8 Reasons Counseling is Not the Same as Friendship

This is a comment and question we get frequently. "Isn't counseling just like having a friend?"

No, no, no, no, and nope (for good measure).

This is actually a pet peeve of mine. Probably because I hear people say things like, “I’m good at telling people what to do. I’m basically a counselor,” or, “My friends always ask my advice. I pretty much do counseling.”  As a counselor educator (one who trains future counselors) and counselor in private practice, I need to clarify why this is inaccurate.

*Just because it's not a friendship doesn't mean there aren't high levels of care and comraderie in the counseling office. We very much care for our clients and sometimes wish we could be friends outside of sessions! But we can't!!

In short, counseling and friendship are not the same thing. Also, as a side note, I could go on and on and on about this, so I’ll keep the rationales brief. :)

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Your Friend is Not Your Counselor

  1. Friendship is a two-way street and counseling is not.
    Long and short of this is that your counselor isn’t going to cry on your shoulder about the problems they’re going through (like divorce, death, confusion about career, depression, loneliness, etc.). That’s because it’s our job (and we LOVE IT) to put our clients first. While you might know what goes on in your counselor’s life, you’re paying for time to work through and process your own issues. We respect that and it should be your time completely. Not to mention there are ethical issues against counselors disclosing too much to clients. That’s boring to talk about, though (even if important for counselors to know).

  2. Counseing is confidential.
    This is such a serious thing for a counselor. Basically, we’re not allowed to talk about you or the details of your problem with anybody. There are some exceptions and stipulations (like consultation or reporting child abuse, among others), but long and short of it is that we’re not going to your other friends to ask the what they think about the things you’ve told us!

  3. Counselors are as objective as possible.
    The beauty in counselors is that we don’t feel obligated or compelled to withhold information or thoughts or feedback on the basis of it might hurt your feelings. Obviously (I hope obviously, anyway), we’re not setting out to say horrible things and hurt your feelings intentionally. My point is that we’re compelled to point out hard truths, or at least ask questions about hard truths that your friends might not feel comfortable asking.

  4. Counselors don’t “give advice.”
    Look, if you’re looking for an answer, then you’re coming to the wrong place. If you want to know, “Should I do x or y?!” from your counselor, you’re screwed. Your counselor should not tell you what to do. What we do, instead, is help you to figure out what decision makes the most sense for you, in your life, with your relationships and feelings and experiences. Barring certain situations (domestic violence, for example), how on earth would your counselor know what’s best for you? In short, your friends might tell you exactly what they think you should do. Your counselor should not.

  5. Counselors are trained to listen to what you’re not saying.
    This sounds silly, but it’s true. We’re trained to listen to what’s not being said. Friends don’t really do that. They tend to listen to what’s being said and directly respond to it. For example, if Susie wants to leave her husband, Frank, and she tells her friend, her friend might say, “Whatever makes you happy, Susie. You haven’t seemed happy lately!” And that’s a supportive friend - we get it. But if Susie says that to her counselor, her counselor is going to ask a shit-ton of questions about a variety of factors that might be influencing her decision, as well as underlying feelings and the meaning of such decisions (again, thinks that aren’t necessarily said out loud without prompting).

  6. Counselors don’t take it personal when you do what you want (as you should).
    Counselors know that what you decide to do is your responsibility, as well as your life!! We don’t take it personal when a client does whatever they want to do with their life, even if the client makes the same mistake they’ve made in their past three relationships and has been working on said issue for past four months. It’s not that we don’t care - we do. We care way too much sometimes. It’s just that we know people are people and each person (read: client) has their life to live. Mistakes are part of that and not personal attacks on us. Friends might not take it the same way.

  7. You won’t hold back (as much) information from your counselor.
    I don’t know about you, but I’m ridiculously more forthcoming about things with my counselor than I am with my friends. Again, time-limited and intense discussion is expected. That said, I dive right in. That’s not the case with all friendships, but that’s totally expected with a counselor, and that expectation can make a world of difference.

  8. Your friend thinks they want to know everything, but they probably don’t.
    This sounds weird, but it’s true. Some things, we just don’t want to know about our friends. You might not want to know that Susie is questioning leaving Frank. You might not want to know that Tori is struggling with sexual identity. You might not want to know that Dale was sexually abused as a child. Some information forever changes our perception of a person, and some people feel forever seen in a different light (and hate it). It’s worth noting that as lovely and warm as your friends probably are, not everybody wants to know everything (possibly).

That’s all. Phew. Long list with lots of typing. I probably could expand on each of these, but that’s surely enough for now. Questions? Reach out! Want to schedule? Contact us here!