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One of the benefits of friendship is having someone to confide in, share your news (both good and bad) with, and ask for support. But sometimes it feels like a friend considers you not just his buddy but his therapist as well – he is constantly reaching out to you to listen to his problems and in some cases offer advice or solutions.
And while it may seem like you are doing the right thing, this arrangement is ultimately not ideal for either of you. In an article for Well + Good, Minaa B., a therapist and mental health educator from New York City, discusses why a friend is no substitute for a therapist and how to set boundaries in friendship if necessary. Here’s what you should know.
You are not your friend’s therapist
If your colleague or a friend you have seen regularly comes into conversation with you or with you, in the expectation that you will listen, process what has been said and offer advice, you would probably immediately let them know that the rule is doesn’t work for you. But when it is your friend who is having problems, it is much (much) harder to say no.
As Minaa B. points out We live in a time when we are encouraged to speak openly about our mental health, including our setbacks. “While that’s great, it’s also important to remember that not everyone is mentally able to accept and manage our own personal emotional struggles.” she writes.
It is entirely possible to care deeply about your friend but not have the energy or emotional range to give them the kind of support they want or need.
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How to set healthy boundaries in your friendship
Here are three tips from Minaa B. for setting necessary boundaries with a friend who treats you like their therapist:
Let them know you have limits
Unless you tell your friend that you have limits on how much emotional work you can do in friendship – and that you have achieved them – they likely won’t know you are feeling this way. “Sometimes we wait for other people to find out information that we can share.” Minaa B. writes. “Be ready to communicate what your limits are.”
Point out resources to them
Even if you can’t act as your friend’s therapist, that doesn’t mean you can’t give them information that they might find helpful. If you come across a resource that you think might be useful to your friend, Minaa B. advises Use supporting language to reinforce the boundaries you established when creating the proposal.
“For example, ‘I realize that I don’t have the insight to help or advise, and I really want to support you. I know of a resource called x and I think it would be great if you consider reaching out for additional assistance, ‘”she writes.
Be honest with your friend (and yourself)
Unless you are a trained therapist yourself (in which case you wouldn’t take a friend as a client anyway), however good you mean it, there is always the possibility that your advice will misdirect your friend. or put them in a situation without the kind of support they need. For this reason, Minaa B. emphasizes that it is important to be honest with both your friend and yourself about these limitations – it is in everyone’s best interests.