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Is Therapy Just Paid Friendship?

3 minute read

Psychotherapy (or counselling, the terms are interchangeable) is an odd beast. You sit in a room with another person and the two of you talk, and somehow, magically, that makes you feel better. Sigmund Freud invented the field of psychoanalysis a little over a century ago; before then, the ‘talking cure’ was completely unknown.

Or was it?

You don’t need to have a PhD to know that unburdening yourself to someone makes you feel better. The Catholic Church provides the ritual of confession, and many other religions offer similar, although less formalized, opportunities for members to discuss their worries and unhappiness with their religious leaders. So the concept of healing through talking is a very old one indeed.

You might ask, “If that’s the case, why would I go to see a therapist? What is it that happens in a therapy room that is different from talking to anyone else, whether they be a friend, family member or religious leader?” Is therapy, as some critics say, just paid friendship?

There are seven reasons why therapy is very different from any other relationship -- and different from paid friendship:

No Judgment

Most people are quite self critical, and have feelings or behaviors that they’re not proud of. Knowing that your therapist has seen everything makes it easier for many people to start opening up. A good therapist doesn’t think about right and wrong, but rather about what makes someone behave the way they do. I find that when I truly understand a client, I can see how, if I had their life, I would behave much as they have. And if I ever start to feel that a client shouldn’t have behaved in a certain way, I know instantly that this is a signal that I do not fully understand that individual. And I redouble my efforts to delve into their life.

Self Disclosure Is Expected

Many people feel awkward talking about themselves and their issues, so it’s hard to get started. But when you enter the therapy room, and the therapist asks “What brings you here?” your role is clearly defined. That simple fact enables clients to say things they’ve never said before — and to a total stranger.


You can never be quite sure that other people will hold your secrets — but you can be sure your therapist will. Knowing that you can confess to immoral and even illegal acts without fear of exposure is very reassuring. Therapists only break confidentiality when a homicide or suicide is being planned, or when a child is being endangered and they fear they cannot stop their client.

The Relationship Is One Way

Some people who are new to therapy feel uncomfortable paying for someone to listen to them. But all relationships are reciprocal: your friends and relatives (and even religious leaders) may listen to you, but they expect something in return — praise, support, gratitude, comfort, contribution to the community. The therapy relationship is reciprocal in a different way: You receive a session that is entirely, totally dedicated to you, and the only thing you have to do in return is pay.

Skilled Listener

Listening well is an art, and no therapist can be successful without it. Most of our friends and family members may consider themselves good listeners, but in fact may subtly shut others down. Talking to someone who knows just what to say and how to say it (and when to say nothing at all) is a delight. Suddenly we find ourselves talking about things we didn’t even know we thought or felt.

Ideas That Can Help

Therapists will offer you a theory as to why you are feeling badly, and actions you can take that will help. As long as that theory makes sense to you, it will instill hope and an expectation that your problems can be solved. And that hope and expectation alone can help you begin to change.

Corrective Experience

Therapists are experts in maintaining positive relationships. For some people who struggle to trust others, or whose relationships are marked by discord, having one person in their life who is steady, trustworthy and won’t let the relationship break is a relief and a learning experience.

Most people find they have to steel themselves to make that first call to a therapist. But once they’ve done that, they generally find themselves — for all of the reasons above — enjoying the experience immensely.


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