Why speaking to your friends isn’t a replacement for therapy

Friends are fantastic and incredibly supportive but they probably don’t have the professional training, the time or the objectivity to offer anything comparable to the level of support that your therapist can. Speak to your friends, but don’t let that stop you from also speaking with a professional.

How many times have you heard someone say, or thought yourself, something along the lines of: “I don’t need therapy. I have amazing friends that I speak with”?

I don’t mean to denigrate speaking with friends about we’re feeling and thinking. In fact, I expect that a majority of my articles include that encouragement. Instead, I hope to explain why I believe you should also, along with speaking to your friends, speak with a trained professional about your thoughts, feelings and experiences. Friends are fantastic and incredibly supportive but they probably don’t have the professional training, the time or the objectivity to offer anything comparable to the level of support that your therapist can.

Qualifying to become a therapist is a years long training that includes learning the latest theories of helping and as well as the skills necessary to sit with someone through their struggles. Even more importantly, I believe, therapist training usually requires years of self-development on the part of the therapist. Sitting with someone isn’t easy and the urges to immediately solve a problem or lighten someone’s burden are huge, even when we know that these activities can be immensely disempowering. Friends help and so do therapists but in different ways. Friends offer sympathy, closeness and companionship when we go through difficult times. A therapist would also offer this support but would in addition provide a safe space to explore deeper issues that we usually can’t get to with our friends.

Your therapist isn’t your friend. They’re kind, trusting and competent companions who are there with you but at the same time are independent from you, your relationships and your life. Relying on your friends to be your sole source of support through trying times doesn’t provide you with the objective and private outlet that a therapist can. If you’re even hesitating for a second whether you should say something to your friend or if you’re weighing how a certain comment may affect what your friend will think of you then you’re holding yourself back. Having to pick your words carefully is a distraction from what’s really at hand and it’s stopping you from fully exploring your thoughts and feelings. Essentially, your friends are too involved in your life to be there like a therapist can. They likely know all the characters in your experiences. They have their own definition of who you are and may feel, even more completely selfless reasons, compelled to you from changing and growing. Statements like “you’re not acting like yourself” and “that’s not like you” may offer some sympathy and indicate concern and closeness from your friends but, in a way, they also stop you from growing. 8 year old you is probably very different from the 25 year old you. What does “acting like yourself” really mean in this case?

Friends and therapists can both provide important support in times of immediate crisis but therapists can also be a supportive over the long term in another way by supporting your personal growth. Committing a period of time every week to explore and purposefully develop yourself with the support of a professional has incredible potential. Setting up something similar with a friend simply isn’t realistic. Sitting with a therapist for an hour every week over several months allows you to develop an incredible bond and as the trust grows and the relationship develops, it’s likely that many of your relational patterns that you have with your friends and family will show themselves in therapy. Purposefully exploring these patterns, behaviors, feelings and thoughts with your therapist can reveal so much about who you are and provide you with opportunities for growth as you determine whether you want to keep or changes these patterns.

Talking to your friends is amazing. Being vulnerable, sharing what you’re feeling as well as listening attentively to what your friends are experiencing is the bedrock for an incredibly close and healthy relationship. Do it. Just also, if you can, seek out a trained mental health professional who can support you and help you grow. There’s no end to the benefits that their training and experience coupled with their objectivity and independence and your commitment to growth can attain.

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