As I was going through therapy late in my teenage years, I encountered someone in my life who was making negative decisions and taking negative actions, which were hurting me and others I was close to. When I spoke to that person about therapy, they told me they didn’t need it because they had friends they could talk to instead. They said their friends were to them what my therapist was to me.
This was frustrating in the moment, and I as I look back on it and compare the support and advice I’ve received from friends to those I’ve received in therapy, I will say both play a valuable role, but, in many cases, the roles are a little different. Your friends are there to encourage you, lift you up, or even vent with you. Often, they may even give helpful insight or advice or some tough truths you’ve been avoiding. These are all so invaluable, and I’m grateful to the people in my life I can go to when times get tough.
But friends are not therapy. While your friends may be wise in the ways of the world and know a lot about self-love, peace, and healing, they likely haven’t been trained to deal with depression, anxiety, or trauma. They may share insights but be unable to offer you workbooks, techniques, or daily practices. And, because they are so close to you, they may be unable to stand back and take a nonobjective view of your situation.
For example, the person in my life who said friends were their therapy continued to make poor choices, encouraged by those same friends. Instead of choosing to grow, they sought support and encouragement for their point of view. Validation is so important, but a skilled therapist will offer both validation and then shift your thoughts to take responsibility and move forward. Aided by their professional training and the resources at their disposal, they can help you integrate tools and techniques into your daily life to work through and overcome depression, anxiety, self-doubt, etc. They are so much more than just a support network.
Look at it like this. In a sports team, having solid teammates is important. You need people to build you up, encourage you, cheer for you, and give you feedback. But a teammate is not the same as a coach, who has the training and distance to see things more objectively and teach you how to move past the trickier hurdles in your life.
Now, everyone is different. Depending on your situation, a solid group of friends (or even one or two close friends) is enough to help you through difficult situations. That’s where I find myself at this point in my life. I no longer need therapy, and my friends and loved ones are enough to help me through when I get stuck now and again.
But earlier in my life, when I dealt with crippling depression, rampant anxiety, and self-loathing, friendship wasn’t enough to pull me through. I needed a coach. I needed a therapist.
How can you tell what’s right for your situation? If you get stuck and talking to your friends helps you unstick the problem and move forward, you may be just fine where you’re at. If, however, you find yourself talking to friends and feeling worse afterward or seeing little progress in your life, it may be time to see a therapist who can help you go to the next level.
I do also want to add that, yes, there are very insightful and wise people in this world whom you may have befriended and refer to as “your therapist.” I’ve heard this said often enough and value people who can give such insight and support during difficult moments. But unless these people have also been trained, they are not actual therapists. They might be great as a life coach, but it could also be that they are just very insightful and helpful friends who help you shift mindsets while you speak with them. But unless these conversations lead to actual change in your life, and unless you can implement actual techniques, it may not be enough. Just be aware of whether or not you are seeing growth in your life. If you aren’t, seek the next level of expertise.
I wish you all well as you explore this topic, and welcome your thoughts below! Have a wonderful day.
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