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Should You Share Your Therapist With a Friend?

I have a friend who lives by this cardinal rule: She will never ever work with a friend.

So when jobs surface in her company, or if she hears of an opening in her field, she only shares the information with non-friends. It’s just too messy, she explained to me the other day.

Having experienced a situation not too long ago that became just that — messy — I can understand her logic and applaud her for sticking by that rule. I am now much more careful about sharing work opportunities with close friends… in order to protect myself.

Should the same rule apply to therapy?

18 Comments to
Should You Share Your Therapist With a Friend?

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  1. This is a great question. I think it depends on the friend and the degree to which lives are intertwined. I remember looking for a therapist a while back and asked a friend with whom I have a good but limited relationship with–we only see each other at exercises classes, and there’s little chance that relationship could get messy. But she surprised me by saying she wouldn’t want to have me go to her therapist. She was even more guarded that way.

    That said, even though I’d have been happy to go to HER therapist, I would NOT share one of my closer friends with my therapist. Now that seems like a potential disaster :-)

  2. I wouldn’t for the reason that if there were to be friendship issues, it would be difficult to talk about them with the therapist. Also, I feel jealous at the mere mention by my therapist of her other clients (transferance: I like to believe I am the main focus of her working life!) and so I know I would feel really envious if my friend were to start talking to me about conversations she had with our therapist, especially if they seemed to have good relationship.

  3. There is NO WAY I’d share my therapist! I talk things through with other people and the therapist’s name comes up fairly regularly. I’d be mortified for someone I know to see this psychologist, knowing that they may have preconceived notions and expectations. The client/psychologist relationship can be fragile and you have to be honest with him/her about parts of your life nobody else knows. Just to think that you and someone you know are doing this with the same person is very uncomfortable.

    My doc is a professor as well as a practicing psychologist. A friend of mine nearly entered his grad program and I was horrified at the thought. We had talked about her to the point where he would know exactly who she was, and vice versa. It was a difficult few weeks while she was deciding.

    I agree with the other points made, too. The relationship with the person you referred may deteriorate or end; on the flip side you may stop seeing the doc. It just puts everyone in a bad place. I don’t like “mixing” different parts of my world and I feel even more strongly about this aspect.

  4. I have been writing my Therapy Unplugged blog for 2.5 years. In this time I have gone to great pains to make sure my therapist is never identified. Back in 1998 I said to my friend that my therapist was fabulous and she should see her and she did and not only did the room feel “contaminated” to me, but my friend and therapist did not click and she moved on to another therapist after making disparaging comments to me and my therapist admitted that they did not find a connection point.

    I am still friends with this person and we have all moved on a long time ago, but the dynamics were interesting to say the least.

  5. My therapist told me early on that he would never do therapy with the friend or relative of a patient, anymore than he would do therapy with the friend or relative of a friend.

  6. Since I rarely discuss my friends in therapy, I think it would be fine. But I would prefer to just refer the person to the clinic, instead of the therapist herself and not find out if my therapist is the one seeing her.
    Since this clinic is one of the best in the area for anxiety, I would feel an obligation to refer a friend to it if they had a problem with anxiety.

    But then again, everyone has different insurance, so I wouldn’t want to put someone in an awkward situation if it turns out the therapist was too expensive for them.

  7. I saw a therapist a friend referred me to twice. I decided the therapist was not the right person for me. My friend was about to leave for graduate school in another state, so she wouldn’t be seeing the therapist at the same time I was anyway. I don’t think I would have done it at all otherwise.

  8. I would never share my therapist with a friend or family member. I think I would feel less willing to be open with my therapist and moreover, I would always wonder if my therapist was judging me or if other people were talking about me. I fear other people’s judgements which is one of the reasons I go to therapy :-)

  9. In my graduate counseling program we have been told time and again that treating a friend of a patient is unethical except under extraordinary circumstances. also, a therapist should never see a mother and child separately for the reasons you mentioned. it completely destroys the therapeutic relationship.

  10. I see no problem with it, as long as the friends follow the same confidentiality rules as the therapist.

    I’d tell my friend to complain about me to their heart’s content, but not to reveal my identity. If they do, it creates a dual-relationship, and the therapist should fire one or both of us.

    • That’s the rub, though, isn’t it? How can they not mess up when telling a story and let the person’s name sneak out here or there? Or tell enough details about the other person to raise the suspicions of the therapist? (Especially those unintentional quirky details…)

  11. I have a friend who found my psychologist without any input from me. There has not been any conflict with this as my psychologist is a professional and keeps confidences from her patients separate. I can talk about my friend and she asks me what I feel, she doesn’t tell me how she feels about my friend or anything about how my friend feels about me. We, my friend and I, both know we see the same person but don’t ask each other about our therapy. Yes, sharing a psychologist is possible if everyone maintains boundaries.

  12. I feel a bit protected from this by the system. At least for psychiatry – which is through the medical system, we don’t get to choose where we go (there was a male or female option and was I willing to travel, I could theoretically have asked for one person or not another – but I don’t know who anyone is and they don’t advertise).

    So I may well know people that see the same person, but I didn’t make the connection and I’m not aware of it, so it’s like it’s not even going on!

  13. Never!!! It’s amusing that my therapist was referred to me by a friend who had seen him for 2 years. She was mostly done with therapy, and I needed therapy. I had a very traumatic experience with my first therapist and had refused to go to another one, but she convinced me that this psychologist was very good and could help. Thank God she kept talking to me about him. A year after we first talked about him, I finally made an appointment. It has been two years now that I have seen him, but I am still not at a point that having someone else whom I know seeing him would be ok. He is extremely professional and would never divulge anything about another patient, but I know it would be traumatizing to me to have a friend wanting to discuss him or our therapy.

  14. In my case my friends came after my therapist. We were all in a (somewhat unrelated) support group and met there after some talking we found out we (3 of us) had the same therapist. I thinks it’s just fine-depending on the therapist. I know that mine would never divulge information on us and that he is totally professional. Does not dig for information and in all honesty I don’t go to therapy to talk about them anyway. Sure it’s come up maybe twice but he is totally professional about it

    On the upside, one of my friends and I talk a lot. We deal with very similar issues and can relate well. In these conversations we will sometimes say “*Mike told me this about this” and we’ll bust out laughing at the way he said the exact same thing to both of us. Or we laugh at commonly used phrases and quotes we hear regularly from him. Aside from that we also gain benefit because since we struggle very similarly, we can say “I told *Mike this and he said this” and it can benefit us both to get that extra insight. Personally, just think it depends on the friends, and the therapist. It’s way too objective for a yes or no answer.

    *name has been changed

  15. Way too *subjective I mean. Not objective.

  16. A few years back I consulted a short list of therapists who had particular expertise with a highly misunderstood minority subculture. While each came highly recommended and/or had an online presence that resonated with me, only one accepted health insurance. Since out-of-pocket costs were not an option for me, the choice of therapists was an easy one.

    So I phoned the therapist to make an initial appointment and get a sense of our compatibility. The phone conversation went well and I liked her communication style. I very briefly shared with her my motivation for seeking therapy, thinking that I would reserve the bulk of the issues for when we met. (IOW, out of respect for her time, I did not prematurely unload my entire life story on her.)

    Fortunately, she had an open spot on her calendar for me that very week. An appointment was made, and contact information and directions shared. I completed the call feeling very positive and looking forward to our first session.

    The following day, I received a brief email from the therapist and assumed that it was probably a follow-up confirmation. Imagine my surprise and disappointment when I discovered that she was cancelling our appointment and no longer wished to accept me as a client.

    According to her email, upon reflection it occurred to her that my name was a familiar one. And she had ethical issues about taking me on as a client as our extended social circles overlapped in a way that was uncomfortable for her. No further explanation was offered.

    I was so very disappointed and frustrated, as I thought I had finally found a therapist (who accepted insurance) who was well-versed on the relationship issues important to me.

    And I was very confused, as she is a well-regarded and popular therapist within a minority subculture where referrals to knowledgeable (with respect to that subculture) therapists are commonplace. So naturally her extended social circle would overlap with those of her clients. Why the sudden ethical conflict now?

    Frankly, it made me somewhat uncomfortable to be told that my name was a familiar one and somehow presented an ethical conflict. So I shared the incident with friends, and discreetly consulted the grapevine in my own extended social circle and those of overlapping communities to find some sort of answer that would make sense for me.

    Eventually, a likely explanation presented itself. Had she taken me on as a client, the therapist could awkwardly be placing herself smack in the middle of a three-way relationship marked by long-standing infidelity.

    Chalk it all up to the small world phenomenon, I guess. “Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine.”

    Although I was very disappointed and confused at the time of the cancellation, I eventually found a wonderful therapist (who accepted my insurance). While it was a bit of a struggle to educate her about the customs and nuances of the minority subculture involved, together we were able to distill the issues down to their generic components in a meaningful way that helped me immensely.

  17. Read this a bit after the fact. I see a – what do you call it, a psychiatrist who specializes in pharmacology, not for therapy, but for meds, not ongoing therapy. I am thankful to a good friend who gave me his name and a brief description. Now, neither this friend nor I would discuss a lot of stuff out of school. And he’s great, and 100% professional, and so I would not hesitate to recommend his services. In terms of therapists, i have given recommendations to some people, but i learned to be careful both about giving and taking the same because not everyone has the same perceptions. And I have a couple of friends – one in particular – who is still a friend, but who cannot be trusted with private information, and who is given to exaggerated badmouthing of anyone who she’s angry with – it could be her car dealer, or boss, or therapist. As in, if you mentioned that your were kept waiting once, it becomes that you are furious that your were so disrespected, blah blah, and it can wound the person being scapegoated. So, having been burned, I am very careful about what I say and to whom regarding anything that carries my personal seal of approval.



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