A common reason people give for not seeking therapy is that, well, it’s basically like talking to a friend – except you don’t have to pay your friend to listen to you. However, seeing a therapist is very different from having a heart-to-heart with a loved one.
“I love the cathartic feeling of having a deep conversation with a good friend, and certainly therapy can have that same cathartic feeling. But working with a therapist is so much more,” said clinical psychologist Christina Hibbert, PsyD.
It’s like comparing apples to oranges, said Deborah Serani, PsyD, a clinical psychologist. Here’s why.
Therapists are trained professionals.
Therapists have years of schooling and advanced degrees in human behavior, relationship dynamics and effective interventions, said Julie de Azevedo Hanks, LCSW, a relationship expert and author of The Burnout Cure: An Emotional Survival Guide for Overwhelmed Women. Most friends do not.
Clinicians also are trained to listen in order to understand their clients; encourage independent thinking and self-reflection; and highlight their blind spots, said Serani, also author of two books on depression.
However, “most people listen with the intent to respond. Friends have conversations, share personal information with each other and problem solve in a social or caring way.”
Psychotherapist and author Jeffrey Sumber, MA, LCPC, also stressed the importance of therapy’s role in helping clients flourish.
“Therapy, in its best sense, is a process of unfolding our inherent wisdom that is oftentimes trapped beneath layers of conditioning, fear and reactivity. Our friends are oftentimes either happy for us or afraid for us but typically are not engineering their feedback to support long-term growth and change.”