I made a new friend this year, and it has been wonderful. We have a lot in common. We are both goofy and enjoy joking around and bantering with each other. We also enjoy thinking deeply about life and the world at large, whether it’s sharing ideas about how to solve the world’s problems or maybe just how to get the most out of a single cup of coffee (hint: reheating your mug helps).
I think that at the core of what makes this friendship special, though, is the fact that we don’t try to hide who we are from the other person. When one of us asks how the other is doing, and the answer is “fine,” there may be a follow-up question that sounds something like, “Hmm, okay. But how are you really doing?” As a therapist, of course, I am used to asking my clients these types of questions. However, the therapeutic relationship is (by definition) one-way. Rightfully so. Clients aren’t paying their session fees for me to tell them how I am doing. My job is to offer a professional service that (hopefully) facilitates healing, growth, and change in the life of my client. When I go to therapy as a client, that is what I am hoping for as well.
Friendship is different. In a friendship, it is a two-way street of connection and vulnerability. One of my graduate school professors, Dr. Kay Bruce, once said that as counselors, we may find ourselves realizing that we do not have a lot of healthy two-way friendships in our lives. For a lot of counselors, that might even be part of the reason they decided to enter a helping profession in the first place. Perhaps they were told growing up that they were a good listener or had a natural ability to care for others. Understandably, people with this gift often feel a natural pull toward helping others for a living.
As Dr. Bruce pointed out, though, counselors need healthy, two-way friendships as well. Just like everyone else! Otherwise, it is easy to fall into the trap of one day realizing that our relationships are lopsided, not only professionally, but also in our personal lives. It is not enough to extend help and support to others. All of us – mental health professionals included – need to be able to receive love and support from others as well. As humans, we are wired for relationships with other people. That means knowing those people in your life as well as being known by them. It means being vulnerable, even when it would be easier to mask what we are really thinking or feeling. Being a friend means being willing to go out of your way for someone and being willing to let your friend go out of their way for you, too.
As I’ve gotten to know my friend more and more over the past eight months or so, I have been reminded of this truth. I am learning that I am not a burden or an inconvenience to her, even when my insecurities suggest otherwise. Like most insecurities, this one has not gone away overnight, but my friend knows that and is there for me anyway. And she knows that I am there for her, too. There is also a mutual understanding and respect for our marriages, families, and other life responsibilities, so at the end of the day we both know that if one of us misses a call or a text, it’s okay. We will get back to each other when we can, and simply pick up where we left off. We feel secure in our friendship, knowing that we can both be known, cared for, and accepted for who we are.
Therapists, after all, need friends like that too.
Ryan Woods, LPC Associate
My goal as a counselor is to help adults, adolescents, and children by providing a space to be heard, process life’s challenges, and develop the necessary skills to thrive mentally, physically, and spiritually. My overall approach to therapy involves cognitive behavioral methods (exploring one’s thoughts and beliefs relative to emotions and behaviors), as well as narrative therapy (engaging personal stories that view people as separate from their problems). I view counseling as a collaborative effort in helping clients to recognize strengths, identify needs, understand conflicts, discover new options, set personal development goals, and make informed choices.