[The following is a reprint of a popular Taking the Escalator article from another website (2014)]
Seeing a therapist for a mental health or substance abuse issue is quite common these days as more as more people are willing to try to talk to someone about their problems in today’s challenging world. People nowadays are often a lot more open to talking about their experiences when it comes to seeing a therapist, so asking a friend for a referral has become a highly valued method for finding one’s own therapist. As with anything, there are good points and bad points when it comes to seeing your friend’s therapist. Let’s examine a few:
Pros of Seeing Your Friend’s Therapist:
1) One of the most important factors that influence the success rate of therapy is the Therapeutic Alliance (The bond formed between client and therapist) In this regard, your friends often know you best and they can tell you right off the bat if they think that their therapist is someone that you can easily bond with. If your friend knows you well enough they may be able to help you find the right person to see for therapy.
2) Comfort Level - Going to a therapist can be anxiety-provoking at first. If you had a friend already try the therapist out, they can prepare you up for what to expect which can be a huge anxiety-reducer and thereby greatly increase your comfort level.
3) Frame of Reference - When going to your friend’s therapist, the therapist should already have a good frame of reference with regard to your social group because he or she has been hearing about your social group already from your friend for a while. This also can help with the therapist-client bond as the therapist may already kind of know where you are coming from.
4) Pre-Screening - When your friend already saw a therapist you can sort of "pre-screen" the therapist for qualities that you like and don’t like. For example, you can ask your friend questions such as - "Does the therapist have a sense of humor" ,"Does he/or she do those uncomfortable silences that everyone hates", "Does the therapist know a lot about ______. (Name a disorder such as anxiety, depression, addiction, etc.)
It is extremely helpful to be able to find out from a friend if the therapist is the right one for you because finding the right therapist isn’t always that easy and your friend can be a great resource.
Now Here Are the Cons of Seeing Your Friend’s Therapist:
1) The Possibility of Being "Pre-judged" - There is a benefit to being a "clean slate" when seeing a new therapist, however when seeing your friend’s therapist, your friend may have mentioned some things about you that may put you in a negative light. (For example, maybe back in high school you stole your friend’s boyfriend, now the therapist thinks you are a scandalous boyfriend-stealer when in reality that was a onetime incident a long time ago)
2) Confidentiality - When two people with an outside relationship see the same therapist, there is always the chance of confidential information getting leaked out by accident. Therapists are ethically bound to confidentiality however accidents do happen especially during the course of conversation. For example, let's say you did something that you don’t want your friend to find out about. Your friend could ask the therapist "Did my friend who used to see you ever _________?” (Fill in the blank with the thing you don’t want your friend to know about) The therapist is supposed to keep that answer confidential however when caught by surprise, sometimes the therapist’s reaction, face and body language can give away the secret unintentionally.
3) Possibility of a Distorted Frame of Reference - Your friend who saw your therapist prior to you may have explained things to the therapist in a way that is completely different than your experience. Your friend may have even lied. Your therapist then may have a hard time seeing things clearly from your perspective because your friend who saw your therapist before you may have painted a completely different picture of things that you are trying to explain leaving the therapist not knowing who to believe.
4) Conflict of Interest - This can occur especially when two friends see a therapist at the same time. One friend may share information that could compromise the treatment of the other friend. This is an extreme example but imagine what it would like to be the therapist listening to one person saying he is going to propose to his girlfriend while the other friend is talking about how he is sleeping with the same girl behind his friend’s back. That could throw everything out of whack and put the therapist in an impossible situation.
Coming to a Conclusion:
Overall, in some cases, the pros can outweigh the cons, particularly if both friends have a trusting and cohesive relationship and they aren’t doing anything really secretive or scandalous behind one another’s backs. If its two friends who have a history of being loyal, open and honest with each other, then seeing the same therapist shouldn’t be a problem at all. Other people might reason that it is just better to start with a clean slate with someone new rather than see a friend’s therapist. What is most important, is that for your individual, unique situation, it is best to first take time to weigh the pros and cons.