As someone who has been in therapy for over 6 years, there’s no denying that the bond formed with a therapist is unique.
This individual knows more about you than anyone else so there’s an added element of trust and safety. With that said, I’ve definitely had instances where I wondered whether or not I was in therapy because I wanted to work on myself or was fond of the rapport that had been established.
In my case, I realized I didn’t really want to be friends with my therapist. I was comfortable with the emotional validation and support from her that I didn’t receive from others in my immediate circle. Now, I’m super open in therapy so I brought this to her attention at the time and she said it made sense considering my trauma history and current relationships.
This issue went away on its own because I was forced to stop seeing her for other reasons. While it was difficult, I think it was beneficial for me because otherwise I’m not sure how long I would have stayed with her. It’s worth noting I do feel she definitely would have taken considerable action to create more of a “working distance” in our therapeutic relationship so it was healthy and helpful.
My experience in therapy led me to wonder whether other people might only be staying in therapy because they feel like they’ve become friends with their therapist, or because they’ve developed an unhealthy dependence.
Although I’ve been in therapy for years and consider myself a mental health advocate, I’m not a therapist so I can’t speak on this matter with certainty. To understand this concept more, I spoke with Melani Afshar, Psy. D, and owner of FemmeDeBloom, and she shared some insights on why a therapeutic relationship might start to feel more like a friendship and what you can do about it.
@dr.tthetherapist For these reasons, & more, it’s against our code of ethics. #psychologist #tiktoktherapist #therapytiktok #therapytok #mentalhealth #boundaries #fyp ♬ original sound – Dr. T – Psychologist
You Can’t Become Friends With Your Therapist
I can definitely attest to the importance of having a strong bond with your therapist. From my experience, when I had a close connection with my therapist, that’s when the most progress was made and I was able to heal in a meaningful way.
“A person continuing in therapy is definitely dependent on a strong and positive therapeutic relationship,” says Afshar. “It is always important for a client to feel connected with their therapist as it promotes healing and safety.”
However, this positive therapeutic relationship can sometimes be misunderstood by either one or both parties and lead to more of a friendship.
u ever get excited for therapy because you know you have good gossip for your therapist like just wait til u hear what they did Hannah! just wait!!
— ellie schnitt (@holy_schnitt) September 22, 2020
What You Might Notice In Session
If you feel your sessions are starting to feel more like personal gossip meetings and catching up with an old friend, then you might want to bring this up to your therapist.
“It may look like a therapist asking a client for advice or for inserting themselves excessively in sessions, rather than focusing on the client,” she says. “It could also be happening if the conversation in every session is very surface-level and does not address the client’s goals or focus on the client’s progress.”
Your Therapist is Responsible for Boundaries
However, when you start feeling like you want to become friends with your therapist, that’s most likely due to the practitioner’s lack of professional boundaries.
“It is the therapist’s responsibility as a health care provider to maintain ethical boundaries to protect the client,” says Afshar.
In therapy, the main focus is on the client and their needs. It’s not a reciprocal relationship like a friendship is.
In some instances, if a therapist over shares about their personal life, it can blur the line between a therapeutic relationship and a friendship making it hard for patients to separate the two.
“These professional boundaries can often be compromised when a therapist is taking on too many clients or if they lack their own sufficient social support system.”
It’s important to understand that you (as a client) can’t control how your therapist sets and maintains boundaries. Ethically, they are aware that becoming friends isn’t possible. The attachment is not your fault.
What You Can Do
One of the great parts about therapy is that it’s typically a safe space to bring up concerns like this.
Afshar encourages patients to do this if they feel comfortable because sometimes that’s the easiest way to let your therapist know something isn’t working for you. At the end of the day, you are paying them to help you heal and provide objective information. If they aren’t doing that, then what’s the point?
“You have every right to terminate therapy and look for another therapist,” she says. “Sometimes it can take some time to find the right one for you, so don’t be afraid to shop around!”