How Therapists Keep From “Therapizing” Their Family & Friends

If your career goal is to become a counselor or therapist, you may have wondered how hard it will be to leave your work at the office and refrain from counseling your spouse, children, close friends and family members. We spoke with a panel of experts to find out exactly how they have handled the temptation to “therapize” their loved ones.

Megan BearceMegan Bearce is an LMFT in private practice in Wayzata, MN; she specializes in supporting “Super Commuter” couples, gifted girls and overwhelmed women. Megan penned the celebrated book, Super Commuter Couples: Staying Together When a Job Keeps You Apart; a topic with which she has contended in her own marriage. Megan finds that while she might be expected to analyze others, she really does not.

I do not want to work when I'm not in the office!  I think it's more a matter of people assuming you are doing that.  Sometimes, when I meet new people and they learn what I do, they shrink back assuming I will begin analyzing them.  I don't.  On the other extreme are people who start telling you their story in hopes you will provide them with some free therapy.  It's all about boundaries!

Kristen Martinez 2Kristen Martinez, M.Ed., Ed.S., LMHCA, NCC, is a Co-Founder of, and Counselor at Pacific NorthWell, a counseling and therapy center located in Seattle, Washington. Kristen’s specialty areas include: internalized oppression, LGBT issues and issues surrounding women. Some of the healing processes the clinic utilizes are: light therapy, massage therapy and biofeedback. They also have a state of the art relaxation room.

Kristen realized early on that therapizing intimate friends and family would be an area that would need addressing and mastering;

This is a tricky one. When I was in graduate school first learning the basics of the counseling techniques, I couldn't help but start to hear what my friends and family members were saying as ‘clients’ and began speaking to them as a counselor. It's unavoidable at first, and it takes a conscious effort in the beginning so you can curb this habit and see that it isn't beneficial.

If you are a counselor working with someone you've never met before, you have the unique opportunity to be a neutral sounding-board to this person; you have no prior experiences with this person to color your impression of her. If, however, you previously know someone in another fashion - in this case, if she is a friend or family member - the opportunity you have to be unbiased is completely nonexistent; in fact, it's entirely impossible. It becomes much harder to see multiple perspectives of that person's situation if you already know them intimately, as a friend or family member. For me, it was natural to try to ‘therapize’ my friends and family members at first, but I just had to reframe my relationships with them as a loved one, and not their counselor.

Ramani DurvasulaDr. Ramani Durvasula is a licensed psychologist, Professor of Psychology at Cal State LA (CSULA) and a media commentator for a host of varied television broadcasts and print publications. As a clinical psychologist and educator, Dr. Ramani has learned from thousands of students, as well as patients, that the key to healing is going straight to the core source of pain and discomfort. She’s a featured guest on the Dr. Oz Show and writer on his website; a regularly featured expert on the Dr. Drew Show, the Nancy Grace Show, and Fox News, just to name a few. Dr. Ramani is the author of You Are Why You Eat; a book she wrote after losing 85 pounds.

Dr. Ramani shares her feelings on the idea of counseling her friends and family;

I am too tired to do it at the end of the day, but it is hard to turn it off.  Usually my fatigue stops me from going in too deep, but clearly a conversation with me or any mental health practitioner is bound to be more incisive.  I must say, the nature of my work does leave me really loving my alone time. I think I am pretty tapped out at the end of the day, and socializing feels exhausting - so movies, books - become an escape and an opportunity to be more passive!

In Summary

It is human nature to want to help the people we love. However, when you are a professional therapist, taking your work “home” might not always be such a good idea. Some of the reasons our Experts mentioned are:

  • It is exhausting
  • It depletes vital energy needed for work
  • Danger of bias and lack of objectivity
  • The need for boundaries
  • The necessity of having “down time”
  • Loving being alone and not interacting

No doubt every therapist will encounter this issue. Once your passion has become a profession you will need to heed the advice of those who have come before. This issue will also become a part of taking care of you as a working therapist or counselor. Begin today to notice when you are crossing the friendship or relative line of communication. Take off the psychology hat and replace it with one that is much healthier and appropriate.