Elizabeth Nyblade, Ph.D.
Gateway Centre
1313 E. Maple Street
Bellingham, WA 98225
P: 360.647.8295
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  Question :
  Is talking to a counselor any different than talking to a friend?
 Answer :

Yes, it is.

Talking to a friend should be a positive experience. You probably “vent” to a friend when something stressful happens to you, or ask for advice if you don’t know what to do. You expect your friend to support you with positive comments and if they have expertise in some area, for example car repair or knitting, you probably expect good advice when you ask for it. You expect to return the favor and pay your friend back by listening, supporting and advising your friend equally in other areas or at other times. Talking to friends and family, and having friends and family to talk to, is one of the most important predictors of happiness. People who don’t have a good support network of friends and family are usually less healthy, less happy, and less stable when life throws them a curve.

On the other hand, talking to a friend or family member has some limitations:

  • If you’re going through a particularly bad time, for example going through a divorce, you may find that you only want to talk about your problems and your negative feelings. Your friends and family may start to avoid you because you “bring them down.” No friend is able to listen to negative things forever without having their own negative feelings about what you’re talking about.
  • Friends or family members probably have an angle, an idea of what they think you ought to do or how you ought to proceed. For example, if you separate from your partner, maybe they think you should go back if they like your partner, or if they don’t like her, maybe they think you ought to leave. Either way, they’re not going to be objective or neutral and they won’t pay as much attention to your thoughts on the matter. Friends and family may also be impatient and just wish you’d “make up your mind” and get it over with instead of encouraging you to take the time you need to consider everything that’s on your mind.
  • Whatever your issue is, you may be too embarrassed to talk to friends and family about it. You may not have friends that would appreciate you asking questions about your sexuality, for example, or you may not want your friends to know about some things in your past that you think would change the way they look at you.
  • You may have tried talking to friends and family and been disappointed by the way they repeated things you said to them that you considered private. Not everyone is able to keep secrets because most people find it helpful to talk about things that bother them. What you say to your friend may bother your friend, and be difficult for your friend to live with just as it was for you to live with.
  • And you probably want more than advice and a listening shoulder, even if you don’t realize it. You’d probably like to learn from the experience of going through a hard time so you’re less likely to have that hard time occur to you again, or so that you cope with it better the next time. It’s one thing to survive a trauma. We all do that! But we’d all like to learn from it and thrive and gain the skills it takes to become a better person with more resilience in the future. To get that sort of a learning experience, you probably would do best with a professional teacher, and that’s what a counselor is.
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Gateway Centre • 1313 E. Maple Street • Bellingham, WA 98225

Telephone: 360-647-8295

Fax: 360.647.8296

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