How is counselling different from talking to a friend?

counselling helps

When you have a group of supportive friends it can be difficult to reason how you might also benefit from counselling. Read up on a number of ways that counselling is different to a friendship and why that’s a good thing …

You may be surrounded by friends that you can call on to talk to if you’re feeling down. Why would you need counselling on top of that?

Counselling isn’t designed to replace friendships. It’s fantastic if you do have friendships that feel supportive.

Instead counselling offers some benefits that just aren’t possible inside a friendship. It’s a completely different kind of relationship.

1. You’re not a burden – it’s their job

While initially this might feel a bit alien - especially the giving someone money part - in the end the fact that it is the counsellor’s job to be there is a good thing.

Because it’s their job it means they have had specific training, they have had experience of working with a lot of people before you and complex issues and they are skilled at what they do. They can offer an alternative viewpoint without any sort of personal motivation.

Not only that, if it’s their job you don’t need to feel guilty about talking about yourself for 50 minutes straight.

In friendships you may feel the pressure to keep things balanced, to not overload your friends. To hear about their troubles as well as share yours. But in counselling the focus is on you, and that’s something you can feel comfortable about because you’re paying for it.

2. You can bare all

Often even when we’re talking to friends we censor ourselves.

We don’t tell certain people certain things because it may upset them, or perhaps we know that they have a strong opinion on that subject so we keep quiet about what’s happening for us.

Maybe we don’t share our suicidal feelings because they just feel too heavy.

In counselling you can talk unfiltered. You don’t have to worry about what is going on for your counsellor, or whether this might be difficult for them to hear.

You don’t need to take care of your counsellor in the same way that you might be driven to keep certain upsetting things from a friend.

3. You won’t be judged

Counsellors are trained to be curious and offer understanding about why we might do, think or say the things we do.

Your counsellor will not judge you for your thoughts, your feelings and your behaviour. They will work with you to find acceptance, understanding and peace free from feelings like guilt and shame.

4. It’s confidential

When you go to counselling one of the first things you’ll talk about in your initial session is confidentiality.

This means that the counsellor will not tell anyone else about your issues unless they are concerned that you may hurt yourself or that someone else is at risk. If that is the case they may need to talk to your GP, but will aim to always talk about this with you first before talking to someone else.

While most friends wouldn’t share personal things that you tell them, in counselling you can know this for sure.

5. A counsellor won’t offer advice

When you talk to a few friends about the same problem you’re bound to be handed a load of contradictory advice. Sometimes this can make things harder. Who is right? Who should you actually listen to? What should you do now?

Counselling is not about giving you advice.

It is about seeking out understanding of all the different possible avenues and what each means to you. It’s about finding out what, deep down, you really want to do and why you might feel like you can’t do it and what might be getting in your way.

Counselling won’t offer up immediate answers. But through it you will hopefully feel more confident in listening to yourself, understanding yourself and acting on what you want.

Here are a few reasons why counselling is different from talking to a friend. And we encourage you to give it a go.

Nadine Moore is an experienced counsellor and psychotherapist working with young people and adults. She holds a Masters Degree in Psychodynamic Counselling and Psychotherapy from Birbeck University and has recently relocated to Brighton.

Nadine is an Associate Therapist at Brighton Counselling Collective and regularly writes for Mental Health journals, including Mental Health Today and Therapy Today. For more info or to book an appointment please visit


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