Why See a Therapist When You Can Just Talk to Your Friends?

Girl talksSometimes people ask me why they should bother seeing a therapist when they can just talk to their friends. Friends know your history, you’re comfortable together, and you trust and care for each other. Friends don’t expect to get paid either, and you can meet socially instead of making an office appointment. That’s all true and wonderful.

What Can a Therapist Do that a Friend Can’t Do?

First of all, therapy is completely private—you can speak freely, without fear that your story will go where you’d rather it didn’t. Maybe there are things you’re afraid of or that embarrass you or make you feel sad, and you feel a need to talk about them. You can discuss them with friends or family, that’s true, but you might like the confidentiality that a therapist provides.

Next, a therapist is trained to see your patterns, both good patterns and those that don’t work very well. As a therapist, I can point these patterns out to you, and then together we can employ and enhance the good patterns and identify and avoid the not so good. For example, many people who continue to have the same kinds of relationship problems over and over can learn to make better choices in their behaviors and in finding suitable partners. Other people may have trouble getting along with people at work, difficulty making friends, or feelings of loneliness. Therapy is really good at helping people with all kinds of relationships, because it is a kind of test relationship—you get to receive feedback while trying out new ways of being in a safe environment.

Friends, on the other hand, may not be totally honest with you, because they don’t want to hurt your feelings. I don’t want to hurt your feelings either, but I know how to be straightforward and direct and how to say things in ways that won’t be so painful. And if they are painful, we can slow down, continue at a pace that helps you to feel safe, and use techniques that will help you feel less anxious or depressed.

Can’t a Friend Provide Advice or Help You Figure Things Out?

Certainly, a friend may share ideas of what’s best for you and tell you what to do. I may have ideas about what’s best too, but I will help you figure things out for yourself. A therapist can help you look deep inside to find your own solutions and teach you to remember that pathway so you can find it again when you need it. Therapists encourage self-reflection and empower people to find solutions on their own; these techniques can help people live more rewarding lives.

How Do You Know You’ve Met the Right Therapist?

As with any new person, when you first meet a therapist, you have to get to know and learn to trust the therapist.  Most often, you can feel it in your gut. Do you like each other? Do you think you could get comfortable with this person?

It’s scary to begin treatment, and it’s awkward talking to a stranger about your personal life. All therapists have ways of helping people feel comfortable. As an object relations specialist, I pay close attention to the unspoken feelings revealed in your body language. I’ll let our conversation develop naturally, and I’ll invite you to ask any questions you might have, especially if they seem silly. I’ll probably make a joke, or try to, because therapy can also be playful.

Don’t People Become Too Dependent on Their Therapists?

You might feel dependent for a time, but therapists measure their success by people’s abilities to learn and move on, allowing them to leave therapy with healthier strategies to make better lives for themselves.

When you think it might be time to cease treatment, the best strategy is to talk it over with your therapist and review your original goals. Have you met them? Are there new goals you’d like to work towards?

If you both agree that it’s time to bring your relationship to a close, it can help to set a date for termination, so you can say a full goodbye to each other. Goodbyes are just as important as hellos, you know.

© Copyright 2010 by By Lynn Somerstein, PhD, NCPsyA, C-IAYT. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Slim Jim

    July 12th, 2010 at 4:31 PM

    Why See a Therapist When You Can Just Talk to Your Friends?
    I say its coz a therapist is well-versed in dealing with situations like these,has experience and will definitely have better solutions to your problem than a friend would probably be able to offer to you.

  • Lui

    July 30th, 2017 at 4:35 PM

    Therapists are professionals. It is up to you to know what you expect out of your relationship, though. Just like with anything, know what you want.
    Friends can help you with anything, like you said, be it moving or other handy man stuff, or even cook you a meal. However, a professional is a professional and just like any of these services your friend can provide, a therapist is like the specialized moving company that does it professionally and so have you.
    All the best.
    Oh and please don’t neglect other professional service providers aimed at improving your life etc. such as a Life Coach. And in case you are wondering, yes, I am a Life Coach ;)
    All The Best,

  • Lynn Somerstein

    July 12th, 2010 at 7:06 PM

    Well, thank you, Jim for your wise comment.

  • Austin

    July 13th, 2010 at 4:21 AM

    My friends would never know what to say to me to get me through a situation like that. They can get me through every day stuff but that deep down stuff they don’t know how to deal with any better than I do.

  • Lynn Somerstein

    July 13th, 2010 at 8:20 AM

    It’s good to be able to know when your friends can help and when you need to see a therapist. Can you think of any examples?
    Thanks, Austin.
    Take care,

  • laurance T

    July 13th, 2010 at 11:46 AM

    A friend may be prejudiced in his advice and may impose his own views of the situation if he is already a part of it,because he is your friend! All this is avoided when you go to a therapist. Its like you start with a plain sheet of paper :)

  • Lynn Somerstein

    July 13th, 2010 at 1:41 PM

    I like that image of a plain sheet of paper, Laurance. A therapist has no axe to grind, isn’t prejudiced the way a friend may be. A therapist can see things more clearly sometimes.

  • Linda

    July 14th, 2010 at 5:04 PM

    Nice succint, thorough, and highly relevant topic. Lately, I’ve been dealing with clients who self-refer when the friends issue a moratorium on the relationship until something significant changes, i.e., therapy “with a professional.”

    Interesting read.

    Thank you!

  • Lynn Somerstein

    July 15th, 2010 at 11:41 AM

    Nice one, Linda- friends get tired listening, you’re right.
    Take care,

  • Melanie Gordon Sheets, Ph.D.

    July 17th, 2010 at 11:26 PM

    Did a workshop training this weekend on the DBT-CBT “Out-of-Control” therapy workbook I authored, and this topic was addressed in part with the focus on why folks have so many relapses before they recover (average for substance abuse is often 8-18 attempts). One thing that I haven’t seen mentioned in the threads is that sometimes, our people don’t want us to totally change and recover…when our changes can inconvenience them or negatively impact them. They may actually sabotage our recovery for their personal benefit.

    For instance, if we change too much, we may not be around them anymore or may no longer be a part of the lifestyle or culture we have shared. Their suggestions may be good in many ways and in some areas, but they may be lacking in the parts that they don’t want us to change…either consciously or unconsciously. For instance, if we choose to stop using drugs and alcohol, it may mean we are not around them anymore. If we want to develop a healthy eating lifestyle and lose weight, we may not be going out to lunch with them to their favorite buffet restaurants anymore and we may choose to bring our lunch to work rather than going out all the time. We may choose to start exercising after work instead of getting together with them and doing what we’ve always done.

    If we learn to start setting limits and saying “NO” in one type of relationship, they may not like it when we generalize that new behavior to our relationship!

    Today, I shared my story of how I was very overweight for many years and each time I told my husband I was going to start a diet on Monday and he would be going to the store on Sunday, he would bring home ice cream. Of course, with a sweet eating disorder, there went the diet on Monday…and another relapse!

    This happened about 4 times over a couple years and instead of one gallon of ice cream, time four was three gallons and we didn’t even have enough room in the freezer! Obviously, he would sabotage my efforts to slim up…probably because he felt more comfortable having a heavy wife (little threat of losing me in his mind).

    After the second time this happened, I became very specific about what not to buy…no ice cream, no candy, no donuts, no cake…no brownie mix…NO SWEETS of any type. Each time he would bring home treats right before I started my diet, I would confront him, “Why in the world did you bring ice cream (or donuts, etc) home? I told you I was going on a diet tomorrow.” Of course, the first few rounds of excuses were the stupidity ones…”Oh, I didn’t know that’s what you meant.” or the innocent ones, “I bought it for the kids.” Over the years, I would bring this up and he would laugh and deny…”I didn’t do that.” and by time four when he came home with THREE gallons, it was “OMG…you did it again…”

    It stopped after that and the “What, you want me fat…Lisa (sister) now has weight induced diabetes…is that what you want for me?” and the “I need your help with this…” kind of talk. I have now lost a ton of weight over 5 years and my body size is back down to what it was BEFORE I GOT MARRIED to a man that eats and a relationship partner who feels more secure with an obese partner who is less attractive to most men!

    Anyways, we consciously and unconsciously sabotage our people’s recovery…not because were bad, horrible, rotten people…but because of our own emotional issues and concerns. Perhaps we don’t want the folks we have in our life to leave us…or otherwise to spend less time with us…or to stop doing something we really want someone to do for us.

    All in all, a therapist will be unbiased and will offer the recovery suggestions and tips that will help us to fully recover…even if it requires us to make painful personal changes…and to change codependent and other dysfunctional relationship dynamics.

    Another example just ran through my mind…would our best bud at work really encourage us to quit this job and accept a job at another company…if we are their only friend there…or perhaps if we did all the work and if we left, it meant they’d actually have to work? Would our best friend boss encourage us to quit if that meant they lost a great employee and could always count on us to do things when others might not?

    I’m sure folks reading this can come up with many examples, too!

    Thanks for the blog posting. This was fun to think about!

  • Lynn Somerstein

    July 18th, 2010 at 5:24 PM

    Melanie, these are great examples. Thank you!
    Let me add one of my own. When I stopped smoking my mother got angry- she had given me my first cigarette when I was 16. Smoking was something we had in common.
    “Oh no,” she said, “You’re NOT going to stop smoking. That’s crazy!”
    “I’m addicted. It’s bad for my health,” I said.
    “I told you NOT to get addicted,” she replied, puffing away. “I’m not,” she said. (Years later I learned that’s called denial.)
    She stopped speaking to me.
    Our best buds want the best for us, if they are really our best buds, and if they can see clearly without bias.
    Take care,

  • Keki

    June 30th, 2011 at 9:43 AM

    I dont think you should talk to your friends like a therapist. ALL of my friends talk to me like im their personal “free-2-use” therapist. Dont get me wrong, im glad they can talk to me durring bad times…just when ever we do something 2gether…it always ends up as of…”can i talk to you?” and then we waste and hr n a half talking about their problems and then were down n not all party and stuff. So if u you tlk to your friends like a tharapist…its good here and there….just please! dont do it every single time you see your friends!

  • MissB

    September 1st, 2011 at 9:39 AM

    I see a therapist weekly and something I have discovered along the way is that you should absolutely not use your friend as a therapist! That is actually being a bad friend. No one wants a “friend” who continually unloads all their life crap on them all the time. Its gets exhausting and boring and tiresome. 90% of a friendship should be fun and 10% none (such as if a friend needs support). If its more than 10%, you need to see a therapist. Not use your friend as one. A friend is a friend. Not a counselor. They should be kept seperate.

  • exhausted!

    February 1st, 2012 at 8:16 PM

    So true MissB. my friend uses me as a therapist and I just find it mentally draining, I find myself resenting her and I don’t want to resent my friend. I have my own issues in my life and I feel like I rarely have time to deal with them because she messages me with a new problem EVERY MORNING! I can barely stand to answer my phone anymore! I am a qualified social worker and so is she, so she really should know better!

    Why not use your friends as therapists? because you want to keep them!

  • D

    April 14th, 2012 at 12:25 PM

    Another reason to seek a good therapist, rather than just relying on your friends in recovery. It’s wonderful to get help from a trusted friend, who is interested in seeing you feel better. But it can be a drag for those people you are close with, especially if you turn to them frequently with your issues. Finding a good therapist, to help you with your deep-rooted and reoccuring problem, may reduce the stress on those that are close to you.

  • Pandaninja

    November 6th, 2012 at 5:22 AM

    I don’t think you people get friendship. Its life it happens. God gave us friends, for what? To be there for you. To give you a shoulder to cry on. To give you advice. To help you go through the shit in your life. To make your day better when its gone wrong. I actually enjoy listening to their problems. I don’t give a single fuck of how long it takes for them to smile again. Friends are supposed to be with you during the good AND bad times. If they’re just with you during the shits and giggles and leave you when you need them the most, then those aren’t your friends. I don’t care how many times they come to me. I DON’T CARE. I don’t find it a burden or a drag. It gives me the feeling of purpose to them.

  • Lynn Somerstein

    November 6th, 2012 at 3:42 PM

    Friendship is the best- but not for everything. A therapist’s training can be like insurance for someone in need of help.

  • Kim Dodd

    January 23rd, 2013 at 8:59 AM

    Too many people see therapy as a way to de-escalate from the crisis instead of an investment into keeping the crisis from occurring again. Oh how helpful it is to stick with the process and learn from our patterns of interaction with others. Friends can be such a wonderful support through this process as well!! I’ve found that clients who have a stronger support network tend to do better in therapy.
    I also love how you addressed the importance of saying “goodbye” in therapy. It’s such an important step to know how to end a relationship successful as much as it is key to know how to start one. =)

  • Discussant

    June 22nd, 2014 at 12:24 PM

    Completely agree with Pandaninja (#16).
    If people feel that they have to be all put together and upbeat in front of their “friends” and quietly go away to pay someone to listen to their painful emotions and struggles, then you’re left with two fake relationships and zero authentic ones: 1) fake friends you have to pay to listen to you who go away when you stop paying, and 2) fake friends with whom you feel you have to put on a fake upbeat show, and whom you don’t trust enough to be your true self and share your true feelings. Very sad. We can do better. Instead of supporting more therapy, we should support a culture in which friends can tolerate one another’s suffering and really be there for each other.

  • Disappointed

    August 3rd, 2014 at 4:09 PM

    I have been to lots of therapy and still can’t release emotions. I just need someone to hold me tight and let me cry. I thought a good friend would do just that but she is suggesting therapy. I feel like I can’t talk to her now

  • Dr. Lynn Somerstein

    August 4th, 2014 at 5:32 AM

    Dear Disappointed,
    I’m sorry that you feel disappointed in your friend’s response, but at the same time I wonder if your friend weren’t trying hard to help you in the best way they knew. Therapy takes time. Releasing emotions takes time. I wish you relief from your sorrow, and better times in the future.
    Take care,

  • Disappointed

    August 4th, 2014 at 3:07 PM

    The reason I don’t want to talk my friend now is not because I don’t like her but I’m afraid I’ll just break down in tears anyway because that’s how emotional I’m feeling right now. I know she means well just heartbroken.

  • Disappointed

    August 9th, 2014 at 6:55 PM

    So things are ok between my friend I confided in. I have an appt booked to talk to a therapist and try and get some stuff figured out.

  • Lynn Somerstein

    August 10th, 2014 at 4:17 PM

    Hi Disappointed-
    I’m glad to hear that things are working out with your friend and that you’ve made an appointment to talk to a therapist.
    Good for you!
    Take care,

  • Disappointed

    September 21st, 2014 at 7:58 AM

    Going into my 4th session and want to share a shameful secret but scared of being judged and uncomfortable talking about sexual terms. I just want to blurt it out and then hide afterwards. Is this normal

  • Thinking about it

    August 19th, 2014 at 4:26 PM

    Is therapy something everyone should try (like a doctor’s checkup)? Even if they don’t feel they are too emotionally unstable?

  • Lynn Somerstein

    August 20th, 2014 at 1:26 PM

    Hi Thinking About It,
    That depends on what you are thinking about it. :>))
    Maybe there are a few thoughts you’d like to know more about. There are many roads that lead to knowing yourself, and therapy is a good one.
    Take care and good luck,

  • Dr. Lynn Somerstein

    September 21st, 2014 at 10:32 AM

    Hi Disappointed-
    I hope your’re not disappointed in either yourself or your therapist. It takes time to get to know and trust your therapist, and when you feel safe you’ll be able to tell your secret. This is totally normal.
    Good luck, and take care,

  • Disappointed

    September 28th, 2014 at 5:08 PM

    Secret revealed. She told it would always be comfortable in session and that even if I chose to write her what I need to tell her, she would still make me talk about them. I might not always like being held accountable but it must be working because I’m starting to feel more comfortable and relieved after I see her.

  • Disappointed

    September 28th, 2014 at 5:57 PM

    Meant wouldn’t always be comfortable

  • Disappointed

    September 30th, 2014 at 4:00 PM

    My coworkers decided at last minute to go to restaurant to say bye to a coworker who was like my 2nd mother. I was left out. I’m very hurt because I didn’t get to say goodbye

  • Lynn Somerstein

    October 2nd, 2014 at 5:16 PM

    Dear Disappointed,

    You might want to discuss this with your therapist.

    Take care,

  • Kristy

    November 16th, 2014 at 10:28 AM

    Discussant- you really nailed it! I like to have friends that I can talk to. When i’m in therapy I feel like I am paying some stranger that is trying to get to know me but that doesn’t help because they don’t know what to do for me since they are trying to understand the problems (by asking so many questions). I love my good close friends because they know me without me even saying anything. I need a therapist who cares enough about me that I don’t’ feel like I’m going to therapy just to hear myself speak (or like last time, a therapist who wouldn’t shut up and blamed my shyness for it) and friends who love me for me and can tolerate me. Love is not feeling tolerated. Love is unconditional love and that’s what I need from both my therapist and my friends. Therapy shouldn’t be forever and I should still have friends I trust enough with my problems. I’ve had a hard two years and am very angry about it all.
    sorry this is so long.

  • Renate

    August 31st, 2016 at 11:11 AM

    Dead composed written content , thanks for information .

  • Dr. Lynn Somerstein

    August 31st, 2016 at 4:01 PM


  • Andrea J

    February 11th, 2018 at 8:08 PM

    Can you talk to friends for me?

  • Lynn Somerstein

    February 12th, 2018 at 12:02 PM

    You mean, like a ventriloquist?

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