This is one common question I get from my students and participants during seminars. Indeed, is there any difference between talking with a therapist and let us say your parents, or your best friend?
I guess we all know how it feels to talk to a best friend. These chats often give us comfort and reassurance, as well as open up possibilities that we haven’t thought of. These conversations can be therapeutic, changing our feelings from perhaps depressed to joyful.
Yet, the intimate knowledge that our family members or friends have of us may lead them to understand our situation in the context of the relationship we have with them. Since they know our lives well, our associates, activities, and our proclivities and inclinations, they might not become very objective in their dealings with us.
If you have noticed, our friends or family members would usually take our side whenever we are in trouble. This is very natural. For what are friends for? And then they will try their best to calm us down, soothe our nerves, by telling us that everything will be okay and make us feel better.
Sometimes our family members and friends would divert the conversation because the topic might be too uncomfortable for them. Sometimes they distract us from the present scenario so we don’t dwell on the current negativity.
They give us their opinions and advise on how to go through our ordeal. They sometimes compare our situation with others and tell us how other people cope with their own struggles. And a tight hug from them is a common way by which we are appeased, and it makes our challenges more bearable.
Most of the time, all of these are all we need and nothing more. And these actions will even bring us closer with our loved ones and our friends.
However, there are times that the placating presence of friends are not enough, nor we want to hear heroic stories to inspire us or even listen to pieces of advice from them. The things that are bothering us seem to stick despite the assurance and well-meaning conversations with family and friends.
This is when a therapist can help.
A conversation with a therapist is different. For one, a therapist will not use the strategies mentioned above, but instead explore your life experiences with empathy and compassion. In therapy you become the center of attention; your thoughts, feelings, and behavior.
The therapist will not try to distract you, but will gently yet determinedly elicit thoughts and emotions and provide you honest feedback without imposing their own life experiences or opinions.
The position of the therapist vis-à-vis the client enables him or her to be neutral, unhindered by the challenges faced by other type of relationships. The therapist then can challenge our beliefs and values, letting us see how these are affecting us.
The therapist can help us see ourselves differently, develop our self-belief and confidence, change our view and understanding of the world, develop our coping skills and resilience, and discover the light inside all of us.
Family and friends are indispensable. They are our bedrock. Nevertheless, every now and then, nothing can replace the open, objective, neutral conversation that we can have with a therapist, just focused on us and only us.