• Other Friendship Advice

Can someone be friends with a psychologist?

Published: July 15, 2012 | Last Updated: October 28, 2012 By | 5 Replies Continue Reading
A friendship can be challenging if one person feels inadequate or undeserving of the other.


Dear Irene,

I’ve become friends with a man who happens to be a psychologist. I’ve tried to be careful from the start to make sure I don’t “use” him like a free therapy outlet, but he’s made it clear on more than one occasion that he’s there to listen if I need to talk.

He has been amazingly supportive, and I want to be equally supportive in return. I’ve made it clear to him that I’m always there to listen, too, and there have been plenty of times that he’s vented to me for hours on end. But when I vent to him, he always has the right things to say… answers, solutions, advice, explanations, ways to re-frame the way I’m thinking, etc. I feel inadequate when I don’t have any of those things to offer him.

He hasn’t shown any signs of unhappiness with our friendship that I can see, so I guess I must be doing something right. I just feel bad that any time I try to say something comforting or supportive, or offer any advice, his response is “yeah, I know,” because he does know. He knows almost anything that I could say. I say it anyway, because I think it can feel good to hear someone say it.

But still… I just feel like he is such an amazing person to have in my life, and I feel like I could be better for him than I am somehow. I guess some of my feelings of inadequacy are because I’ve always been a supportive, advice-giving person for my friends. It’s been a  pattern that people gravitate towards me and I help them, I offer them advice and get to see how that advice benefits them over time. I like it. But this time, I’m outdone – I feel like I’m not as good of a friend to him as I have been to everyone else that I’ve known. And that bothers me.

Do you have any advice? I don’t know how to deal with my feelings of inadequacy in this friendship, and I don’t know how I can grow to be a better friend for him like I want to be.

Signed, Doug


Dear Doug,

When this question is raised it’s usually asked in the context of a therapist becoming friends with a patient, past or present, and this  often raises ethical dilemmas. In this case, however, I’m assuming your friend never had a professional relationship with you. He is a friend who happens to be a psychologist.

Psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers, counselors and other people in the so-called “helping professions” may be helpers  professionally but they are also people who have lives outside of their work, often shared with friends and family.

Although your friend has specialized training and experience, he is a mere mortal with many of the same feelings and problems as  anyone else. Since he chooses to spend time socializing with you and expresses his feelings and frustrations, he sees
himself as your friend and not your therapist. True, his training might enhance his ability to understand or say the right things—but he might be an empathetic and supportive person if he was trained as a chiropractor or plumber.

You need to be careful about pigeonholing him in the role of a therapist if you want to remain friends. Also, you need to make sure that your friendship isn’t limited to listening to each other’s problems.

It’s nice that people gravitate to you for advice and suggests that you are a good listener and advice-giver too, although that’s not your  line of work. My hunch is that your friend sees this friendship as one of give and take. Perhaps, he is less needy and seems more self-assured than other people you have been friends with, and that has you rattled a bit.

There is one other common misconception about psychologists that I would like to address although you haven’t raised it. People  often ask psychologists and psychiatrists if they can read people’s minds and/or if they analyze everything people say. Most professionals have little interest in blurring the boundaries between their work and their friendships. If you were trained as a TV repairman or IT person, would you want your friendships focused on fixing your friends’ TVs or computers?

Hope this helps.

Best, Irene

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Comments (5)

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  1. Anon says:

    As a therapist, let me respond. No I cannot turn off my knowledge of people’s feelings, motivations, etc. No I cannot erase 14 years of training and 17 years of experience in working with people’s problems and helping them to negotiate life in a more effective way. But do I WANT to do this in my private life? NO. Can I do something different? If I care about my friends and our conversation turns to their concerns or struggles, what am I to say other then what I know would be helpful? Friends come to expect it, then they stop seeing me on equal terms and turn to me only for help help help. So I tend to shy away a bit, then they can become reactive because I am not available for them. I never considered a person would feel inadequate and that might be why they tend to reach out with their concerns but shy away when mine come up. So I am really glad for this blog. But I wish there was some respect for the fact that we are just PEOPLE, trained in a helping profession that impacts our relationships yes, but we are people, and we want to have fun and enjoy socializing not just delve into problems all the time.

  2. Anonymous says:

    I’m not saying this is your husband, but some men I know just LOVE LOVE LOVE to be consulted and asked about their experience with IT stuff (and other stuff too, come to think of it). They love to hold forth. I don’t get that sense really from doctors or even lawyers. Of course I’m generalizing. I always think psychologists and shrinks are silently sizing people up, evaluating and categorizing people, diagnosing them. How could they NOT turn that part of their thinking and training off. I could see how they might not want to always be asked for a diagnosis off the clock.

  3. Anonymous says:

    “If you were trained as a TV repairman or IT person, would you want your friendships focused on fixing your friends’ TVs or computers?”

    I guess the difference that I see here, though, is that TV repair or technical issues are limited parts of conversation. Like if that’s all someone talked about, there wouldn’t be more to the friendship than that one subject. But psychology touches on all areas of life.

    Not only that, but, my husband is a computer science major. He LOVES when people ask him for help with their computers. He’ll drop everything to run over there for free and do the best he can for that person. He’s told me that it makes him feel useful, and he likes being helpful. In the same way, I had a friend who was a therapist, and he told me something similar. He likes being helpful, and listening/giving advice to his friends in his off-hours makes him feel useful. Both of them have said that it doesn’t feel like “doing free work for people” or anything. It just feels like using the talents that they’re naturally good at to be helpful and do good things for people they care about.

  4. Irene says:

    It could work the other way around, too 🙂

  5. Anonymous says:

    “People often ask psychologists and psychiatrists if they can read people’s minds and/or if they analyze everything people say. Most professionals have little interest in blurring the boundaries between their work and their friendships. If you were trained as a TV repairman or IT person, would you want your friendships focused on fixing your friends’ TVs or computers?”

    While I agree that psychologists et al do not usually want to do this, I think there’s no getting around the fact that they understand behaviour and motivation better on average than people from other backgrounds. When I was younger and knew less psychology this made me a bit uncomfortable talking with people I knew to be psychologists. It still does to some extent, though less so. With a philosophy background I faced a similar situation, with people not wanting to talk to me with the same casual debates they’d have with other friends. Philosophers have, after all, debated those ideas to death and know all the ins and outs. I think there are only a few fields like this that can endanger your friendships because they touch everyday life so intimately.

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