A Friend Isn't a Psychologist

A friend can support, understand, and encourage you. However, you can't ask them to take on your problems. Here, we're going to talk about certain boundaries that shouldn't be crossed in this regard.
A Friend Isn't a Psychologist
Valeria Sabater

Written and verified by the psychologist Valeria Sabater.

Last update: 17 April, 2023

Do you have certain friends with whom you can share your most intimate emotions, fears, and experiences? Having these kinds of figures in your life is really enriching for your mental well-being. However, a friend isn’t a psychologist. That said, occasionally there are boundaries that are crossed, certain barriers that are really porous, and abuses of trust.

For example, have you ever felt overwhelmed by a friend who dumps all their problems, despair, and existential desires on you? This is a frequent phenomenon and it’s one we often tend not to regulate too well. In fact, sometimes even without realizing it, we ask that those closest to us take on the work of being our psychologists.

You may wonder if there’s anything really wrong with this. After all, surely your friends are supposed to listen and support you regardless? No, they’re not. Indeed, as much as these significant figures might love you, their function isn’t to guide you or give you tools to face what’s hurting or worrying you or preventing you from moving forward. However, if you want to establish where the boundaries lie, you require common sense.

Our friends can offer us understanding and comfort but, even if they were psychologists, their job wouldn’t be to offer us professional support.

group of people to represent that your friends are not your psychologist
Friends are our allies in life, but they’re not responsible for healing our wounds or solving our problems.

A friend isn’t a psychologist

Good friends are key to your good mental health. That said, their job isn’t to promote it in you in the way a specialized professional would.

Research conducted by Columbia University (USA), claims that women place the greatest value on friendships and tend to benefit most from these alliances.

In fact, their stress is reduced, their problems are relativized, and their emotional alliances allow them to avoid loneliness. Obviously, this is beneficial and recommendable for both men and women.

Friendships enrich your existence and even enhance your life expectancy. However, sometimes, there are two-way paths. This means you might ask for things that aren’t your responsibility. So, where do the boundaries lie? And what basic principles do you need to consider in these types of social ties?

By sharing many of your problems with your friends, you might obligate them to guide you in areas they may be unable to deal with or solve problems that aren’t their responsibility. This can be extremely stressful.

1. Their advice isn’t always valid

It’s okay to ask your friend for advice on a thousand everyday matters, but not on aspects linked to intimate and personal issues. That’s because they’ll tend to give you advice from their own experiences, which may not suit you. After all, every individual is different and we all have our own characteristics and needs.

2. Emotional release isn’t always appropriate

You might believe that your friendships should be there for you 24/7. But, this isn’t the case. Your friends aren’t psychologists, nor are they always best placed to listen to you, no matter how honorable their intentions may be.

Moreover, you may choose to vent your emotions to them when they’re really stressed. This means they may feel overwhelmed by what you say to them as you’re projecting a burden of discomfort onto them. They may also feel obliged to solve the problem for you.

3. Friends aren’t there to solve your problems

It can’t be denied that friendships are a terrific help at the worst possible moments. For example, when you’ve been stuck in difficult situations, your friends have probably helped take your mind off your problems, made you feel better, and given you guidance. However, their function isn’t to solve what’s hurting you or to provide you with a way out when you find yourself at a crossroads.

As a matter of fact, this isn’t the goal of a psychologist either. Their mission is to give you tools and teach you how to enrich yourself with resources so that you can face your challenges autonomously.

But, it isn’t appropriate to expect your friendships to act like master keys and solve all your anguish. Nor is it ethical to place them under this kind of direct or indirect pressure.

4. They’re emotionally involved with you

Your friends aren’t psychologists. Furthermore, they may not always be as honest as you need. The emotional bond that unites you might mean they resort to half-truths or white lies to encourage you. Indeed, affection and good intentions are automatic reflexes typical in all friendships. But these are not always useful if you’re facing a specific problem.

5. Support is the first step, but it isn’t enough

You may be going through a painful time. For instance, an emotional breakdown, job loss, or a family problem. Or, you might be experiencing feelings of hopelessness that are clouding your perspective. Friends can be your best support, but they don’t possess the skills of a mental health professional.

In fact, you should see your friends as the first step toward improving your feelings of well-being. For instance, they can encourage you to look for expert figures to solve the problems that are decreasing this capacity.

Recognizing that there are personal aspects that a friend will never be able to address will benefit you and your friendship.

Young female psychologist with patient talking about your friends not being your psychologist
Just as a friend can’t do a psychologist’s work, a psychologist isn’t in a position to be your friend.

A psychologist isn’t your friend

One fundamental rule of psychological therapy is the maintenance of clear boundaries between the professional and the patient. Just as it’s essential that the position of each one isn’t diluted, it’s also crucial that a good therapeutic alliance be forged with which mutual trust is built. Only in this way will the two healing and liberating processes of change and growth take shape.

A friend isn’t your psychologist. In the same way, a psychologist isn’t your friend (at least, during psychological therapy). In fact, it’s essential that these principles are followed:

  • Psychologists shouldn’t give personal advice. That’s not their function.
  • Objectivity and neutrality should be maintained as far as possible.
  • There should be no relationship between the professional and the patient outside the therapeutic context.

Although at times there can be some flexibility and the professional is never completely impervious to the experiences of their patients, the goal is to keep their distance. They must also avoid what Sigmund Freud called transference (of the patient’s feelings toward the professional) and countertransference (of the psychologist’s feelings toward the patient).

Therapeutic success will always come from a framework in which the professional objectively gives the best of themselves. It also occurs when the patient feels that they’re in a safe, structured context and the therapy is oriented to provide them with rigorous tools for change.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Fink E, Begeer S, Peterson CC, Slaughter V, de Rosnay M. Friendlessness and theory of mind: a prospective longitudinal study. Br J Dev Psychol. 2015 Mar;33(1):1-17. doi: 10.1111/bjdp.12060. Epub 2014 Sep 2. PMID: 25180991.
  • Lu, P., Oh, J., Leahy, K. E., & Chopik, W. J. (2021). Friendship Importance Around the World: Links to Cultural Factors, Health, and Well-Being. Frontiers in psychology11, 570839. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2020.570839
  • Sánchez-González, Dolores & Sosa-Luna, Carlos & Vásquez-Moctezuma, Ismael. (2011). Factores de transferencia en la terapéutica médica. Medicina Clinica – MED CLIN. 137. 273-277. 10.1016/j.medcli.2010.05.002.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.