Today Emily Lawson shares with us patterns that she found among responses from Reddit users to the question, “What is the difference between going to a therapist and talking it out with someone you really trust?” This may be a question that many of you have had yourself, and we’re grateful to hear from Emily about what she has learned from real people about their own experiences.
This post has been distilled from a robust Reddit thread with real people sharing real experiences.
Have you ever caught yourself wondering, “Why go to a therapist when I can just talk it out with a friend?” The short answer to this question is: therapy is far more than just talking it out.
After reading and distilling themes present in a related Reddit post that thousands of people responded to, we’ve come up with four main reasons that resonated with most respondents regarding why therapy is a much different experience than receiving support from friends and other loved ones.
Below we have summarized the main takeaways.
One of the reddit contributors shared, “I would say just talking to pals is a bit like using WebMD instead of going to a doctor. You might get the right answers and some peace of mind, but the actual nuances of what you are dealing with will likely be lost without the eye of a professional. And sometimes those nuances are the difference between getting useful advice and destructive advice.”
Friends and family aren’t trained to pick up on the nuances of a conversation the way a therapist is. Part of therapists’ training is to learn how to help you recognize the specific thoughts, emotions and experiences that are at the root of what you’re going through, and how to dig deeper to identify, understand, and move forward.
Your therapist is trained to help you recognize and change patterns that are no longer serving you. Friends and loved ones often lack the training or are too biased and personally involved in your circumstances to truly see and share that insight. Which speaks to the next trend we found among responses ...
Another reddit-er shared, “When you talk to a friend, their personal feelings get involved. My therapist is only concerned with my own feelings, we had no personal relationship beforehand.”
Oftentimes, your friends can’t help but insert their personal feelings into conversations about the tough stuff. Even if they have your best interest at heart (which they often do), they are inevitably biased. Their role in your life and your history together will color the feedback they share with you.
For example an older sibling may want to protect you or lead with a strong example. A caretaker may want to nurture you. A colleague may want to understand why what you’re going through is impacting your work performance and may worry about needing to pick up the extra weight. All of these complex dynamics and more are intricately woven into feedback you receive from various perspectives. Social relationships are almost always a two-way street involving mutual support with some expectation of reciprocity. A therapist offers you support without the obligatory role reversal you feel in other settings.
Seeing a therapist allows for a less biased conversation to help you move forward. A therapist’s job is help you become healthier. Part of that job is to have more self-awareness about how their feelings for and about you are influencing the way that they interact with you. This can sometimes mean your therapist will tell you things other people you are closest to will not; either because others are afraid to hurt you or the relationship you have, or because they just don’t see what the therapist sees. Often, hearing and seeing the things in your blindspot makes all the difference.
An anxiety reliever, as this reddit-er pointed out, is “[therapists] are paid to listen to me. I don't have to worry about if I'm bothering them (I am paying them, I am decidedly not bothering them they have nothing else to do at that moment), if its a good time for them to hear about my problem (its my appointment! of course its a good time!), or that I need to ask them about them and their lives and check-in on them.”
Do you ever find yourself not fully opening up to friends and family because you don’t want to burden them with your issues? While it may take some time to get used to, this is not the case when talking to a therapist, because it is their job to not only listen to what you have to say but to professionally guide you through your situation. At therapy, you can be sad, angry, irrational, or any other emotional state without worrying that you are burdening anyone.
Ah, the best of all: therapy (of many kinds and techniques) is evidence-based. It works. This reddit-er put it simply: “I went through two years of [therapy] and my god was it helpful. You learn so much that just sticks with you for life.”
Going to therapy is likely to help, and the lessons that you learn have great potential to stay with you even after you stop going to therapy. Talking it out to friends can certainly be comforting and helpful in the more immediate-tense, and is better than not talking about what you are going through at all, but it is not the same as talking with a therapist.
Going to therapy with a trained professional offers you the most lasting progress in the long run. It is designed to dig into the patterns that are impacting you on a repeating cycle. Those patterns will continue to impact you if you don’t proactively recognize them at their root. Social conversations tend to address what’s at the surface, yet we can miss what’s at the root.
We are all constantly going through changes: life transitions, career changes, physical health diagnoses, losses and gains. Therapy can help you heal, grow, cope - whatever your needs are in the given chapter of your life.
Both good friends and good therapists will have your best interest in mind and both are important to have in your life. But your friends aren’t equipped to deal with the type and depth of issues and dynamics that you will work through in therapy.
Talking honestly with people close to you is important, and therapy isn't a replacement for that. Finding time and space exclusively for you to learn what makes you tick and grow into who you want to be is also important, and talking it out with friends is also not a replacement for therapy.
Thank you, Emily, for these four clear and meaningful reasons why the support you may get from a therapist can be so different than the support you are likely to receive from loved ones.
When we are in a space that makes it safe to share about our own therapy experiences, we help to demystify therapy for others and to answer questions that may be hindering a person from trying therapy. Hearing from people about their own experiences can oftentimes be just as, or even more, encouraging than seeking guidance from professionals in the field.
Keep in touch with Emily on Instagram at: @emhurlaw
Thoughts, questions, or feedback? Want to share your story?
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Emily Lawson is a freelancer who specializes in writing and managing marketing who loves working with female entrepreneurs. She lives just north of Boston with her husband, and when she's not behind her computer screen, you'll find her working out, batch cooking in the kitchen or planning her next vacation.