Don’t Make a Friend Your Therapist

Don’t Make a Friend Your Therapist March 11, 2018

As a licensed social worker and national certified counselor; as the director of a professional counseling program and former psychotherapist; as the author of a book on trauma, stress, and overwhelming life events…I’ve had my share of friends coming to me with their problems. To a certain extent, I don’t mind. I am reminded of the old quip “to have a friend, you must be a friend.” While I have learned that it is not my role or responsibility to fix people, I can listen to and cry with my friends. I can comfort my friends and pray for and with them. And, on occasion, I can offer some friendly advice or guidance. But there have been times when I have realized that a friend wants – needs – more than a friend. She needs a mental health professional. And I have gently and lovingly encouraged friends to pursue that help. Most people think therapy is about venting and advice. (It’s not.) It is so much impactful than that, and you need an unbiased person who is trained to focus on you and help you get where you need to go. So, no, your friend can’t be your therapist (even if she is one).

You see, trying to make a friend your therapist will change the dynamic of your friendship into a one sided relationship focused on you. There will be seasons of life where a friendship needs to be more focused on one person than the other (one friend loses a loved one, another friend has a baby, etc.) But, this isn’t about the seasons that come and go, changing the attention back and forth between two people. Rather, it’s about those friendships that revolve around one person rather than both. Where it’s all about whatever one person is experiencing or facing, and there is little to no consideration given to what is going on in the other person’s life. And this? This will burn your friend out.

As a result, the friendship will unlikely be sustainable long term. She may continue the friendship out of a sense of duty, but more likely the friendship will not last. Your friend may bluntly say that you have become too needy for her and she doesn’t have the time for the relationship (Actress Lisa Welchel shares her own story of this happening to her.) Or, your friend may start to decrease the time she talks or spends with you to the point she begins to avoid you all together. All of a sudden, you will realize she no longer returns emails, phone calls, or text messages. She stops sitting next to you at church or community events. When she is with you, she wants others around so that you are less likely to bend her ear. She may even block you from social media. Ultimately, the friendship as you knew it has ended.

And it’s not just your friend that may want to end the relationship. Sometimes, when someone has shared a great deal of personal and private information with a friend, they become embarrassed or insecure. Or, when the problems have resolved, seeing someone they were really open with may be a difficult reminder they don’t want or can’t handle. If you try and make a friend your therapist, you may be the one to end the relationship. This may add more pain to a friend who has been there for you through all the thick, and now feels abandoned by you after they’ve given so much.

To really learn about friendships, we need only turn to the Bible. We know friendships are important. Proverbs 27:17 says that iron sharpens iron. We know that friends should be faithful. Proverbs 17:17 says that a friend loves at all times. Friendships are necessary and edifying. When we walk with the wise, we become wise (Proverbs 13:20). We see many meaningful friendships throughout the Bible. There is no doubt how deeply rich friendships can be. But if you need a mental health professional, don’t turn to your friend. You can– and should – get help. Just don’t make a friend your therapist.

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