Why should you go to therapy? Why not just talk to friends or family when you have trouble? After all, therapy can be expensive or inconvenient, and frankly, it can just feel weird talking to a stranger about your problems.
Furthermore, how do you know if your problem is big enough to need therapy? Could it all be solved over dinner and wine with your best friend?
These are valid questions, and they all boil down to knowing how therapy and advice are different.
What it Means to Receive Advice
We can all occasionally use some wise words from a friend or family member, but advice has its limitations. Here are a few characteristics of advice that differ from therapy.
Advice tells you what to do
You seek someone’s opinion and they give it to you. Whether you choose to follow that advice is up to you, but the bottom line is, advice typically offers specific solutions, not open-ended consideration of all factors, or new ways of framing a situation, as therapy might.
Advice is biased
Not only do your loved ones have strong opinions about what’s best for you, but all of us also tend to seek out what we want to hear. When you consult someone who isn’t detached from the situation or problem, i.e., a neutral third-party, you may get a biased opinion which, again, doesn’t take every factor into account.
Advice doesn’t anticipate more complicated needs
Your loved ones might not know much about personality dynamics or mental health problems. When you consult with people who aren’t experts about such complex matters, they might not offer solutions that consider all of your needs. Not all advice is good advice.
Advice can be judgy or demanding
Our loved ones naturally want what’s best for us, but sometimes what’s best is a matter of opinion. Plenty of people who love you will still judge you for the choices you make, or feel hurt if you reject their suggestions.
How Therapy is Different than Advice
There’s nothing wrong with seeking friendly advice; in fact, therapists encourage having a strong network of confidants and supports outside of the therapy office or online therapy room. Still, therapy has distinct benefits over advice. Consider these benefits:
Therapy is scientifically based
A therapist has the training to consider personality factors, mental health needs, and common human behavioral patterns when helping you work through a problem. While every client is unique, human psychological functioning has common themes and patterns. A therapist can help you understand these patterns, so you can make the best decision for your particular situation.
Therapy is non-judgmental
Therapists are trained to maintain neutrality and help you come to your own solutions. They don’t just give advice biased by their personal opinions and experiences. In addition, they won’t judge you for your choices, but will help you learn whether those choices are the most effective for your goals.
Therapy can anticipate outcomes
Again, because a therapist understands human behavior, they can help you consider the possible outcomes of your choices more thoroughly. Therapy can help you think through how you would handle possible outcomes — before you make a decision.
Therapy can take time
Unlike friends or family, who might want updates and wonder why you don’t act faster, a therapist can help you work through problems at your own pace. You don’t feel pressured to act before you’re ready. You also don’t have to explain yourself if you change your decisions after thinking them over.
When Therapy Might Be Best
Since both therapy and advice have their benefits, consider which one is more appropriate for your situation. Even therapists agree that not every problem requires therapy.
If you want to know what dress to buy, how to choose a financial planner, or whether to take that job offer, the advice of family and friends may work just fine. For some things, though, therapy may be more appropriate. Here are a few situations in which you might want to consider therapy.
Chronic interpersonal problems
If your relationships are a constant source of stress or you just can’t seem to get away from conflict, you might have your own issues to examine. A therapist can help you determine where your own patterns come into play so you can improve your relationships overall.
Serious symptoms of mental illness
While support from friends and family is crucial for recovery, our loved ones usually don’t have the training to help with a diagnosable mental health condition. Therapy can help you understand your condition and needs, which allows you to make better use of your support network.
Very personal matters
A neutral party is essential for healing from intensely personal, painful experiences such as abuse, trauma, or addiction. In addition, because these types of challenges often involve your loved ones, the safety of a neutral space is often necessary to escape a dysfunctional or dangerous situation.
In general, seeking advice and support from friends or family is not only fine, but is a healthy way to live. Sometimes, however, therapy holds the key to the fastest and healthiest way to change extremely personal parts of your life.