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Page Contents: Deciding between a friend and a psychotherapist.                    


Two years ago while browsing in a bookstore a guy attempted to convince me to buy a particular book in the remainder pile. The exchange was like Martin Buber’s I and Thou. Ergo, we exchanged e-mail addresses. I wrote him. He wrote back, offering his services as a guide post. I was more thinking of forming a friendship with a kindred spirit. The fact that he wanted to be my therapist sort of stopped communications. I did check out his credentials. He’s a bonafide licensed Ph.D. psychotherapist. Because I haven’t made much progress with my current therapist, a few months ago I called him and set up an appointment. That session was once again like an “I and Thou” encounter. My dilemma here is I’m torn between wanting this man as a friend or settling for once a week, 50-minute-hour rent-a-friend.

I have addressed the issue of friendship versus psychotherapy in another question. To summarize, genuine psychotherapeutic healing depends on resolving unconscious conflicts, and no friend—indeed no mere advisor or counselor—has the disinterested objectivity to reach to this depth. An “I and Thou” experience with a psychotherapist is fine, but unless this experience is grounded in solid psychotherapeutic skills it will do nothing except lead you into the same illusions and problems that you entered psychotherapy to overcome originally.

Your description of events leaves it unclear as to whether you terminated with your “current” psychotherapist before seeing the second psychotherapist. Ethics prohibits any psychotherapist from accepting into treatment any person who is already in treatment with someone else, so your bonafide licensed Ph.D. should have asked some questions about this when he made his initial assessment of why you were seeking treatment.

Of course, if you lied—or simply withheld the truth—then you must come to terms with why you did this. And this brings us to the emotional core of your dilemma.

If your psychotherapy is not going well, then the whole point of treatment is to speak up within the treatment about your feelings. If the problem cannot be resolved then you should terminate the treatment and find another psychotherapist who can offer competent help. From what you tell me, it seems clear that you have problems with this sort of emotional honesty. In fact, this very problem showed itself when this guy, with whom you wanted a friendship, sold himself to you as a psychotherapist. You could have said, “No, I’m already in treatment; I just thought we might be friends.” The fact that you couldn’t make such a clean and direct statement points to your need for genuine psychotherapy—not some idealized esoteric experience—to resolve these interpersonal problems.


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Raymond Lloyd Richmond, Ph.D.
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A Guide to Psychology and its Practice



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