If you’ve ever vented to a friend, you probably know how much better it can make you feel to discuss your problems with someone willing to listen and provide comfort. In this way, many people act as so-called therapists to their friends, offering support and advice on navigating demanding situations. While being there for a friend is not a negative thing, it can be important to remember that you can’t be an actual therapist to your friend since real therapy must come from a licensed mental health professional. As a result, there may be some situations that are out of your depth. Alternatively, there may be times that you feel too busy with your own challenges to be able to support your friend.
Making Yourself Available
It may be important to nurture your friendships. Studies show that people with solid friendships tend to live happier and more fulfilled lives. Being a friend to someone may mean showing up when times are tough. If you have a friend who needs help, you may be unsure of how exactly to help. Still, the first step may be simply showing up and letting your friend know that you’re there for them.
Your friends may not always share what’s on their minds. Still, if you sense someone needs to talk, it might not hurt to ask them how they’re doing or if they have something they’d like to discuss. Whether you’re communicating with your friend in person, through text, or via phone call, you can let them know that you’re there for them. If one of you can’t talk at that moment, the two of you can coordinate schedules and figure out a good time to call or meet up.
Providing Support And Validation
When we’re experiencing a challenging emotion or situation, we may go to others in an attempt to “solve” the problem. However, problems aren’t always easy to solve, and emotions might not disappear at the drop of a hat. Instead of trying to fix problems or come up with solutions, we can provide support for our friends by validating what they’re going through.
For example, someone struggling to move on from a breakup may tell you they miss their ex and feel lost without them. You may be tempted to tell your friend that it’s time to move on since doing so will likely benefit them in the long run, but this may be invalidating. Instead, you could validate their feelings by saying something like, “I bet that’s really hard. It can be normal to miss your ex, but I’m sure that doesn’t make the situation any easier. I’m here for you”.
Similarly, a friend experiencing grief after losing a pet may express their sadness. Saying things like, “He’s in a better place now” or, “You’ll feel better in time” may be comforting for some, but for others, it may feel like you don’t understand what they’re going through. Instead, you can try validating your friend’s feelings by saying, “I’m so sorry you’re going through this. I know you really loved your pet. How can I help you feel better?”
Another way to support your friend in need could be by practicing active listening. This might mean staying engaged as they talk with you, asking questions, and listening deeply rather than listening to respond. Active listening can show your friends that you are present with them in their challenges, which can offer comfort.
Offering Advice If It’s Wanted
If your friend comes to you looking for support, consider that they might not always be looking for advice. It may be helpful to directly ask your friend, “Do you want me to just listen, or do you want my advice?”
If your friend is just looking to vent, engaging in active listening can be an effective way to show your support. Remember that your friend might need comfort and care more than they need firm solutions to their situation. If your friend does want your advice, it might be good to call upon your own experiences and share how you have handled a similar situation.
If your friend is going through something that you’ve never experienced, you may feel like you don’t have any good advice. In this case, it can be hard to know what to say to help someone. The statements and behaviors that make one person feel better may make another feel worse, so it can be hard to know your friend’s perspective.
However, it may be useful to think about your friend and your relationship with them. From there, you can decide what may help them feel better. If they tend to cope with humor, for example, you may try cheering them up with a joke. If they are a logical person, you may work with them to reframe the situation in a more positive light and think about how it may benefit them in the future.
One thing to consider when offering advice: while you may feel like you know exactly how to help your friend, you might not want to overstep. It may be helpful to let your friend maintain control of the conversation. If they don’t appear to be interested in the advice you’re offering, it may be a sign to pull back and let them take charge of the conversation. You may want to keep in mind that this is their life, and they must make their own decisions.
In an ideal world, we would always be available to help our loved ones through tough situations. In reality, though, we often have busy schedules and our own life stressors to manage. It may feel difficult to tell a friend you can’t help them in their time of need. Still, it can be important to know your limits and create boundaries when you lack the bandwidth to help other people.
For example, imagine your friend comes to you and is upset because they got passed up on a job promotion. You may be in the middle of a stressful day and feel like you aren’t in a good emotional state to help. In these sorts of situations, it may be appropriate to set a boundary with your friend. You may say something like, “I’m sorry you’re feeling down. Today is really busy for me, but let’s get dinner tomorrow and talk about it,” or reschedule for another time when you feel you’ll be able to help. It might not always be easy to set boundaries, but prioritizing your own peace may enable you to be a better friend in the long run.
When your friend needs support that you can’t provide, there may be other options that can help them navigate their challenges. For example, studies show that a meditation practice can help people improve physical and mental health and learn how to better handle stress. Similarly, many people find yoga to be calming for the mind and body.
Others may find solace and comfort in journaling, taking a relaxing bath, or utilizing other self-care strategies. Suggesting one of these interventions to your friend may allow you to provide some assistance even if you can’t be present with them at the time.
Getting Help From A Mental Health Professional
Having friends to rely on can be beneficial for mental health. Still, there are some situations that friends can’t resolve. In these cases, connecting with a licensed therapist can be an effective way of addressing life stressors or mental health conditions. Speaking with a mental health professional can help individuals address their concerns, learn new coping skills, and work towards living a happier life.
Online therapy can provide a convenient option for those individuals who need the support and guidance of therapy but have busy schedules. Remote therapy can enable them to schedule sessions at their convenience and meet with their therapist from the comfort of their homes. This can help save them time, money, and stress by avoiding commutes to an in-person office.
Moreover, research indicates that online therapy, specifically cognitive behavioral therapy, can be as effective as traditional, in-person therapy. The quality of your care doesn’t have to change due to its format. In fact, some may find it easier to engage regularly and comfortably in online therapy.
Frequently Asked Questions
For examples of questions that might be beneficial to explore in therapy, please see below.
Is it normal to feel like your therapist is your friend?
How can I be more like a therapist?
Can your friend also be your therapist?
Do I treat my friends like therapists?
When a friend uses you as a therapist?
Do therapists tell you what you want to hear?
How do I know if I am a therapist friend?
Can a therapist treat their friends?
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