Sometimes the bravest and most important thing you can do is just show up.
- Brené Brown
" My friend could really use some therapy but they tell me..."
"I'd rather talk with you."
It's great to be able to lean on friends for support during challenging times. When your friend starts relying on you to be their makeshift therapist, things become unbalanced, placing avoidable strains on the friendship. In a therapy session, the expectation is for all the focus to be on them, instead of the back-and-forth of a friendship.
Friends give advice, but therapists are trained relationship experts, and can provide research-backed solutions that address the root causes of their problems. Help them think of it this way: If their life currently feels like a never-ending game of whack-a-mole, you can support them with the moles as they pop up, but a therapist can help them unplug the machine.
Even therapists don't do therapy with their friends. My friends know that when I'm hanging out with them i'm "off the clock"!
"It costs too much."
It's true that therapy, like other services, costs money. If your friend is unsure about the value of therapy for them, finding a therapist who accepts their insurance, or going through a low-cost community clinic can be a good way to test the waters. Hopefully they'll experience that therapy is an investment that can yield great returns in their quality of life.
"I don’t have time."
Therapy does require a time commitment. It's worth exploring what is keeping your friend's schedule so busy. I've found that once many of my clients experience the numerous benefits of
prioritizing the therapy hour for themselves, they are able to set healthier boundaries in other aspects of their life. Many also look forward to having that hour (50 mins technically) for themselves!
Not to mention that if they're dealing with a situation taking up most of their time now, they could potentially save a lot of time, pain, and money in the long run if they were to learn effective strategies.
"I'll feel weak (or others will think I'm weak) if I get therapy."
This is exactly the type of limiting belief people learn to challenge in therapy! Many people incorrectly believe that asking for outside or additional support means you are weak. Actually, people who are confident are more likely to reach out for help when they get stuck because they know asking for help doesn't change their self-worth.
Psychiatric medications have been able to provide relief for many people who had none, which is wonderful. Research shows that medication management is still most effective when paired with talk therapy. Meds can help your friend with symptom management, but they don't target the root causes of those symptoms.
Psychiatric medications are also not one-size fits all, and may take some trial and error. Many medications have "side effects", which is the pharma-world way of describing negative unwanted effects of a medication. They certainly are not "on the side" for the people experiencing them!
"What good is talking going to do?"
Many people have a misconception that all therapists do is listen and agree with you. While active listening is a large part of effective therapy, therapists do much more. First I want to clarify that therapists don't necessary agree with our clients, we validate their experience--there's a big difference.
Second, talking has huge benefits. Many people hold themselves back because they have given their power to their Mean Inner Critic. By reawakening their own voice, your friend can take back their power, which can dramatically alter the course of their life.
Third, talking with a therapist can also be an opportunity to rehearse challenging conversations in a low-negative risk environment, so they have a better chance of successful outcomes in their daily life.
"I’d feel weird talking about this stuff to a stranger."
This response speaks to quite few different possible fears. The most common ones are the fear of being judged by the therapist, and the fear of being forced to share something they are uncomfortable sharing. It can be helpful to help you friend identify what their underlying fear is.
It is particularly this "stranger" aspect that can make therapy so effective. Your friend can share openly without having to worry about potential negative consequences to their personal relationships. Therapists are skilled at helping people feel comfortable, and being judgmental does the opposite of that. Likewise, pushing people to share more than they are comfortable sharing interferes with a healthy therapeutic alliance. The sense of the therapist being a stranger would fade as your friend built a relationship with them.
I don't want to talk about my past. I just want to move forward.
Don't move on. Move through.
I saw a therapist once, and it was a bad experience."
Every psychologist is an individual, with a unique personality, so there’s no reason to believe that a new therapist would fail you in the exact same way that the old one did. Very likely, the person you saw back then was just not someone you could connect with. Another psychologist will, by definition, be different.
I wish mental health professionals would acknowledge that therapy can be quite harmful to many people, and it's not just because there are "bad" therapists. If they believe that therapy is potent enough to engender profound changes, that potency can be experienced negatively by many.
Even more, the power dynamics and confidentiality of the consulting room can make dealing with negative experiences really isolating and crazy-making. Do you try to work things through with a therapist you feel harmed by, with the added insult of continuing to pay them? Do you feel safe going to another therapist after having a negative experiences? Can you go to a third party to complain, when it's just your word against a therapist and they have the power to just label/disregard you?
I would have much more respect and trust in mental health care if mental health professionals would own up to this. Therapy may be helpful for a lot of people, but saying it's never harmful makes people who have negative experiences feel even more pathologized and unlikely trust any helping professional in the future (let alone their own decision-making).
"The therapist relationship is fake, so it won't help me in my real life."
controlled setting, but not fake.
Okay, so your friend has changed their mind about going to therapy.
Here are some things to pay attention to when choosing a therapist so they have the best chance of having a positive experience
What is needed by almost all of us for good therapy.
1. A reationship that is workable.
2. Some level of trust. Can take 4 sessions or much longer.
3.Feeling fine with the therapists methods, what works for some can be horrible for others
4. Competence of therapist. Please don't tell m you've practice for 25 years if you have been doing it wrong for 25 years..
5. Some kindness. Most of us don't want abuse in therapy.
6.Sense of humor. Many want humor in therapy, sometimes.
7. Respect. This should be #1, Do not return a 2nd time to expect respect if it wasn't there the first time.
8. Appropriate Language. Some of us don't want to hear vulgarity.