health

4 reasons you should tell a therapist about your problems, instead of a friend.

Jansen Newman Institute
Thanks to our brand partner, Jansen Newman Institute

I’d been feeling off for weeks, just down and grumpy and really pessimistic about everything. Nothing anyone said could lift me out of it, I would wake up in the middle of the night crying, without really understanding why.

I talked to my friends about it, they all knew I wasn’t doing very well. And they were all really nice about it. But nothing I did, no one I talked to, seemed to make a difference.

My best friend told me to go and talk to a professional. So, after I developed psoriasis on my forehead that my GP said was probably stress related, I decided it was time to do something about it.

When I sat down in the therapist’s office the first thing she asked me was: “So, what’s been going on?”

I guess because I’d never met this woman before and I felt completely anonymous, for the first time I began to really talk about what was going on in my head. About all the things that were making me feel angry, sad and anxious.

For a long time, I had been keeping a lot of it to myself. Because I was worried I’d sound like a whinger, or that my friend’s problems were more important than mine, or that people would worry about me.

But as I sat in that office with the stiff grey carpet and closed blinds, I began to feel immeasurable relief.

benefits of therapy
People don’t really know how to listen anymore. “In western cultures we are becoming increasingly fragmented and listening is a dying art,” Bales says. Image via iStock.

It turned out that talking to a therapist was the best thing I could have done, and it was way more helpful than talking to a friend.

This might come as a surprise to you, like it did to me, but counsellor and psychotherapist Fiona Bales says there are many reasons why talking to a professional can make all the difference.

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Here are just a few.

1. A therapist is a trained listener.

People don’t really know how to listen anymore. “In western cultures we are becoming increasingly fragmented and listening is a dying art,” Bales says.

“People were listening for an average of 12 seconds in 2000 and that’s dropped down to eight seconds in 2013. That’s one second less than a goldfish.”

We also don’t remember a lot of what we hear.

“We only recall about 50 percent of what we’ve heard in a conversation,” Bales says.

All that listening trouble means that when you’re talking to a friend, even if it might seem like they’re hearing you, they probably aren’t really.

“People listen to reply. We might be preparing a response, trying to change the other person or to fix them. That’s not always in the best interest of someone who’s feeling a bit down.”

But the way a therapist is trained to listen is different.

“You listen with one purpose… to allow the other person to empty their heart. That in itself is very healing,” Bales says.

benefits of therapy
“All that listening trouble means that when you’re talking to a friend, even if it might seem like they’re hearing you, they probably aren’t really.” Image: iStock.

2. People have opinions and prejudices they always bring to the conversation.

You might be trying to listen to your friends without judgement, but the truth is we all have ideas and expectations about how people should feel and behave and it’s really hard to leave those at the door.

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“When you’re listening to someone else we’re filtering everything through our own personal biases and world view and even with all the best intentions we may be reinforcing their beliefs that don’t support them anymore,” Bales says.

Bales teaches mindfulness, and uses the concept in therapy to help people.

“I think it really does offer us a new way to be with our suffering. Suffering is part of the human condition. We all go through it and it isn’t permanent,” she says.

“Mindfulness based therapy is becoming the third wave of psychology. We just allow the thoughts to be there without judging them.

“Our culture doesn’t have much time for the darker deeper feelings such as loss, despair, anger, and rage, we tend to push them down. But therapists can allow that safe transformational space to let those hurt feelings percolate without trying to fix them.”

3. A professional can tell when talking may not be enough.

One in four women will go through a mental illness in their life, and just talking may not do enough to help.

“There are and there will always be a percentage of the population where medication will be a useful and viable alternative,” Bales says.

Identifying when that might be the case is absolutely not something a friend is equipped to do.

“For some people, medication creates a floor which they cannot fall through any further.”

Creating that floor then give the person the constancy they need to work through their problems.

4. You can say whatever you want, and no one will ever find out.

Friends can’t always be trusted to keep confidences, and that can make sharing your problems with them tricky. They might not even mean to let something slip, but suddenly people might know things about you that you don’t want them to.

That’s never going to happen with a professional.

“While speaking to a friend can be comforting, therapists are bound by ethical guidelines and number one is confidentiality and safety,” Bales says.

Your friends are always going to be there, and to want to help you. And in some cases that’s all you’ll need. But it’s important to understand that therapists use a set of tools that friends just don’t have.

Sometimes you need a little extra support.

For me, the decision to talk to a professional changed everything. It might just do the same for you.

How has speaking to a therapist helped you?

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