Sometimes 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.
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