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How Do I Stop Being the ‘Therapist’ Friend?

Megan Mulroy, LPC 

If you work in a helping profession, chances are that you enjoy being of service to others and probably like helping your friends. Maybe you play the ‘mom,’ ‘dad,’ or even ‘therapist,’ in your friend group, or are the first phone call when a friend needs to vent. If you have made a career out of this very special skill, like nurse/doctor, teacher, social worker, or therapist, there might also be a good chance that it’s hard for you to set boundaries when you see a friend struggle. Solid friendships are built on mutual respect and being able to support each other through thick and thin. But it is important to notice when you start feeling burnt out by a friend’s emotional dumping or you feel exhausted by their emotional needs. Are you feeling the support only goes one way? Are you feeling depleted of all emotional energy when you leave hanging out with them? Do they become upset when you don’t give them the ‘right,’ advice? Asking yourself these questions can help you determine if you need to set some boundaries with your friends and loved ones. Here are some tips for helping yourself and setting boundaries: 

Help Yourself First: A classic example- putting on your oxygen mask before your kids’ will help both of you in the long run. You will only be emotionally available if you’ve given yourself enough time and compassion to take care of yourself. If a friend starts to emotionally word vomit and you feel like you need an oxygen mask, kindly ask them to give you a few minutes, hours, days, etc. Identify what it is you need and give it to yourself before you give so much of yourself to a friend. 

Set Expectations: When a friend starts to vent, ask them, “Do you need me to listen, or to help you problem solve?” As helping professionals, it is natural for us to want to start processing the complexities of the situation, when in reality, often times a friend just wants you to listen or help them come up with some solutions to a problem. Do your best to remind yourself that you aren’t at work and do not need to identify behavioral patterns and process complex emotions. 

Help Them Seek Professional Help: If you notice it’s getting more challenging to leave your helping hat at home and your friend’s issues are out of your scope, try gently saying something like, “I wonder what a counselor might say,” or “When I was in a similar situation, my therapist really helped me out.” You can even be more direct in setting a boundary of, “I really care about you and want you to get the help you need, but this is really out of my wheelhouse as your friend. I can find you some referrals for a therapist if you’d like.” 

Remember Your Worth: It is so easy for helping professionals to get caught up in the idea that our self-worth is tied up in our ability to help others. In solid friendships, you are valued and loved for who you are, not how much emotional lifting you are doing. 

Talk to Your Counselor: There may be a deeper reason as to why you often find yourself wanting to take care of others and help people.  Talking with a therapist might help you to identify your own stuff that leads you to these patterns of behavior. If you don’t yet have a counselor to work with, contact Symmetry Counseling today to meet with one of our counselors that can help you.

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