Who to Turn to - Friend or Professional Counselor?
You're in a fix. Your mood is low and you're struggling to make sense of things. Your mind is going over the same issues again and again. Where to turn for some help and support?
The title of this Sharepost might suggest a choice should be made, friend or counselor? It's not like that of course. Plenty of people turn to friends as well as professional counselors. Even so, not everyone knows what is to be gained or lost through these different interactions so here's a summary of what I think are a few of the issues.
A friend can be a fantastic source of support. They can do things with you that is completely outside the remit of a professional counselor. A friend can spend hours with you. They can shop, drink, share a meal and more with you. A friend may have shared history and may go back a long way and you may trust them totally. If you have such a person in your life count yourself fortunate. With all these wonderful attributes you may wonder what a counselor can offer that your friend can't?
Well, the very things that bond you to another person may get in the way at times when you need a certain kind of help and support. The timing of your needs may not be good for a friend who themselves may have issues. Friends also tend to have a way of offering advice. They may become frustrated that you keep going over the same ground yet appear to be doing nothing about it. Over time it can even put the friendship under strain. Your friend may look for ways of distracting you or may begin to lose interest and so the calls become less frequent. They may even become irritated at your inertia.
This is certainly one of the key differences between a friend who may offer counsel and a professional counselor who provides therapy. What a counselor will appreciate, for example, is your need to go over and over the same ground. They have no preconceptions about you and no beliefs or value judgements, however well intentioned, they seek to impose. A counselor will help you explore your emotions or confusions in ways that reframe the issue and give you the time and space you need. Talking things through in an environment that offers emotional security and wisdom helps you to gather your own resources by following your own path and building your own defences and resilience.
Professional counseling is an occupation and as such payment is often required. Sometimes counselors are employed on staff or in a voluntary capacity. Unfortunately anyone can refer to themselves as a counselor. I've come across people who have nothing more than a six week course under their belt! So, always check the background and accountability of your counselor via their professional body.