…or how to deal with needy friends


Whenever I am asked what I do, at a party or on any other occasion, there is that brief moment in which I hesitate and wish I had another job. The truthful answer always leads to a shift in conversation. What had been a nice chat, suddenly takes on a whole different dynamic. When I respond that I am a psychologist (or psychotherapist), I almost always get one of two reactions: “Oh, I have to be careful” (also known as “oh so you already know everything about me and analysed me”) or I get a more or less direct question aimed at my professional expertise. “That’s great, I’ve got a question … I know a guy who …”.

I like my profession, I have always enjoyed working as a therapist and I enjoy helping other people change their lives. But this is my job, I studied long and hard for it and I am getting paid for it. A party or first meeting of new people is usually not the best place for such a conversation. And then friends or relatives call with a question or a problem. Even if I am willing to take the time and would like to help, most questions don’t have a simple answer – probably they would not have needed to ask me otherwise and would have figured it out by themselves.  But I have no quick fix for problems, on the contrary, I know that it often takes time and effort to address problems and to change behaviors. Of course, I can give advice, suggestions and ideas. But I’ve also learned that I have to protect myself from some enquiries. Listening to problems and helping people to change is an important part of my job, and therefor I often find myself not very inclined to listen to problems in my private life. I am not the therapist of my friends – I can not and I don’t want to.

Some people, whether they are – like me – professionally active in the area or not, attract such requests. They are good listeners, you can confide in them. They may even give good advice and definitely like helping others. But no matter how nice a role this may be, the danger of burdening yourself with your friends problems is real. While helping others you risk to forget yourself. You risk to be exploited and become the mental trash can of others. Yes, it is nice to be there for your friends. But it should not be one-sided. If you recognize yourself in this, you should ask yourself if this is really good for you. Listen to yourself and maybe send your friends to a therapist.

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