Are You a Friend or a Therapist?
Here’s the raw truth. When you are a helper, you want to help everyone. I believe because of this trait that I have, I ended up in relationships both intimate and with friends who need “help”, “fixing”, who consider themselves or who others consider to be “broken”. It’s taken years of learning me, learning to love myself, become happy with who I am, and to find out what really gets me going to see the pattern and to allow myself to stop these occurrences. YES! I am a therapist, but I’m not your therapist!
It’s almost impossible to ignore a friend, partner, or family member when they reach out for help, that’s a fact. However, there have to be boundaries, and as a person in a helping role working in the mental health field, you must know when to step away and when and how to set boundaries.
Remember, a relationship where the other person is dumping all of their problems and issues on you is not doing you, or your relationship any favors whatsoever. If the topic is more serious, reports of abuse, trauma, suicidal or homicidal thoughts, it's best to approach the topic of that individual seeking professional help, from someone other than yourself. Help find this person in your life a therapist they can connect with if they don’t already go to counseling. It may be intimidating and uncomfortable for both of you, but it may save your relationship. It’s okay to help them find someone, dealing with insurance and finding the right fit may be hard, and scary. You may even offer to drive them or go with but sit outside during their intake.
It’s important to assure this person that you are in fact looking out for their best interest, because, you are. They may feel resentment, or like you don’t care or are distancing yourself, however you are helping by not taking on the task of therapist and friend/coworker/family member/spouse. It’s okay to tell them that your actions are coming from a place of love and caring, and that you only want what’s best for them. More importantly, remind them you will always be there for them, no matter what. It won’t be easy, in fact it will be hard to tell them that you can’t give them all the help that they need. You don’t want to disappoint, by nature you want to help, but to be able to identify that it’s not always a possibility, and to say it out loud are important for an relationship.
It can be a lot to process, if someone is treating you like their therapist instead of whatever role you actually play in their life, it needs to be addressed. As a helper, you can offer insight, be empathetic, but also set that boundary so that you yourself don’t get burnt out with those closest to you.
Helpers, there is a difference between being empathetic and taken advantage of, step back from your relationships, and be honest with yourself. Are you being used as a therapist instead of a friend/partner/family member? If so, what changes can you make to change this, without hurting the relationships. It’s hard to watch people struggle, especially those we care about, however, it’s important that we let them so that they may learn and grow. It’s how we learn, how we grow, how we become stronger and wiser. We struggle and fall, but when we are left to fend for ourselves, we get back up. We are resilient, and it’s okay to say “I can’t be your therapist, I am here as a friend/partner/family member.”