SF Counseling Center

San Francisco Clinical Camp

10 Differences Between Your Friend and Your Therapist

Many people think that if they have a friend who will listen to them, and perhaps offer advice that is the same as having a therapist.  So why is it that your friend and your therapist are not the same?  Here are ten important differences:


    1. Ok, here is the obvious first difference.  Your friend likely does not have between 2 to 5 years of graduate work and 4 to 7 years of supervised clinical work on which to base their feedback.  Therapists not only have this experience, but also have spent all of their professional life studying and contemplating human interactions.
    2. Your friend most likely feels like she/he HAS to agree with you or take your side.  While it feels good to have someone agree with you or ‘be on your side’ that can have a chilling effect on exploring the situation or ways in which you may be contributing to the problem.
    3. Your friend may have his/her own agenda.
    4. Your friend may know you ‘too well.’  More importantly, he/she might THINK they know you so well; they don’t look to understand you at a deeper level.
    5. It is almost impossible that your friend is going to be unbiased.
    6. Your therapist is trained in understanding your communications, even the things you are not aware you are communicating. In fact these can offer important clues to understanding your life and circumstances.
    7. You can say almost anything you want and anything that comes to your mind to your therapist.  That’s not really true with a friend.
    8. You might think your friend can help you ‘talk it out’, ‘get it out’ or ‘cry it out.’  These ideas are based on a century-old and disproven idea of ‘catharsis.’  The concept is that letting off steam or letting off pressure moves you towards health.  It came from a comparison Freud made of the mind to a hydraulic machine.  Later people mistakenly took this literally and developed this idea of catharsis.  However, as an analogy, expelling gas might feel good for the moment, but it is not a prescribed cure!  Thus, ‘talking it out’ with a friend has the potential benefit of feeling some relief and feeling closer to your friend.  However, it is not going to move you any closer to a real resolution.
    9. Psychodynamic therapists are well-versed in understanding how the unconscious mind works and can help you develop a profoundly deep understanding of the ways in which your present experience and your past interact.  This exploration can be completely life changing!
    10. Your therapist is not going to tell anyone what you think about or what you have said.  So, what you have confided stays in the room and does not follow you in any social circle.



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