THERAPIST VS FRIENDS
'Nah, I don't really need therapy. I talk all the time to my friends and family'.
This is something that I, as a therapist, have heard too many times. When explaining what I do, people might look at me questioningly, sometimes followed by the phrase I think every therapist has heard at least once in their career - 'Oh, so you get paid to talk!'.
Now, don't get me wrong. It's great to have a support system of others, be it friends, family, colleagues, or whomever to lean on at times. And having this can be a sign that you are indeed a good friend to others. But what we shouldn't be doing is thinking that having friends and family to speak to is the same as having a therapist.
There is a BIG difference between speaking to a therapist and speaking to anyone else in your life.
So, let's have a look at 5 differences between your therapist and your friends and family.
THE FOCUS IS ALL ON YOU
Hopefully you will agree that in any relationship, the entire focus is certainly not all on you. If that were the case, it might end up having a detrimental effect on that relationship, as the other person might feel suffocated, and feel that their needs are not being met. Relationships are usually made up of 'You listen to me, my ups and downs, my good days and my bad days etc. and I will do the same for you'. But this is not the case in therapy.
In therapy, the whole focus is on YOU, and no one but you. This sometimes might feel weird at the start of therapy as we are not used to having the full focus on us. The counsellor will not expect to be held emotionally by you in the session, so you don't have the pressure to focus your attention or energy on them as you would do with others. You also won’t feel guilty that the whole focus is on you. It is, after all, YOUR time.
THE THERAPIST MAY ASK YOU MORE CHALLENGING QUESTIONS
Sometimes we might hesitate to ask a friend something that might be a bit sensitive, embarrassing or something that might stir up difficult emotions. In certain situations, not feeling like you are able to be completely honest with friends and family, without any awkwardness, may dent those relationships.
However, in therapy, the therapist will not hesitate to ask challenging questions where they feel necessary. This will be to allow you to explore deeper lying emotions that perhaps have not been explored previously.
EVERYTHING YOU SAY IS CONFIDENTIAL
If you have ever done some personal therapy, you will have surely heard the phrase ‘Everything you say is confidential’…or something along those lines. Now there are a few restrictions to confidentiality in regards to your personal safety and to those around you, but this will be explained to you before you begin therapy.
But the main point here is that what you say in the counselling room, stays in the counselling room. Your counsellor will not be gossiping to others about what you have said during counselling, and if they did, there would be serious repercussions towards them. So, with that in mind, you will be able to feel safe and trust that you can open up and be genuine to your therapist, and no one will know what you have said or what is going on in your life.
On the other hand, with other relationships, there is no such agreement, that ‘what you say will remain between us’. Perhaps there is a moral code between friends or family, but you may have the fear that what you say to them, may not remain only with them.
YOUR THERAPIST HAS TRAINING IN SCIENTIFIC THEORY
With our friends and family, when speaking about our problems, they may be tempted to cheer us up, or offer solutions. This is of course fine, but not always what we need at a specific time. Sometimes, we may need to explore deeper feelings or emotions to get a fuller understanding of what is happening to be able to move on or grow from a situation.
This is something your therapist will allow you to do. Moreover, your therapist has had scientific training in human behaviour, and ways to allow you to come to your own conclusion so as to find your own solutions without resorting to giving you advice, or even still, rescuing you.
Your therapist also has regular supervision, which allows them to professionally take care of themselves. Those around us in our regular relationships may not know how to deal or where to go with something you may have told them, and therefore, may not be in the best position to take care of themselves.
YOUR THERAPIST IS INVOLVED IN YOUR LIFE, AND YET, COMPLETELY OUTSIDE OUT IT
Your therapist will be, no doubt, involved in your life at an intimate level as you recount to them your life in great detail. However, at the same time, they are completely separate from your life, in that, there will be no personal link between the two of you, only professional. You will be comfortable in knowing that you are able to say what you need within the session, but then leave it there without worrying about any consequences or social ramifications. You will also be able to do so without feeling guilty about leaving or ‘dumping’ everything on someone.
So, I hope that you can see the very clear and important differences between the two, and also the lurking dangers for treating friends as therapists or even becoming a therapist to your friends.