Among the various possible challenges therapists regularly hear from prospective or new clients (or even long-term clients) is that it’s weird to have to pay someone to listen to them. I was reminded of this recently while watching the highly enjoyable series Ted Lasso.
Ted Lasso‘s second season actively deals with both mental health and sports psychology/therapy. To elaborate further (you probably should stop reading here if you haven’t seen the newest season), Coach Ted Lasso (Jason Sudeikis), who’s been experiencing panic attacks on a regular basis, supports his players getting therapy from Dr. Sharon Fieldstone (Sarah Niles) but is loath to accept it for himself.
Eventually desperate to feel better, however, he does make attempts to see “Dr. Sharon.” In his second of two very brief sessions (because he keeps bolting) Lasso accuses her of not actually caring for the people she treats because she charges a fee. (He blasts the profession in other ways too.)
Dr. Sharon’s response when Lasso returns again? Linda Holmes, NPR: “Finally, on his third try, she tells him that she doesn’t appreciate his attitude, particularly given that he is also paid to do a job in which he still legitimately cares about people. This brings Ted around a bit, and he finally sits down across from her to talk.”
The thing is, therapy is neither free nor a friendship—it’s a professional service generally offered by individuals who’ve chosen this as a career because they genuinely care about helping others.
In essence, if a therapist is actually serving solely as a “friend” he or she is doing professional boundaries wrong. Good therapist boundaries, which are established with the welfare of the client in mind, enable clients to develop trust and a feeling of emotional safety. Confiding in a therapist—who follows an actual ethic of keeping things confidential and is trained to be relatively objective and to understand human issues on a deep level—should feel differently helpful than confiding in a friend.
The therapist is not expecting the same in return from a client just as your roofer, to name just one instance, doesn’t expect you to now come over and do his or her roof.
In a friendship, on the other hand, each person might share thoughts and feelings in a back and forth kind of way. If it’s a healthy enough kind of friendship, this helps forge a mutual relationship involving neither payment nor obligation—but also sometimes lacking objectivity, insight, patience, consistency, effective listening skills, and other good stuff worth sometimes paying for.