Listening to give advice can often make us feel unheard and unheld (what does it mean to not be held… well, it’s to not feel like you’re being taken good care of within the relationship. Is the person holding your hand or dragging you along?) (I’ll be writing an article about the perils of giving advice so keep an eye out for that one but also I’ve written a whole e-book about it which you can find here).
Your friends will also have your back. They often forget to have a measured overview of the problem or consider multiple perspectives, so if you tell them that your partner has been a dick to you, they tend to become your cheerleader and hate on the partner. That can feel really nice at the time but if you then change your mind about your partner being a dick, you might feel awkward around your friend who you complained to. Might worry they judge your partner, your relationship or your decisions. A therapist doesn’t do that. It’s not their job. They’ll have your back but not blindly. They are there to support you in living the life you want and not the life they think you ought to live. And even if you do feel awkward about something you said in therapy, you could stop seeing the therapist whereas it’s harder to cut off a good friendship.
And if you’re complaining about your family or partner or another friend to a friend, you might find yourself in the awkward position of the friend interacting with the people you’ve moaned about which again won’t happen with a therapist. They’re neutral, impartial and best of all, not involved in your daily life. Once you close that door (or Zoom call) with the therapist, they don’t have access to anything else or anything more. What you’ve said and that relationship belongs in a neat container, inside a pre-arranged day and time and for an hour.
Now, what can happen is that we think our therapists would make an excellent friend and we might want to know more about them or hope they can stay friends after therapy, which they, sadly, can’t. I’ve written an article about that here.
Finally, talking to a friend doesn't guartentee confidentiality nor their undivided attention, both which are core pillars of therapy. Friends might have biased views and say really hurtful or unhelpful things like 'just get over it' or 'why are you still hung up about that?' which a therapist won't. They're usually not qualified to help with mental health issues and can make you feel ashamed or judged and, thereby, make you feel worse. Or you might fear judgement and, therefore, won't be fully honest, whereas in therapy, it might be hard to honest but it's a much safer space to be so in.
What do you think might be different for you in talking to a friend versus talking to a professional therapist? When might a friend be more helpful and when might a therapist? Do you see the pros and cons of each?
Thank you for reading. I hope you enjoyed this article. If you did, or didn't, or want to add something or have a question, feel free to comment below (but try and be kind about it - I'm a terribly sensitive soul).
Don't forget that this is just my opinion. You don't have to agree. These pieces of writing are just here to make you think and take from it what you like and find helpful and ignore the rest. At the end of the day, it's your life and, therefore, what you consume, what you believe, and what you think and feel is your choice.
Also, this article has been brought to you by a perfectly imperfect, flawsome dyslexic. I hope any potential spelling or grammar mistakes didn't take away from your enjoyment.
Meandering thoughts about life and the meaning of everything, from a know-it-not-all!