Offices Located in Columbia, MD & Washington DC
A Certified Minority Business Enterprise (MBE)

Five Differences Between Therapy and Talking to a Trusted Friend

Having a close friend in whom you can confide is crucial to feeling whole. It’s empowering to know you can pick up the phone and connect with someone during times of duress, happiness, and sometimes just because you want to feel cared for.    When this is missing from our lives we can begin to feel despair.  Family members are also great support systems to utilize, even when they are not the healthiest in our lives.  Both of these relationships are vital to our social network.  A social network is comprised of those who we rely on outside of ourselves to deal with everyday life situations.   For instance, if your car breaks down you rely on having a person close to you for assistance.  If your partner breaks up with you, your network should be there for you to offer support.  Without these supports you are left lonely and thinking that these things “always happen to me” and that there may be no hope.  Although these people are of grave importance they are not the same as talking to a professional.  For instance, you would not call your therapist to help you when your car breaks down, nor at three in the morning when you need a scoop of ice cream to get over a break up. However, there are many times when a therapist is a better option than a friend or family member. Outlined below are some of the differences between using friends and family versus therapists as tools for self-discovery.   

  • A therapist is trained to listen openly and not interrupt you.  A friend is more likely to offer his/her opinions throughout your conversation, which can lead to frustration and other negative emotions unrelated to your disclosure and actually about the integrity of your relationship with the person of who you are confiding.  Whereas a therapist may ask you to further explain or clarify certain points in your disclosures as to help you stay on track to discovering a solution to your woes or only to further explore feelings you may not be able to realize independently.  The therapist, unlike a friend, should be able to recognize if you are becoming frustrated and should address this to help you become aware of the feeling and to move through it.  When we disclose to a friend and become frustrated we are likely to feel the friend is not being supportive, and has their own agenda within our troubles.


  • A friend cannot supply you with a weekly set time and place to speak about your worries.  When you enter a therapeutic relationship it is a commitment to a weekly appointment of which you and the therapist allot time to delve into your needs.  The only person in the room who is getting attention is you.  You do not have to worry about whether you are taking too much of the therapists time as there is a set time for the session (sessions are 45-50 minutes long). There is a clear beginning and an end.  When meeting a friend for coffee to talk about different life situations, usually you and your friend offer each other life scenarios and exchange opinions.  In therapy you are the star! You have undivided attention without distraction and when you end you know you can pick back up the same time the following week.


  • A friend/family member is unable to be objective as they have an investment in the relationship which you share and many times know others in the situations you are discussing.  Preconceived notions are detrimental to being objective.  You also may be less likely to express certain feelings in fear that the familiar person is going to divulge what you are disclosing, or may use the information against you or the other party.



  • Friends and family are related to you in a way that a therapist can never be.  It can be intimidating to sit and meet with a stranger who is expecting you to open up and carry on about your deepest thoughts.  However, the positive in this relationship is that the therapist has no preconceived notion about your character.  This is a time for you to be able to express yourself without the chance of hearing, “you always do that” or “I told you so” and other condemning comments which may bring you to close back up.  As therapy develops and you become more comfortable with the therapist you will enjoy the comfort of the therapist getting to know who you are through your self description. A therapist, unlike a friend of family member, can lend her ear and expertise, but will not use the information against you.  Patterns that the therapist can help you identify will not be presented as “you always do that” but rather will be an offering to be used as a tool to begin to further understand yourself and your behaviors.  The therapist may bring forth previous information you have confided in her, but it will be with reason and the reason will be explained.  Making connections between your feelings and your behaviors and similar reactions to past and present situations are the core to being productive in therapy.  A friend may be more likely to react to you as your relationship dictates; whereas a therapist will help you discover your meanings for the repeated behaviors, feelings and emotions, and eventually, if you are willing, will help you make appropriate adaptations.


  • Finally, a therapist can produce a safety net for you to practice expressing emotions if you are not used to doing so. The therapy session, with a beginning time and ending time, acts as a security for these feelings and emotions. What you bring to therapy can remain in that safety net of the therapist’s office untilyou decide you are ready to reveal it to the outside world.**** Therapy is a sacred place for you to talk about anything and everything. Knowing this allows you to safely relieve yourself of contained feelings. When confiding in a friend or family member you may anticipate how they might react and therefore may give in to feelings of anxiety and continue to hide the feelings and emotions. Revealing your feelings to an objective, trustworthy and nonjudgmental individual who will not hold disclosures against you can be refreshing and uplifting. Many times people feel that others will not be able to handle what they want to say, so the person tries to protect the friend or family member from being hurt, hence keeping the feelings inside. This is not necessary in therapy, as the therapist is a sounding board prepared to listen to your words, attempt to help you capture the feelings involved and offer supportive and validating statements.

These are only a few of the points that entering therapy can supply.  If you are contemplating therapeutic services, be mindful that therapists are just people.  They have no more or less power than you are willing to give them.  You may need to “shop” around for the right therapist.  Like all relationships, time will tell.  Avoid going to one session and making a decision on whether or not to continue with the therapist.  It can take up to three sessions to know if you are a right fit.  Another tip is to not allow your feelings of fear and anxiety to sway you from returning.  Something to discuss in the first session is how not to “over disclose” and use the session as a trash bag to throw out the feelings you have bottled up for so long.  These feelings are linked to strong emotions such as shame, embarrassment and other negativity which you may not be comfortable with experiencing and are used to running from.  It could also create an opinion that therapy is all about bad feelings which overwhelm you and so you may not return.  Try to always feel as if you can approach the therapist with these thoughts about therapy and know she is ready and willing to explore these insecurities with you.

****If you tell a therapist that you are thinking about hurting or killing yourself or others the therapist is mandated to alert the appropriate authorities.  If you tell a therapist that you are the victim of any type of abuse or neglect the therapist will also have to alert the appropriate authorities.