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  • Writer's pictureChristopher Donovan

The Counsellor vs Friend Dichotomy

As the government ups its awareness campaign on mental health, with an abundance of TV and radio ads, I am left wondering what the limitations of this strategy is, when most seem to be suggesting that our friends ‘step in’ to check on our mental wellbeing.

Our friends are of course ideally placed to help us see our vulnerabilities, and at times facilitate us to see them for ourselves. However, I do wonder what more they can offer going forward? There is much benefit to be gained from a chat with a supportive friend, but I fear at best it may only hold us just above a breakdown or at worst blind us from realising we need something more.

One of the skills of a well-trained counsellor is in being able to contain your pain and not feel the need to ‘fix’ you or indeed advise you. What ails us today, all too often, lies deep in our unconscious as a result of much earlier traumas; quick fixes are sadly not effective in the treatment of such deeply ingrained issues. A good counsellor not only shows you the cracks in your emotional story but also shines a light through them. A counsellor can achieve this reparative work by creating a safe space in which you are listened to and not simply just heard.

When listening, your counsellor can hold your pain whereas, however well-meaning, a friend may deflect it back towards you. This happens for many reasons, but one reason could be that your story evokes pain inside of them, pain they are not able to bear on your behalf. I always find that when a client is telling me their story there are two people listening, myself and my client. That’s to say, sometimes it is only in the safe environment a counselling room provides, that the client hears and understands their own story….often leading to ‘epiphany’ moments, and it is here, in these moments, that change can really take place.

Please don’t misunderstand the sentiment in this musing, I am not suggesting there is not a therapeutic value in friendship, but I do think that we need to be mindful of its limitations. Counselling, if delivered by a well-trained professional, brings with it a relationship that has a depth of qualities you may yet to have experienced.

To see whether counselling might be able to shine a light through your story, why not book an initial session with either Chris or Emma at

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