Have you heard about that popular podcast that ended? Its hosts were best friends with a 20 year history. In one of their previous episodes, they talked about considering friendship therapy as a way for the duo to work through some of their issues. This revolutionary concept sparked further conversation around if going to therapy to help with a friendship is “doing the most”. Perhaps it is. However, how much of “the most” does it take to uphold a friendship? Is the price of “the most” worth it?
What is Friendship Therapy?
Let me start by saying this: friendship therapy is not a thing….technically. When you go to graduate school to get educated and trained to become a mental health clinician there’s no chapter in the text books called “Friendship Therapy”. There’s no lecture that covers criteria, guidelines or practitioner rules for how to facilitate therapy specifically for two people who are not related by blood like in family therapy, or by an intimate partnership like in couples or marriage therapy (group therapy is another category of therapy for more than one person, but this is more a situation where the people in the group that are attending the sessions have a common issue or goal like anger management).
What you will see (depending on the discipline) is training around human behavior, ethics, the brain and how it works, theories and therapy modalities, how to manage sessions with multiple people, cultural sensitivity and other subject matters that may come up when working in the role of a therapist. One can apply what they have learned from these courses to various situations where the service of therapy is needed.
Mental health therapy can be utilized for a variety of reasons and conditions. A family member dies. Therapy is sought after to cope with grief. A tumultuous divorce. The ex Mr. or Mrs. attends therapy to learn how to live out their new normal and family structure. It’s been a couple weeks since the birth of a baby and the mother is overwhelmed.
Bring in the therapist to support said mother in this new, beautiful and all consuming life stage. An additional purpose of therapy is to support those with mental health disorders diagnosed in The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, also known as the DSM. Disorders like Attention-deficit/hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Borderline Personality Disorder and more can be treated and addressed in therapy.
Why Friendship Therapy is Important
Therapy for mental health seeks to improve the quality of a person’s mental, emotional and social well being. This counseling encourages introspective evaluation of one’s thoughts and emotions and can help make connections to the why behind a person’s behavior. It is often that conversations around relationships and human interactions will occur in therapy. Whether we want to emphasizes it or not, social supports are one of the protective factors that aid in building resiliency and improving mental health.
I know it’s not easy to hear, but we need each other.
To be loved, seen and heard. To fulfill a place of belonging and connection. Intimacy. Closeness.
If friendship, as a protective factor, holds this weight and privilege of meeting such a vital need in the overall health and well being of a person, it can be considered worth the time, money and whatever else it costs to save it. It is worth the effort. This effort is not outside of the normal level of effort it takes to establish and maintain any type of relationship.
Friendship has often been romanticized and incorrectly depicted as a relationship that just sort of…happens…and somehow stays together without any intentionality on the part of those involved. While this may be the case for a small few who are the exceptions, for the majority of people friendships will ask something of you while it enhances the quality of your life. A mutual pouring in and pouring out of yourself.
With all that pouring there’s bound to be some spills. Some friction or conflict that arises taking all parties beyond their comfort levels. If only there was a place you could go or a service you could call that would sit everyone down to talk and REALLY figure out what’s going on. What if we mix one part family therapy (because friends are the family you choose) and one part couples therapy (because ya’ll locked in this thang) and get something new? That would be friendship therapy.
I am a relational therapist and from my point of view friendships are a relationship, just not a romantic or a familial one. With that in mind, I think friendship therapy is appropriate for friends who have had a falling out, but wish to mend their friendship is possible.— Joyce (she/her) LMFT-Supervisor, LCDC (@overcomingmiles) November 9, 2023
Can Friendship Therapy actually work?
A best case scenario for friendship therapy to be deemed successful would call for each person in the friend unit to attend individual therapy with their own, separate therapist first. This will help each person identify and work through whatever personal factors (ie: trauma, family upbringing, rigid thinking patterns, communication styles, etc) may be impacting their inability to resolve the issue with the others.
After a few sessions of this, you may not even need to continue on to friendship therapy. Sometimes, the issues we have with other people come from the issues we’re having with ourselves. Once those are brought to your attention, and worked through with your individual therapist you may see that you’re better equipped to rejoin the issue with your friend to work it out on your own. However, if friendship therapy is still want those in the friend group want, then a different therapist should be brought to the group to facilitate those sessions. Everyone would be encouraged to continue their individual sessions to provide a space to help process what is happening in the joint sessions. Easy enough, right? What could go wrong?
The Cons Of Friendship Therapy
There are potential barriers that can feel like jumping through hoops that leave people feeling discouraged to even start therapy in the first place. Here are just a few:
- Payment: Will your insurance cover the financial cost of sessions or will you need to pay out of pocket? It is not uncommon for therapists’ rates to start at $100 per session. Thankfully, there are some lower cost options like sliding fee scales that could bring that price down.
- Availability: Who isn’t busy?! Girl, between working out, drinking enough water, being at the job, spending time with friends and family, grocery shopping, meal preparing, cleaning, laundry, minding your business, catching up on your shows, and everything else with adulting it can feel like there’s just no time left.
- Finding a GOOD therapist. The stress and trauma of the pandemic and social injustices have brought an increased attention towards having and maintaining good mental health. There are a lot of ways to locate a therapist, but half the battle and what I think helps determine the success of therapy is likability of the therapist. You will be entrusting this person with deep, personal information that often is not shared even with family. Your therapist holds a sacred spot in your starting line up. Not a best friend (I know that’s confusing, right?), but a close guide.
- Format of therapy: Will you attend therapy in person or via telehealth? This is just personal preference.
- Vulnerability: Therapy only works when you’re ready, open and transparent, and willing to do the heart work. I like to tell people that therapy is like surgery. No one wants to get cut into and feel the pain in your body once you wake up. It is much easier to continue through life with a limp. But after the surgery and weeks or months of recovery, you realize you are better because of it (and the limp is gone).
Once all those steps are cleared you are ready to embark on this healing journey with your friend. It is important to note that friendship therapy DOES NOT guarantee that each person will remain friends. While that is definitely the top benefit of having therapy, it is not always the expected end result. The sessions might serve as a black light, uncovering all the mess and dirt that has always been present but that has been hard to see on the surface. It is up to the people in the friendship to try and work through what is revealed.
The outcome of that might be a decision for everyone to continue through life separately. In those cases, therapy did not cause the break up. It simply created an environment where the friendship could be seen through a different, healthy lens. It also gives everyone an opportunity to have good conflict resolution and problem solving modeled, and gives each person an increased self awareness.
So, what do you think now? Is friendship therapy worth it?
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Laketra Chick, a seasoned Clinical Social Worker and Therapist, brings a decade of expertise in addressing anxiety, depression, trauma, and self-esteem challenges across various age groups—from children and teens to adults. With a specialized focus on BIPOC issues and postpartum/motherhood, Laketra offers compassionate and comprehensive support.