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  • Writer's pictureDayna Sharp, LCSW

Why Therapy is Different than Talking to Your Friends and Family

Updated: Apr 15, 2019

I've heard lots of people say something like, "I could probably use some therapy, but I've got friends and family I can talk to. It's the same thing, right?". Of course, they're not usually asking. They aren't asking because they usually know I'm a therapist, and I suspect that they also know I'll disagree with them. Talking to your friends and family is totally, completely different than talking to a therapist!

Talking to Your Friends and Family Can Be Great

If talking to your friends and family hasn't been helpful, then you probably wouldn't be asking this question in the first place. Maybe you've been invalidated, "Oh, that's no big deal" or "So and so did that and they were okay" or maybe your friends or family tend to shift the focus on conversation to themselves, "Well, I..."--listen to me, me, me! We learn from our experiences, and you may have come to believe that talking to anyone isn't helpful. Let me share the good news: There is another way! A therapist will listen to you, will hear you! An effective therapist will not invalidate your feelings, they will strive to consistently respond compassionately--and they usually don't talk about themselves. In fact, therapy is all about you!

But for others, engaging in a conversation with friends and family can feel really good. Sometimes it's fun, sometimes it's serious. But in the best of the conversations, you can feel safe and share what's really on your mind. The thoughts you are thinking and the feelings you are feeling. Sometimes friends and family can be really validating. "I wish you weren't having such a hard time right now", they might say, "I would do anything to change it if I could"... Sometimes our friends and family might give advice. "Well, maybe you should....(insert suggestion to "fix it"). Sometimes they might relate, "oh, I remember last year when that happened to me...".

Each of these responses can help you to feel better. They get you. They love you. They might offer you a great idea that you haven't thought of. They help you to feel less alone. So why would I need a therapist?

Therapists Are Trained to Listen and Respond in a Different Way

I'm going to admit something right up front. While therapy should be a safe, warm and compassionate space, it doesn't always make you feel better...At least right away. Let's say that something is causing you to keep walking into the middle of traffic. You tell your friends and family. They say all the right things. "Gosh, this is so scary. I would do anything to make it stop". "Maybe you should try to get more sleep at night, I bet that would help". "I heard that was happening to Uncle Fred, and he did this thing that worked, you could try too". You will feel relatively understood, loved, equipped with new strategies, less alone... But you will probably keep walking into traffic.

A therapist may also validate your feelings, "That sounds so scary!". They may even give you strategies, or touch upon research-based or anecdotal messages of hope. But here's the difference: A therapist is trained to listen in a certain way that can enable you to understand why you might be walking into traffic. And when you have that understanding, you are no longer receiving helpful advice, you are receiving relevant, informed steps toward resolving a problem. Even though understanding may not initially feel great, it will feel wonderful when you are no longer walking into the traffic!

Therapy Helps You to Trust Yourself

Everyone needs a little support now and then, right? So why would you need a professional to listen to you instead of your friends and family? Why would you want to depend on a complete stranger? Ironically, the truth is that therapy can help you trust yourself more deeply and feel more confident.

When you ask your family and friends for advice, or when they give it out to you, you may take their advice. If they give good advice, that's great! But it's nice to have options.

When you go to a therapist, you will learn to explore you own thoughts and feelings, your own goals, and make decisions based on what will be best for you. And even your closest friend or family member doesn't know you better than you know yourself. When you can trust yourself, you have options. You don't have to follow someone else's advice. Or you can decide that you want to take someone's suggestions. But it's you who decides. Therapy can help get you there.

Therapy is Confidential

When you talk with a therapist--with the exceptions of reports of abuse, intent to harm or having your records subpoenaed by court--everything you share is completely confidential. There is something wonderful about being able to leave your most difficult, uncomfortable thoughts and feelings with a person that you won't have to casually converse with at another time. You know, without a doubt, that your "stuff" is safely contained with your therapist. You never have to worry about it showing up at your work, your school, family dinners or on social media.


So if it feels good, talk to your friends and family. But know that these relationships are of course, different than a therapeutic relationship. And if you are seeking more, or just different, Creating Space Counseling and Wellness invites you to consider therapy. I can offer you the warmth and genuineness of a friend or family member, along with the therapeutic listening, support and confidentiality that only a therapist can provide.

Call today for a free 15 minute phone consultation to see if Creating Space Counseling and Wellness could be a great match for you! 856-281-1664

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