Speaking to a Therapist vs. Speaking to a Friend – What’s the Difference?

When deciding whether to talk to a therapist or not, you may have the thought – what’s different about talking to a therapist than talking to a friend? Why invest the money, when I can talk to my friend for free?

While it’s true that friends can be great sources of support, there are some times when we need a little bit more. Here’s how a therapist is different than talking to your friend:

1) A therapist is specifically trained in mental health.

This is probably the biggest advantage of seeing a therapist. Therapists are specifically trained in understanding psychological issues, in addition to various treatment methods. Understanding psychological issues means that we can understand specific symptoms you may be experiencing and how these impact your life. Sometimes it may be difficult for a friend to understand, and we may hear things like “You need to just get over it”, “Don’t think about it” or “Cheer up”. This sometimes serves to isolate us more, making us feel as though we aren’t being heard or that there’s something wrong with us for not being able to not think about it.

This is where a therapist comes in. As therapists, we understand why you feel this way and can offer techniques and tools to help. Whether it’s specific techniques and strategies such as mindfulness, or simply listening compassionately and holding space, we are specialists in helping you to cope with these difficult situations.

2) A therapist can provide an unbiased perspective.

A feedback I often hear from clients is that it feels good to get a fresh perspective from someone who wasn’t previously close to them. This can be helpful sometimes because it means that sometimes we can notice or catch things that friends haven’t noticed before. As therapists, we are specifically trained in noticing how bias can get in the way of helping others. We are experts at checking our own bias, and knowing how to handle our own thoughts and feelings to prevent them from negatively impacting the therapeutic relationship.

We are also going to ask you the tough questions when necessary, where your friend may not. We do this because we know that at times you need to face something that may be difficult, and in order to do that, we have to ask questions that may feel probing or uncomfortable. We are here to help you to work through these difficult questions and move forward on your path to living a better life.

3) Therapists are bound by confidentiality.

Confidentiality is at the core of a therapeutic relationship. We are bound by confidentiality regulations set forth by our respective colleges (e.g. the College of Registered Psychotherapists of Ontario), and uphold these standards each and every day. We know how important trust is, and you can rest assured knowing that when you’re talking to a therapist, what is said will stay between the counselling office walls.

These are only a few examples of the differences between talking to a therapist and a friend. All in all, both are helpful to talk to! Talking to friends and therapists can be a great way to feel heard, hear a different perspective, and create a deeper connection with yourself and others.

Kayleen Edwards

Registered Psychotherapist


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