By David Joel Miller.
Therapist or friend – what is the difference?
1. Friends may keep your secrets; therapists are required to keep them.
Some friends are so close you can tell them anything. Well, almost anything. Most of us have secrets which we were sure we could never tell anyone. Friends are usually friends because we have things in common. If you tell them everything can they, will they, keep the secret? What effect might their knowing the secret have on your friendship? What if you two have a falling out? Some things are just too embarrassing to tell a friend.
There are two concepts that keep a therapist from revealing secrets. Confidentiality, which means that they can’t talk about what you say unless it fits those very few exceptions like you are suicidal or talk about abuse of a child. Other than that what you say there stays there.
Also, there is what is called patient-provider privilege. That means some things may be protected even if police or lawyers come around asking questions. Friends don’t get legal protection to keep your secrets.
You are only as sick as your secrets – Friends shouldn’t have to carry some secrets
2. Friends can help you solve today’s problem – counselors can help you learn to solve your own problems.
Counselors often work with clients to help them learn skills to solve life’s problems. Friends may tell you what to do in a given situation but that does not help you with the next problem.
You want help that will help you become more independent not more dependent. Therapists are taught they should help you be independent not foster dependency.
3. Friends may not want to hurt you but sometimes you need to hear the truth.
A profession person can give you their honest opinion. You paid for it and you deserve it. Friends may be afraid to tell you the truth for fear of losing a friend.
4. Friends get tired of listening to your problems, therapists do this for a living.
Ever meet someone who was really needy. Every time you talked to them it was all about their problem of the day? When you are going through something difficult you need to talk about it. Friends can get talked out. Don’t burn out friends and damage friendships by asking friends to become very involved in your problems.
5. Friends have a good heart. They want to help with your problems. That doesn’t mean they always known how.
Therapists have many years of schooling and specific training in how to help people like you with problems. They study not only diagnosis and treatment but how to help with particular problems.
It is that kind of expertise that you need in your corner when that problem overwhelms you.
6. Friends can play the game with you, but counselors and coaches can help you improve your game.
When the team is losing all the players are going to talk to each other. They know what it feels like to lose. What they don’t always know is how to change that losing streak. That is where a new coach can come in and help turn a team around. Counselors, therapists and professional coaches can do that for your life problems.
That does not mean you should avoid friends or peer support groups. Both are vital parts of your support system. Millions have recovered from alcoholism in A.A. But if you find that when you talk to your friends about your problem, that they don’t know how to help you or that the solutions they offer are not helping, consider that you may have a second problem, a mental health problem and seek professional help.
Those are some reasons that you might decide to see a therapist rather than talk with a friend. What if your friend is a therapist? What if you are a counselor? In the next post, I want to talk about reasons to keep that friendship and that professional relationship separate.
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For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse and Co-occurring disorders see the about the author page. For information about my other writing work beyond this blog check out my Google+ page or the Facebook author’s page, up under David Joel Miller. Posts to the “books, trainings and classes” category will tell you about those activities. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com. A list of books I have read and can recommend is over at Recommended Books