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Women's Health

When to draw the line between "friend" and "therapist"

Tue 11th February, 2020


Do you ever feel like your friend is relying on you a little too much?

You love having a girls night in with a bottle of wine as much as the next chick, but something about this dynamic doesn’t feel right. She calls you 10 times a day for emotional support, whenever you’re together she’s in tears, and you’re starting to feel a lot more like her therapist than a friend.

In fact, you’re starting to feel more like an emotional support animal than a friend, and you know you need to draw the line. But when?

When is the right time to draw the line between friend and therapist, and how do you navigate that conversation?

It’s time to take a look at the relationship

Ask yourself: where did the relationship hit the rocks? Was there something you could have done to stop the landslide?

It’s important to let all of your friends know what you're OK with, especially when you’re talking to a friend that might use you as a venting board a bit too often.

If you can see that there has been an issue for a while and you can’t identify anything you’ve done to create the therapist dynamic then it might be time for a chat with your mate.

However, if you can clearly see a way around the confrontation, then you could try to edit the dynamic before going in for a big chat. For example, if you always schedule a girls night after work on a Friday, when you know your friend will be super stressed from work and will be dying to vent to you, maybe try to reschedule this routine to a Sunday stroll.

This way, you could break the habit and start hanging out in a more relaxed way before having a serious talk.

Approach it with care

By the sounds of it, your mate is having a rough time. As a friend, of course you want to support her, but the trick is to do that without allowing it to impact your mental health.

Approach the topic with care, telling her that you are there for her and want her to be happy. You might also want to say that you’re flattered she trusts you enough to share these feelings with you.

Draw the line between friendship and therapist carefully, ensuring she knows that you are fully there for her as a friend.

If you can approach it with care, your friend will appreciate your honesty and you should be able to move forward in a productive way.

Be firm with your boundaries

Yes, you need to approach with care, but you also want to establish boundaries and let them be known. It’s important to let all of your friends know what you're OK with, especially when you’re talking to a friend that might use you as a venting board a bit too often.

Decide what you think are acceptable boundaries before you have the chat and then discuss them in an open manner. You might not even want to use the term “boundaries” – it does, after all, have a clinical sort of feel to it.

Be sure that you’re honest in your approach – if you don’t tell your friend what your boundaries are, she won’t know when she’s trespassing them.

If they’ve become really attached to you on a therapist level, they might be upset at the thought of that disappearing in some way. Sometimes, if you’ve taken on the caregiver role, being firm with boundaries can feel like abandonment – It’s important to tell your friend that this is not the case.

It might be good to remind her that boundaries are really important in any relationship, and that they can be adjusted as you go along. You just want to be in a healthy, loving friendship, and your boundaries need to be respected for that to happen.

Acknowledge your part in the dynamic

Although it might be your friend with the issues here, you have played a part in creating this dynamic too.

This might be a good time to mention that you know you’ve allowed this set up to go on. It could be because you wanted to help her but didn’t realise the issues were that bad, or it could be for more selfish reasons. This is your opportunity for self-reflection. Try and be honest with yourself and let your ego fall behind you.

If you’re worried about taking the blame for the weird way the relationship has gone then you might not even want to express this outwardly in conversation.

If you’re happy to think about it alone, that’s great too, but the key is to realise that there are two people in this friendship and you have played a role in creating the dynamic.

Seeing where you went wrong will allow you to avoid making the same mistakes and will clear up what your boundaries really are. We’re all just figuring it out, and acknowledging your part in the friend/ therapist dynamic will help you grow as a person.

Hook her up with some help

If you want to help her without being the therapist yourself, it’s a good idea to link her up with a therapist or GP who can take her feelings on board in a professional manner. That doesn’t mean you need to research up on good names and vet every possible doctor, but a friendly line or two from you on the importance of seeing a therapist might help.

Not only will this offload the burden on you, it will help her get the help she really needs. If she’s struggling with mental health, you’re not doing her any favours by giving half-hearted advice that comes from a place of frustration and secret thoughts of “god I wish you would stop talking”.

Get her in front of a GP or therapist who can help her dish out those feelings to someone who can actually help.

Don’t be afraid to say no

Don’t have time for her phone call? Say no. Feel too tired to discuss her emotional wellbeing? Say no. Want to have time-out of chatting for the weekend? Just say no.

If your relationship is too heavy and serious, you are allowed to say no. Although we all want to be the best friend we can be, there has to be a line where we say “no, that’s enough now, I need a breather”.

You don’t owe your friend maternal care, therapy care, or any kind of care that you don’t feel comfortable with, so if you feel like you need a break just say so.