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How To Decide if Counseling is Right For You

Updated on June 24, 2015

When you know you need to talk to someone...

Humans often have an overwhelming need to tell their stories, and everybody has problems. For some, their struggles may not seem like much when they compare themselves to other people. Some people however, become so overwhelmed with their troubles that they cannot cope with life. Despite whom you are or what you are going through, each person’s emotional stability is important and everybody deserves proper help. Sometimes people can find the support they need by talking to a close friend or relative, but in certain cases formal counseling by a professional therapist is necessary.

A Friend or a Therapist?

Seeking informal counseling through a friend can be enticing in numerous ways. A friend is a person who knows you, who will not charge you to listen and doesn’t require you to make an appointment. A friend is familiar with your life and who you are. Sharing your personal problems with a friend can make you feel closer to them and help you not feel so alone in your dilemma. A friend will be there for you, after all that is what a friend is for.

A therapist on the other hand is a stranger. Seeking professional counseling involves being in a setting that is not familiar to you and you may not feel comfortable at first. Unlike a friend, you have to go through the process of making an appointment with your therapist and you will definitely be charged for his or her time. A therapist needs to be told the entire story because he or she has not known you for a long period of time and doesn’t automatically know the people in your life and the situations you have experienced. In contrast to a friend, a counselor doesn’t have a preconceived idea of the way his or her client should behave. Because a friend may be expecting you to act a certain way, you may not feel free to try a new mode of behaving or relating which can create restrictions in communication.

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A friend can listen to your problems and may or may not be able to offer advice. Friendship is a two-way relationship, so you can often find comfort in the fact that you will be there for your friend if he or she has a crisis just as your friend is there for you. A major downfall of confiding in a friend is that a friend might not want to be completely honest with you in fear of hurting your feelings. You also may not want to be completely honest with your friend because you might be afraid of what he or she will think of you.


Alternatively, a therapist is trained to see patterns in your problems. Thanks to education and experience, a therapist is able to put together ways for you to work through and solve your problems in the best possible way. For example if you suffer from a phobia like a fear of snakes, your therapist might use a desensitization technique to help you relax. A therapist can better help you by utilizing strategies learned in formal training, while a friend can typically only help by listening and giving advice. The therapist and client relationship is one-way. Your therapist will want to help you and will expect nothing in return. A therapist will always be honest with you about your situation and how you should address it, and at the same time you may be more willing to be honest with your therapist as his or her thoughts and feelings about you don’t matter the way a friends thoughts or feelings would. A friend can be supportive and reassuring while at the same time being harmful because they, unlike a therapist, might avoid confrontation in fear of jeopardizing the friendship.

A friend is typically a person who you can trust. You might want to keep in mind however, that although you might swear your friend to secrecy; your friend is not legally obligated to keep what you talk about a secret.

Unlike your friends, your therapist is required to keep the things you say in your counseling sessions confidential by a code of ethics that is designed to protect the rights of their clients. Knowing that what you say will be held in confidence, except in extreme cases where you could be a threat to yourself or others, you might feel more open to share your feelings with a trained therapist rather than a friend.

There is no doubt it is vital to have a strong emotional support system. Like a therapist, a good friend can be a life-saver when you fall on hard times and you are looking for some help. Sometimes however, your personal relationships might be lacking in fulfilling your need for advice and support. When you need extra support or a different kind of support, seeking counseling by a professional therapist can be greatly beneficial.


Nystul, M. S. (2006). Introduction to Counseling. Boston: Pearson Education, Inc.


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    • Stina Caxe profile image

      Cristina 5 years ago from Virginia

      Thanks so much! I definitely take full advantage of my therapist these days. Of course she has been out of town the past two weeks and I think I am losing my mind without her!!! :)

    • Kasman profile image

      Kas 5 years ago from Bartlett, Tennessee

      I think we all need counseling in some form or another at times. That's not only what counselors are for but friends! Some of the hardest times of my life I couldn't have gotten through without some wise counsel from those who have been there before or just have more common sense in the topical area. Very informative, voting this bad boy up!

    • carter06 profile image

      Mary 5 years ago from Cronulla NSW

      This is a good summation for the choice for therapy...well done with your info...cheers