Five reasons why you should never counsel your friends
Recently, one of my students asked me if it would be OK to practice counselling skills on her friends.
It seemed a reasonably request from a diligent learner who wanted, to develop her counselling skills; however practicing counselling skills on friends may have some unforeseen consequences for both parties.
Over the years I have been asked this question many times, so here are my ‘Five reasons why you should never counsel your friends’.
1, Confidentiality + Power
People who use counselling skills often practice within organisations; as such they contract with clients to the nature of the interaction, things like how many sessions, limits of confidentiality etc.
The reason that a contact is used, is so that both parties can engage in a relationship knowing the limits , this is almost impossible if you counsel a friend.
Counselling skills can be powerful tools used to help someone explore their inner life, used in conjunction with the ‘core conditions’ of congruence, empathy and unconditional positive regard, your friend may believe there are being ‘counselled’ telling you things which hitherto they had kept to themselves.
In which case you may be in possession of information, which if the friendship falters may give you more power than your friend intended you to have, which may be seen as abusive.
2, It can change the relationship
Like a genie in a bottle, once information is shared it cannot be erased, what happens if your friend tells you something about themselves or what they have done,which you don’t like or worse still find repulsive ?
Would it be possible to have the same friendship?
Probably not, sometimes the best and most long term friendships are based on not knowing all about each other’s most intimate business.
3, It could open a process you or your friend cannot manage
The word ‘permission’ is often used in counselling circles; it refers to an attitude that the ‘listener’ or ‘counsellor’ offers to clients, demonstrated as an emotionally warm and non judgmental approach.
By offering to counsel your friends you may give permission for them to access thoughts and feelings they may find hard to manage, consequently you may find yourself with a friend who is in bits and lack the necessary skills to help them manage their emotions.
One word ‘boundaries’ , if you set yourself up as your friends counsellor, then they may see you as their therapist who is available 24 hours 7 days a week !
Most friendships are based on common interests; therapy however is based on one person-the client!
Making yourself available to listen to a friend’s problems at any time of the day or night will eventually start to affect your emotional and mental well being.
Or to put it another way, a friend who wants you as a counsellor, wants a counsellor not a friend!
5, The nature of friendship
“Make it last forever friendship never ends,”…. well that’s what the spice girls sang!, truth of the matter is, that friends can come in and out of our lives like waiters in a restaurant.
Through our lives we will make and separate from many friends, human nature is that we are attracted to people by common experiences and interests , however as we get older our needs and therefore our friendship groups change.
There is a huge difference between being a good friend to someone who is going through a tough time and offering yourself as a counsellor to them, a good friendship is where both parties go in with both eyes open then close one eye !, yes we sometimes have to overlook our friends quirky and irritating ways.
However therapists and those using counselling skills have to have a little more honesty in their interactions with clients, something that I suspect a friendship may not be able to withstand.
Bottom line -if you want to keep your friends and yourself safe and sane – be their friend not their therapist !
Don’t forget to share your experiences of friendship in our comments section below!