Written by: Kamilah Thomas, LCSW
Thinking about going to therapy to work out some of your personal issues, but not sure how it’s different from getting advice from your best friend or boo thang? Therapy has many benefits and can be quite helpful if the person is ready to deal with some of their challenges and willing to allow a professional to help guide them towards overall mental well-being.
Yes, therapy means being emotionally vulnerable to someone you just found on the internet and spilling the tea on some of your deepest darkest secrets. But there is a sense of relief of not having to be embarrassed by some of your thoughts, feelings, or behaviors, having someone who really gets what you are going through, and having specific and individualized coping skills to help improve or eliminate the areas of your life that aren’t so great. Keep in mind that you don’t have to wait until you’ve hit rock bottom to go to therapy, and it definitely doesn’t mean that you are crazy or weak for not being able to handle things on your own.
Here are four reasons why going to see a therapist is better than talking to your best friend, family member, faith leader, or significant other.
Remember that time when your BFF got tipsy and unintentionally shared a deep secret of yours? Or what about your ex-bae who you told about your childhood abuse and now you’re worried about him sharing that information with mutual friends? Unlike the people in your closest circle, therapists are ethically bound to maintain our clients’ confidentiality regarding what’s discussed and disclosed during sessions. That means that you don’t have to worry about us blabbing to our friends, family members, or anyone else about what you have shared. Yes, confidentiality even applies to clients who are minors. Just because the parent may have initiated therapy and is likely paying for sessions, therapists still can’t tell parents everything that their kiddo may have shared. However, there are three safety concerns in which we are legally bound to break confidentiality:
· Client expresses thoughts or intent to harm or kill self (suicidal thoughts/attempt)
· Client expresses thoughts or intent to cause harm to someone else (homicidal thoughts/attempt)
· Suspicion of child/elder abuse or neglect
No judgement zone
Most therapists have been in the field for a while and have worked with a variety of clients, in which we have heard and seen all kinds of things. This ranges from dealing with suicidality, hallucinations, delusions, depression, anxiety, PTSD symptoms, trauma, self-injurious behaviors, drug and alcohol abuse, and anger. Therefore, there likely isn’t anything that will be a huge shocker for your therapist. So, no worries, we will maintain a calm demeanor and response, keep you at ease, and create a safe nonjudgmental space for you to feel comfortable to share what’s really bugging you without giving you the side eye.
Keep in mind that therapists are also human and aren’t immune from experiencing mental health related symptoms or the unfortunate situations that life can bring. You might be surprised how much your therapist can identify with what you are going through, whether it be from personal experience or that of a friend or loved one.
Clinical expertise, not just advice
Despite your friend or bae being able to give the best advice, they likely don’t have the training to understand matters of the mind and how our experiences can affect our physical, sexual, emotional, mental, and spiritual well-being. Going to see a therapist isn’t just about chatting with someone who is easy to talk to, it’s about seeing a professional who is trained to deal with issues such as the effects that trauma can have on a person, why drug and alcohol abuse is a disease and not just a matter of will power, and why your absentee parent has had such a major effect on your relationships with others.
A friend who gives good advice can only take you so far.
Keep in mind that soliciting advice from your bae or BFF will likely come with their own personal biases and beliefs. Meaning, just because they would handle a situation in a certain way, doesn’t mean that their way is in your best interest. Also, people can experience the same situation and respond very differently based on a variety of factors.
Will your BFF really tell you the truth about your anger, substance abuse, or communication issues? Or will they sugar coat, minimize, or deny what’s going on in fear that they will hurt your feelings or become upset?
Therapists are trained on how to keep our personal beliefs, thoughts, and feelings out of the room. Also, therapists really shouldn’t be giving advice, but rather may ask questions and offer a different perspective on what’s going on for you to be able to decide what the best decision for your life is and how you want to handle things. And just as there are treatment recommendations for physical problems, such is the same for mental health problems. So be open to a therapist’s recommendations of medication, coping skills, or lifestyle changes (nutrition, exercise, etc.).
The last benefit of therapy is that you will have limited contact with your therapist. Meaning, you will likely only see him/her during your scheduled appointments, rather than feeling like you have to avoid seeing that friend or coworker who freaked out after you shared some very personal information with. Now there may be some situations where you see your therapist at the grocery store, public event, church, or at your child’s soccer game. In those instances, your therapist will likely avoid you or not acknowledge your presence to maintain confidentiality because it may be uncomfortable to explain to the person you’re with how you know each other. But the situation should be discussed during the next session with your therapist to process whether there is a conflict of interest or any concern that your anonymity may be breached in the future due to mutual friends or surroundings. Otherwise, you can feel comfortable that you have a safe space to discuss your inner most dealings in a confined setting without fear that you will run into your therapist while out having some fun.