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  • Alicia Paz

Your Friends Are Not Your Therapist

Since Covid-19 started spreading early this year anxiety levels are high and it appears advice is being given out everywhere on what to do and how to cope. Personally I have seen a few well shared and liked posts about how those who go to therapy don't have real friends, as real friends replace therapists. Jokes continue about how "real friends" save you money by offering you free advice on social media just like therapists.

Friends aren't your therapists

Don't get me wrong, friends can be great listeners and give great feedback and are invaluable in their own way. They may tell you your partner isn't doing their part, you deserve a better job, they understand how hard things are for you right now and can spend hour on the phone talking with you about work stress until 2am.

Friends have different boundaries and it is a mutually beneficial relationship. A healthy friendship can involve 2 am phone calls and advice giving and then at another point will involve you listening to a friend at 2am, dropping off soup when they are sick, telling them thy need to get a new job, etc. There are times when for many reasons the friends you go to might not be the best fit for your needs. Maybe you need some anonymity with your issue, maybe it's very personal or maybe you just want a neutral party to assist in a major life decision.

This great article in response to a Kanye West tweet about this topic by Taylor Gold, titled 8 Reasons Your Friends (and Twitter) Should Never Replace Therapy, great advice below that rings true even if you aren't replying to Kanye.

These eight reasons to talk to a therapist, rather than friends and family, may change your mind:

1. A therapist won’t judge you

One of the biggest perks of having a therapist? You can talk to them about literally anything without needing to filter yourself for fear of being judged. It’s basically one of the key requirements of the job.

“My job is to give you 100 percent positive regard and unconditional support, and to be completely nonjudgmental,” Kate Cummins, licensed clinical psychologist, tells Healthline.

Friends and family might not have the extensive training to keep their judgement in check on whatever you’re going through.

2. Therapists aren’t pushing their own agenda

As an unbiased third party, your therapist should be there to give the best possible guidance to you — and you alone. “The problem with friends is that they care about you and their relationship with you, so they often just agree with you to make you feel better,” says psychiatrist Scott Carroll, MD.

“Family, on the other hand, tends to advise you in ways to ‘protect you’ and minimize your risk, or [to] fit their beliefs about morals and how they think life should be lived,” he says.

These are the best-case scenarios. The worst case is that your friend or family member may actually want to control you or keep you in a pathological state for their benefit, he adds.

With a therapist, you have someone who doesn’t have the same personal stake, so they can be completely honest and objective.

3. They’re required to keep your secrets

When you choose to make your friends your therapists, you can end up putting both of you in a tough spot. Especially if you’re venting about someone they also have a relationship with, says Martinez.

While it’s important to only confide in those who you have complete trust in, with a therapist, you don’t have to worry that something you said in confidence will be turned into gossip or repeated to the wrong person.

4. Therapists have years of training under their belt to help you address the problem

While your friend may have taken a Psych 101 class, without a degree, they simply don’t have the tools to help you take action. (And even if they did, they’d have bias). “Your friends and family can listen and provide support, but a clinician is trained to understand your psychological behaviors. They can help you uncover the why,” Cummins says.

And most importantly, they can also give you healthy coping strategies, so you can change your behaviors, or move past dysfunctional thoughts or difficult emotions, she adds.

5. With a therapist, you don’t have to feel guilty about feeling “needy”

After all, you’re paying them (or insurance is)! Any relationship can turn toxic if one person feels like they’re constantly being “used” for support, but never supported in return. With a therapist, it’s not supposed to be a two-way street.

“As a therapist, you don’t expect anything back from your clients, except for them to just show up. With any other relationship you have in life, something is needed in return. If it’s your parents, they need you to be their child; if it’s a friend, they want that friendship back,” says Cummins.

6. They won’t minimize your problems

There’s nothing worse than going through a painful or traumatic experience and being told by a friend or family member that you should be “over it by now.”

The fact is, everyone experiences and manages life events differently. A therapist will understand that everyone is on their own timeline when it comes to getting over a breakup, settling into a new job, or processing any other obstacle, Cummins says.

And when it comes to other serious mental health issues like depression or anxiety — or even sub-clinical issues like loneliness or social anxiety — a therapist will never minimize or brush over your issues as not serious enough or worthy of attention like your friends or family may.

7. Talking to the wrong people might make you feel worse

“Some people have really difficult families. It may not be safe to share intimate struggles with them even if they are flesh and blood,” Martinez points out. “Others simply aren’t equipped with the ability to hear your story, and they won’t be able to empathize,” she says.

“When people share intimate struggles with those who haven’t earned the right to hear them, or who make them feel minimized, judged, or deprecated, it can do more damage than good,” she adds.

Of course, talking to select friends and family who do make you feel understood and validated can be helpful, especially if you just need a vent sesh about life stressors, says Carroll. “The irony is that you often have to go to therapy to figure out which of your friends and family are the best to talk to.”

8. They can help you grow as a person

Because of their training, a therapist is uniquely equipped to give you insight into your behaviors that can help you grow in ways that might be impossible on your own.

“For example, in the instance of a breakup, most people think talking to a therapist would be an overreaction. It’s not. It’s one of the healthiest things you can do,” says Martinez. “A breakup is fertile ground for personal growth. Yes, you are emotionally raw and vulnerable, but there’s so much potential there. It’s a chance for people to realize things about themselves they never would’ve realized had they simply talked to friends and family.”

Interesting in meeting with a DBT therapist, check out my other post on finding one.