Friends are important as support or a safety net, but when is it time to invest in professional therapy?
Many think that they are better off crying on their best friend’s shoulder than lying on a couch in a sterile environment and speaking to a stern-looking psychologist.
While that classic scene is often depicted as such in TV shows, therapy sessions can be very different.
First of all, lose that long couch. More often than not, therapy can take place like a meeting with a colleague or in your boss’ office. Importantly, the therapist is not your friend.
And the interaction with a professional makes all the difference.
You pay, your day
As blunt as this might sound, it’s the truth. You’ve booked the time for this professional to listen to you and hear you out, so be as self-indulgent as you want. In fact, the focus will only be on you and the therapist needs you to divulge as much as you can to help.
Unlike speaking to a friend, you don’t have to give the other person ‘air time’ and if the therapist does share personal experiences, it is always with the intention of benefiting their clients.
Trained and certified to help
In order to earn their licenses to practice, they would have gone through years of study, graduated from an accredited institution, completed a certain number of supervised hours in a clinical environment and passed one or more exams.
They are also trained to listen and understand their clients and map out what’s best for them. Many also have encountered clients from all walks of life and varied profiles.
Their experiences serve them with skills to ‘deal with your problems’ way better than your best friend can.
Objectivity is key
Friends are never objective, simply because they know you and their opinion will be biased in a way or another.
Therapists are trained to be conscious of their biases and how they react will not have any stake in your life.
A good therapist keeps the relationship professional and will not be attached in a way that might negatively affect the quality of therapy sessions.
Therapy is not just about talking
You might think therapy is a waste of money because it’s paying someone to vent or rant to.
The therapeutic process is much more than that. More than just a conversation, your therapist uses information from you to challenge your current state of mind.
This includes confronting your negative beliefs that are affecting your life, equipping you with new perspectives on situations and skills on how to better manage your emotions. You might get homework to work on yourself or learn therapeutic techniques that you can use outside sessions.
It’s not just about affirmation
Some assume that therapists just affirm and make their clients feel better, but that’s not true.
Therapists challenge their clients too. They will confront your habitual thought processes to form better ones, to improve your life. They won’t agree with you all the time, like your friends might, and there are times when you will feel uncomfortable or upset.
These are efforts to make you reconsider maladaptive behaviours.
Your secrets are safe
Sometimes we are afraid to share our deepest and darkest secrets with our friends.
“Therapy is a safe, supportive, empathic space to explore the aspects of self you may not be willing or able to explore within the context of friendships or other personal relationships,” adds Joyce Marter, a psychotherapist.
In fact, there are bodies that require licensed therapists to keep their clients’ information confidential.
In other words, you can sue your therapist for malpractice if you catch them sharing your information with others.
You won’t be judged
Clients have also shared that therapy is a place that they can go to not hurt or burden anyone when sharing their true thoughts or feelings.
You don’t have to impress your therapist or worry about what your therapist thinks of you. Whereas with friends, they may not want to judge, but it is difficult for them to form opinions and be completely divorced from the situation.
You can disagree
Forming your own opinions about the therapist’s approach is natural and you are allowed to disagree and provide feedback on whether it is working for you.
Disagreement and conflict are part and parcel of human relationships, and it will be beneficial to voice out disparities to enable the effectiveness of the treatment.
You are entitled to speak up any time you have differing points of view and a helpful therapist should accept and acknowledge your opinions.
Going to a friend as if he/she is a professional may harm the relationship instead.
“She spends almost every minute of every conversation talking about herself: her ex, the guys she’s dating now, her boss, her family…”
This might be a common complaint about someone who talks about her problems excessively.
“A healthy friendship is a give-and-take, if you take up much more than you give, the relationship becomes unhealthy,” comments therapist Grant Brenner.
As mentioned previously, your deluge of problems is your entitlement, and at no cost.
It may seem daunting to make the first step: securing that appointment with a professional, but once you have overcome that, you will realise that your therapist will guide you from thence onwards.
Working with a psychologist, therapist or counsellor will provide an opportunity to assess your thoughts, behaviour and feelings that might have been detrimental to your mental well-being.
“So many people have never had an opportunity to really talk about themselves in a safe, non-judgmental space where their life’s story is front and centre. This idea (therapy) though quite simple, is transformative,” quips Hotchandani, a private practitioner.
Getting professional feedback and guidance while learning how to cope with daily stressors might be what you need – beyond confiding in friends. In fact, therapy has been proven to help improve relationships, including that you have with your BFF.
Known as Nate, I am someone who cannot quit wielding the pen or punching the QWERTY, no matter where life brings me. Writing has always been the most effective conduit for channeling my wanted or unwanted opinions since I was an undergraduate at NUS. Naturally, I used this skill as a means of sustenance after working as a writer and editor for many years until I decided to start a business in music. That did not put a halt to my marriage with the vernacular.
In October 2016, I graduated with my Masters in Visual and Media Anthropology, which is the study of cultures through films and photography, at Freie Universität Berlin. This transitory period of residing in two cities has pushed the boundaries of my creativity and my battles with word count have not ceased.
Now a new mode of writing, the academic one, has been added to my existing smorgasbord of corporate and lifestyle collaterals, articles, advertisements, annual reports and books. At the moment, my learning curve is an uphill journey as I attempt to grasp the camera for stills and motion clips, while I juggle that with developing my love affair with my other mode of expression – electronic music.