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Friend vs counselor

With the weather getting hot, I try to run outside less and sit by the pool more. I feel the summer is good for mental health because we spend more time with family and friends, and enjoy the simple things in life. At an event over this past month, a friend said to me she didn’t need to talk to a counselor because we talked all the time. She was right - I am a counselor and we do talk often - but the relationship is different than a counselor-client one, and it got me thinking.

I really enjoy counseling, as well as hanging out with my friends and family, and I feel I am the same person and try to use my personality to my benefit in both situations. That might be where the similarities end. In my opinion there are three main differences between a helping relationship and a social relationship. Social relationships are often lighter, especially at social events and gatherings. Whenever topics get too deep in public, people get very uncomfortable. When this happens, people will tend to steer the conversation away from difficult topics - not because they don’t care, but because it is hard for people to know what to say when they are uncomfortable. Another way that social situations are different from counseling is the lack of one-on-one focus. There are not many times when you have another person’s undivided attention for fifty minutes, and at a party, this is nearly impossible. Never in a counseling session would I get up to answer the door and not come back for an hour and a half, but at a social event, it could happen. One-on-one focus is hard to maintain for any length of time. The part of counseling that I think makes sessions so powerful and able to go so deep so quickly is focusing on just the client’s story. In social gatherings, I might share personal stories that show others what is important to me, display my vulnerabilities, and are entertaining. Those things are not always necessary or helpful in a therapeutic setting where the focus is on the client and her/his needs. In a counseling relationship, the rule of thumb is to only self-disclose for the benefit of the client - so in a session, it's all about you!

Enjoy your social gatherings and take the needed time for friends and family this summer!

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