How to Set Boundaries With a Friend Who Treats You Like Their Therapist

September 4, 2021

Coming to a friend for advice is one thing, but some people go too far.

One of the perks of friendship is having someone to confide in, share your news with (both good and bad), and turn to for support. But sometimes, if may feel as though a friend thinks of you not only as their pal, but as their therapist as well—constantly turning to you to listen to their problems, and, in some cases, offer advice or solutions.

And while it may seem like you’re doing the right thing, ultimately, this arrangement isn’t ideal for either of you. In an article for Well+Good, Minaa B., a therapist and mental health educator from New York City, discusses why a friend is not a replacement for a therapist, and how to set boundaries in your friendship, when necessary. Here’s what to know.

You are not your friend’s therapist

If your co-worker or an acquaintance you saw frequently started talking to/at you on a regular basis with the expectation that you’ll listen, process what they say, and provide advice, you’d probably let them know right away that the arrangement isn’t working for you. But when it’s your friend who is struggling, it’s much (much) harder to say no.

As Minaa B. points out, we’re living at a time when we’re encouraged to speak openly about our mental health, including our setbacks. “Although that is great, it’s also important to remember that not everyone is mentally equipped to take on and manage our own personal emotional struggles,” she writes.

It’s entirely possible to care about your friend deeply, but not have the energy or emotional bandwidth to provide them with the kind of support they want or need.

How to set healthy boundaries in your friendship

Here are three tips from Minaa B. for establishing necessary boundaries with a friend who treats you like their therapist:

Let them know that you have limits

Unless you tell your friend that you have limits as to how much emotional labor you can handle in the friendship—and that you’ve reached them—they probably won’t know you feel that way. “Sometimes, we wait for other people to figure out information that we have the power to share,” Minaa B. writes. “Be willing to communicate what your boundaries are.”

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