Traditionally, relationship therapy focuses on:
But for many people, friendships are the longest-lasting and most fulfilling relationships they have.
What should you do when a friendship that has been part of your life’s bedrock is suddenly shaky? You may want to consider going to therapy with a friend.
Individual and family therapy can help:
- promote healing
- resolve conflicts
- improve communication skills
- achieve growth goals
Similarly, working with a qualified therapist can offer your friends important benefits as well:
May prevent the weakening of the relationship
Friendships, like all connections, require maintenance to thrive. A
Having lunch or playing a round of golf may be enough to restore closeness between you and a friend, but if hurt feelings or neglect are part of the concern, working with a therapist could benefit a relationship.
Builds a better understanding of mutual needs
Therapy gives both participants a chance to voice their needs and be heard. A qualified therapist can create a space that feels safe and supportive, so people can share their feelings and ask for what they need going forward.
Develops better listening skills
Therapy sessions aren’t all sunshine and rainbows. Sometimes, a friend may say something that’s not easy to hear.
Therapy creates opportunities for you to actively listen to your friend with genuine interest and empathy, withholding judgment or criticism.
Your listening skills may ripple outward to improve your relationships with people in your circle.
Facilitates connection and closeness
A 2013 study found that disclosure — talking about life experiences and sharing intimate information — creates closer and more enjoyable friendships.
If your friendship has become more distant than you’d like it to be, practicing disclosure in the protected space of a therapist’s office may restore some of the closeness you enjoyed earlier in your friendship.
Creates space to address concerns
You may be concerned about something that’s going on in your friend’s life such as:
- a toxic or abusive relationship
- substance use
- a mental health concern
In this case, going to a therapy session together may allow you to share your concerns and hear your friend’s perspective on what’s happening.
It’s important to be sure your friend doesn’t feel ambushed in a therapy session, though.
It’s a good idea to talk about the purpose of therapy together before your appointment, so you can be sure your friend feels safe and loved, not ganged up on.
Even stable friendships hit rough patches. When a friendship matters to you, working through conflicts and adapting to changing life circumstances can mean the difference between keeping and losing a valuable friendship.
If your friendship began at work or in school, it’s possible that conflicts could arise in those settings from time to time.
Rather than letting them fester, you and your friend could benefit from discussing what happened with an impartial listener who can help you resolve your conflict and restore peace between you.
It isn’t unusual for a sense of competition to invade a friendship. Behavioral researchers have found that competition can damage friendships and other meaningful alliances.
How do you go about repairing that damage? A
Being friends doesn’t mean your relationship is healthy. Sometimes, unhealthy interactions can creep in, leaving you feeling lonelier and more anxious than you are in your other relationships.
Examples of these interactions can include:
While it is sometimes necessary to leave such relationships to regain your self-confidence, if your friend is willing to address the imbalance in your relationship, therapy could make a big difference.
People graduate, get job transfers or new deployments — or just get too busy to stay in touch the way they used to do.
If you feel a growing sense of distance between you and a friend, it could be a natural consequence of geographical changes — or it could be a concern percolating.
A therapist can help you create a plan for maintaining closeness across the miles.
People don’t always marry, have children, or start businesses in sync with their friends. If your relationship with a close friend has been strained because you’re in different life phases, you’re not alone.
When time is precious, spending some of it in therapy with a friend is a powerful way to show that the friendship matters to you.
Spouse and partner concerns
If your significant other doesn’t like your friend, it can make things difficult between you — just as it can be tricky when your friend doesn’t like your spouse. Navigating these issues isn’t easy.
When spouses and friends don’t get along, a therapist may be able to help you:
- establish boundaries
- express anxieties or a sense of loss
- find new ways to support one another
Differing social and political views
In recent years, friendships have gone down in flames over ideological differences. In a tense climate, a neutral therapist may be able to help you and someone you love:
- sort out your differences
- learn to talk about contentious subjects respectfully
- understand each other’s viewpoints
- find ways to love and support one another
After talking with each of you about the relationship’s history, and your personal histories if they are affecting your friendship, a therapist may:
- ask you to talk about what you want from therapy
- find out how you and your friend have handled conflicts in the past
- give you an opportunity to share what you think the current problem between you could be
- help you identify any beliefs, thought patterns, or communication habits that could be causing problems in your relationship
- equip you with communication skills that better meet your needs
- offer you a chance to role-play conflict resolution strategies
- work with you to develop a plan for handling future conflicts
Finding an effective therapist that both you and your friend trust may take some time.
You may find it helpful to work with one who is trained in marriage and family counseling, since relationship-building is at the heart of that specialty.
A therapist who specializes in relationship conflict resolution may be another useful option.
If you and your friend live in different regions, a virtual psychologist (or a therapist who is adept at online sessions) may be the only practical solution.
Here are some questions to ask as you consider your choices:
- Cost. Your insurance plan may not cover therapy with a friend, so you will probably pay out of pocket for your sessions. Make sure you understand your therapist’s fee structure and the available payment methods before you commit. It’s also a good idea to decide with your friend how you will share the costs.
- Location. If you’re not meeting in an online session, you’ll probably need to find a therapist whose office location works for both of you.
- Licensure. No matter what kind of therapy you’re pursuing, it’s important to verify that your therapist is licensed in the state where you live.
- Training. Since friend therapy is not as common as marriage or family counseling, you may want to find out if your therapist has experience working with peers, friends, or coworkers.
In your first few sessions, pay attention to your thoughts and feelings as you talk with your therapist. Ask yourself questions such as:
- Do you feel comfortable in the office?
- Does your therapist listen well without interrupting?
- How does your friend feel about working with this therapist?
Every therapist has a particular communication style and therapeutic approach. It’s important to consider what works for you.
Give yourself permission to change therapists if you and your friend feel it’s necessary. You don’t need a reason — it’s enough that you feel strongly about it.
How easy it is to broach this subject will depend entirely on you and your friend. If you’re both familiar with therapy, the idea may feel like a natural and comfortable solution.
If you or your friend have never worked with a therapist before, the idea could feel strange or even threatening.
It may help to keep these tips in mind:
- Choose your timing thoughtfully. Bringing up therapy when you’re rushed, when other people are present, or when a conflict is in full force might not get you the response you want. Ideally, you’d look for a time when you’re both rested and relatively calm — or even when your conversation naturally turns to the subject of your relationship.
- Emphasize the importance of your friendship. One way to begin the conversation is to talk about how much the relationship means to you. If your friend can see that you’re suggesting therapy as a means of preserving or improving a valuable friendship, the idea may gain traction.
- Make sure it’s clear that you aren’t blaming your friend. Few people would want to sit in a therapy session where they feel targeted. If you can frame therapy as a chance for both of you to learn new skills that will improve your collaboration or make the relationship stronger, you may get more buy-in.
- Avoid ultimatums. If you present therapy as an option or invitation rather than an imperative, your friend is likely to respond more positively. Nobody likes to be forced to accept an ultimatum.
Friendships, like other meaningful relationships, can run into trouble from time to time. Conflict, distance, and unhealthy patterns can jeopardize friendships that could otherwise be a powerful and long-lasting source of support.
If a friendship has become problematic, you may find it helpful to sit down with an impartial therapist to help you better meet each other’s needs by:
- identifying problem areas
- learning new methods of communicating
- building skills
When you raise the issue with your friend, be sensitive to time and place, and be sure to present the option of therapy in a positive light. You can even look for a therapist together if you wish.
Your friendships matter. It’s OK to spend time, money, and energy to make sure they stay healthy. Therapy is one effective way to give your friendships the attention they deserve.