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Talking to a Friend versus Talking to a Professional

Most of us have someone  we can go to when we need to talk. Some of us are lucky enough to have more than one. I have different people I talk to depending on what I need at the time. If I need problem solving, I talk to my brother, spouse or best guy friend; but if I need someone to just be on my side, I run right to my girl bestie. Talking to our friends and family can help us feel loved and accepted for who we are; however, sometimes it can complicate matters—or make things worse. For this reason, when I was going through a difficult transition a few years ago, I turned to a therapist instead of my trusty entourage (yes, even counsellors need counsellors sometimes!)

Here are some things to consider if you need someone to talk to:

  1. Friends are biased, Professionals are impartial.

Our friends and family know us. They care about us. They want the best for us. But sometimes they know too much. When they talk to you, or advise you, they can only do so from the lens of their own perception about who you are. They can’t just pretend they don’t know all the things they know about you. They can’t help but be biased. But a therapist doesn’t know you. They know what you tell them. The benefit is that they are working with information that you are presenting in the here and now, that has none of the history of who you used to be, things you used to do, or ways you used to think.

  1. Friends need reciprocation. Professionals focus only on your needs (it’s okay to be selfish).

Healthy relationships with friends and family requires reciprocity. You talk to them about your stuff and you listen to their stuff. But sometimes, what we have going on is too heavy. We don’t have the emotional space to make room for someone else’s stuff. However, counsellors are there just for you—literally, it’s all about you. Some therapists may self-disclose some personal details to help build rapport or comfort, but it should be very minimal. It is your space to focus on you, and you alone for as long as you need.

  1. Friends offer advice. Professionals help you find your own solutions.

Perhaps one of the biggest misconceptions about therapy is that counsellors tell you what to do. This isn’t true. It is often the well meaning family member or friend that has a litany of advice and things we ‘should’ be doing. In contrast, a good therapist will guide you towards your own conclusions—they won’t “should” on you. They do this through various questioning and exploration techniques that allow you to determine which solutions fit for you.

  1. Friends sometimes try to fix things. Professionals listen and validate.

Because our close confidants care about us, they are often eager to help us fix things. They offer to do things to help make this difficulty go away quickly. Often these good intentions seem like they should make us feel better, but we don’t. Usually because what we need is just to be heard, to know that what we’re thinking or feeling is normal, or to have the time and space to process without feeling like you have to hurry up and get better. Therapists do this. They give you the space to just be whatever you need to be. From there, they help you determine the direction you think is the right way forward.

  1. Friends can get tired of hearing about our problems. Professionals are there for you as long as you need.

We all need to vent sometimes, and friends are great for that. At times. But I’m sure we can all think of times we got a bit tired of hearing the same thing over and over from someone we know. But talking to a counsellor is different. First, because you can continue to pay someone to listen to you for as long as you want. But second, and more importantly, Professionals know how to get you out of that loop of rehashing everything all the time. So while you might be talking about the same issue every week for a year (that’s rare!) it won’t be the same conversation. 

  1. Friends are protective of you. Professionals will show you how to grow

When we care about others, we don’t want them to get hurt—and we really don’t want to be the ones that hurt them. So sometimes we’re not as straightforward with someone as we could be, or we withhold information when we could be more forthcoming. Here is a defining difference between friends and therapists. It is a therapist’s job to gently challenge you. Often this means saying the things that are hard to hear, but doing so in a supportive environment. Through this process, it helps you face those difficult things and grow beyond them. 

  1. Friends can be harsh. Professionals are supportive.

Has a friend or family member ever told you a ‘hard truth’ about yourself? How did it feel? Probably like crap. This doesn’t mean you didn’t need to hear it. But suddenly, coming from them makes you feel bad, ashamed, guilty, or question the relationship or their intentions. In contrast, a therapist is there specifically to support you through a process of facing difficult things. This means that the ‘hard truth’ is brought up in a space where you feel ready to deal with it, and with a supportive person to walk you through any difficult thoughts or emotions you have about it.

Having people that support us, who we can turn to in times of need, is one of life’s greatest gifts. The key is knowing which support we need in certain situations. If you often turn to friends or family members but leave the conversation feeling unfulfilled, worse off, dejected, depressed, lonely, or unheard, try talking to a Professional. It might be just the kind of support you need for this situation.