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Your friends and family might love you, but they don’t always make for good therapists.
Approximately 1 in 6 adults in the United States experiences mental health issues in any given year, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. Luckily, among those 44 million Americans are celebrities who are using their platform to raise awareness and normalize talking about mental health issues.
That includes Kanye West.
“I want to change the stigma of [the word] crazy, of mental health — period,” he told radio personality Charlamagne in a nearly two-hour long interview earlier this month.
Unfortunately, Kanye went on to make some polarizing comments about therapy: “I use the world as my therapy, as my therapist,” he said. “I will pull them into the conversation of what I’m feeling at that point and get their perspective.”
Twitter didn’t react so kindly to Kanye’s comments, some going so far as to call this strategy dangerous.
After all, friends and family aren’t always the best source of advice. Plus, there are many benefits of talking to a therapist that you simply won’t get from a non-professional.
We’ve certainly come a long way when it comes to destigmatizing the world of mental health.
Today, younger generations are viewing therapy as a crucial part of proactively maintaining their overall wellness, says licensed psychologist Erika Martinez, PsyD. “Because of our prevalent medical model and the way insurance is set up, mental health has been thought of as secondary or tertiary care. It’s never been used as preventive medicine. Now, prevention is what it’s all about.”
But there’s still an undeniable stigma around talking about mental health and seeing a therapist.
Maybe you feel embarrassed to require help beyond what friends or family can provide, or maybe you — like Kanye — just have yet to understand the benefits of paying to talk to someone.
These eight reasons to talk to a therapist, rather than friends and family, may change your mind:
1. A therapist won’t judge you
One of the biggest perks of having a therapist? You can talk to them about literally anything without needing to filter yourself for fear of being judged. It’s basically one of the key requirements of the job.
“My job is to give you 100 percent positive regard and unconditional support, and to be completely nonjudgmental,” Kate Cummins, licensed clinical psychologist, tells Healthline.
Friends and family might not have the extensive training to keep their judgement in check on whatever you’re going through.
2. Therapists aren’t pushing their own agenda
As an unbiased third party, your therapist should be there to give the best possible guidance to you — and you alone. “The problem with friends is that they care about you and their relationship with you, so they often just agree with you to make you feel better,” says psychiatrist Scott Carroll, MD.
“Family, on the other hand, tends to advise you in ways to ‘protect you’ and minimize your risk, or [to] fit their beliefs about morals and how they think life should be lived,” he says.
These are the best-case scenarios. The worst case is that your friend or family member may actually want to control you or keep you in a pathological state for their benefit, he adds.
With a therapist, you have someone who doesn’t have the same personal stake, so they can be completely honest and objective.
3. They’re required to keep your secrets
When you choose to make your friends your therapists, you can end up putting both of you in a tough spot. Especially if you’re venting about someone they also have a relationship with, says Martinez.
While it’s important to only confide in those who you have complete trust in, with a therapist, you don’t have to worry that something you said in confidence will be turned into gossip or repeated to the wrong person.
4. Therapists have years of training under their belt to help you address the problem
While your friend may have taken a Psych 101 class, without a degree, they simply don’t have the tools to help you take action. (And even if they did, they’d have bias). “Your friends and family can listen and provide support, but a clinician is trained to understand your psychological behaviors. They can help you uncover the why,” Cummins says.
And most importantly, they can also give you healthy coping strategies, so you can change your behaviors, or move past dysfunctional thoughts or difficult emotions, she adds.
5. With a therapist, you don’t have to feel guilty about feeling “needy”
After all, you’re paying them (or insurance is)! Any relationship can turn toxic if one person feels like they’re constantly being “used” for support, but never supported in return. With a therapist, it’s not supposed to be a two-way street.
“As a therapist, you don’t expect anything back from your clients, except for them to just show up. With any other relationship you have in life, something is needed in return. If it’s your parents, they need you to be their child; if it’s a friend, they want that friendship back,” says Cummins.
6. They won’t minimize your problems
There’s nothing worse than going through a painful or traumatic experience and being told by a friend or family member that you should be “over it by now.”
The fact is, everyone experiences and manages life events differently. A therapist will understand that everyone is on their own timeline when it comes to getting over a breakup, settling into a new job, or processing any other obstacle, Cummins says.
And when it comes to other serious mental health issues like depression or anxiety — or even sub-clinical issues like loneliness or social anxiety — a therapist will never minimize or brush over your issues as not serious enough or worthy of attention like your friends or family may.
7. Talking to the wrong people might make you feel worse
“Some people have really difficult families. It may not be safe to share intimate struggles with them even if they are flesh and blood,” Martinez points out. “Others simply aren’t equipped with the ability to hear your story, and they won’t be able to empathize,” she says.
“When people share intimate struggles with those who haven’t earned the right to hear them, or who make them feel minimized, judged, or deprecated, it can do more damage than good,” she adds.
Of course, talking to select friends and family who do make you feel understood and validated can be helpful, especially if you just need a vent sesh about life stressors, says Carroll. “The irony is that you often have to go to therapy to figure out which of your friends and family are the best to talk to.”
8. They can help you grow as a person
Because of their training, a therapist is uniquely equipped to give you insight into your behaviors that can help you grow in ways that might be impossible on your own.
“For example, in the instance of a breakup, most people think talking to a therapist would be an overreaction. It’s not. It’s one of the healthiest things you can do,” says Martinez. “A breakup is fertile ground for personal growth. Yes, you are emotionally raw and vulnerable, but there’s so much potential there. It’s a chance for people to realize things about themselves they never would’ve realized had they simply talked to friends and family.”
Shopping for a therapist can be a time consuming process. Still, it’s worth it when you find someone who supports and empowers you.
- Ask your primary
care doctor, and — if you’re comfortable sharing — friends, for referrals.
You choose your doctors and friends, so chances are you’ll also get along with
someone they click with.
- Look up a list
of in-network practitioners on your insurance company website. Every
insurance plan includes
mental health coverage and it should be the same or a similar co-pay as your
other doctors’ appointments.
- Search the psychologytoday.com database. It lets you filter by:
a. specialty or need, like ‘relationships,’ ‘anxiety,’ or
b. type of provider, such as psychologist, licensed
clinical social worker, marriage and family therapist
c. whether or not they take your insurance
- Ask these
questions if your top choice isn’t covered. If you don’t have insurance, or
want to see someone who’s out-of-network or doesn’t accept insurance at all,
ask if they offer discounted cash rates. Some therapists also offer a sliding
scale to help those who are limited financially.
- Check out their
websites and request a phone call. Once you’ve narrowed down your list to
those who meet your needs, read through their bios to get a feel for their
personality, then request a preliminary call. Most will offer a free, 15-minute
phone consultation. If they won’t talk on the phone, move onto the next person
on your list.
- Ask yourself
whether this is someone you feel warm when talking to. If you don’t feel a
connection, it’s okay. Move on to the next.
- Consider online
therapy. You can also check out digital therapy apps like Talkspace or BetterHelp, that match you with a
licensed counselor whenever you need for a flat monthly rate.
When you do find a therapist, here are some questions to ask them to see if they’re right for you. Remember, it’s your therapy. You can choose the therapist that’s right for you.
Taylor Gold is a writer living on the East Coast.