If I Have Good Friends, Do I Really Need a Counsellor?
Although counselling has become much more acceptable and valued in our time, there are still voices who consider that if you have good friends then you shouldn’t actually need a counsellor. Aren’t counsellors just people who listen to you? Can’t your friends do this for you?
There is something very special about the relationship between friends. The value of friendship can never be overstated. Its importance is often the key to a supportive and fulfilling life. The relationship between client and counsellor, though, is equally special but contains very different dynamics. It offers some unique things which even the best of friends cannot offer. Let us scratch the surface and look at just a few reasons why you may need a counsellor alongside your friends:
Offload troubles: Friends share their personal life and offload their troubles to each other. A professional counsellor won’t do this. They are there to hear about your issues and problems and not to weigh you down with issues of their own. You are the focus of attention. You can reveal things without worrying or being concerned about over-burdening your counsellor. She/he is trained to cope with the sadness and despair that you bring to them. In counselling, you don’t have to hear the troubles of others in exchange for sharing your own. For at times, if you are emotionally vulnerable, sharing other peoples’ troubles – a benchmark of true friendship – can feel like an impossible task.
Keep your confidence: We often have one or two good friends who we trust to keep our confidences. Even though we have this, we may still feel unable to share a private thought or problem with them in spite of desperately needing to talk about it. We can worry about revealing a difficult secret. We also know that friends fall out, occasionally have a shift in allegiance or inadvertently reveal something which was never meant to be made public knowledge. Many lives have been thrown into turmoil by unguarded revelations of the latter kind. Outside of very strict confines, all counselling and therapy is confidential and will remain so. We need not fear that our thoughts will be revealed over the passage of time. We can offer our private information secure in the knowledge that this will not appear around a dinner table somewhere, or come back to haunt us if ever our friendship dissolved.
Fear of judgment: Friends often have their own opinions about our behaviour and exhibit disapproval or disappointment in us. While this may be justifiable in moral terms, a therapist does not behave in this way. In therapy you enter a non-judgemental space where you are not disappointing someone with things you have done or said. You do not need to hide aspects of your true self for fear of negative judgement. You will also experience an impartial objectivity which friends, with the best will in the world, can sometimes lack.
Emotional expertise: Most importantly, an accredited counsellor is an expert in mental health and emotional difficulties. They know how to manage difficult mental states. Are your friends confident that they know how to deal with a person having psychotic thoughts? Is it best to challenge someone who is exhibiting anxious and obsessive behaviour or should we comfort them and accede to their demands? When a person has experienced traumatic sexual abuse are we confident, as a friend, that we can help them to truly resolve these issues and heal from their devastating trauma? We visit counsellors precisely because of their expertise in these areas. We wouldn’t expect our non-plumber friends to fix our leaking tap and yet we often think that our friends should be willing and able to help us to solve difficult emotional problems. Of course, we hope that our friends will support and comfort us but counselling and therapy offers us something in addition to this. It doesn’t just offer us sympathy and solidarity but offers concrete help in understanding and resolving our painful life issues. It helps us to make sense of all aspects of our lives and integrate that knowledge into our future. This one-to-one care is devoted to that cause.
As wonderful as friends are, sometimes your problems require an expert to help you to cope with the difficulties that you’re experiencing. Time has moved on for most people. There is now greater understanding of the value of counsellors and therapists and recognition of them as experts in the field of emotional health. Difficulties do arise that the truest of friends do not have the knowledge or expertise to help us tackle. It’s also fair to note that our friends do not have unlimited time to devote to us, and our issues, and that many friendships are stretched to the limit by one party neglecting to realise this.
So we return to our opening question. Do you need a friend or a counsellor? Thankfully, we don’t need to choose either one. We can have both. Each has their own unique value and unique roles, but these roles are not interchangeable. At different points in our life, we may well benefit from both of these valuable emotional support systems.