It's worth investing in great friendships.

Morgan Noll
Jul 12, 2021 @ 6:15 pm
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friendship therapy
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The pandemic brought on a whole new host of friendship challenges. Social distancing and stay-at-home orders made it more difficult to see friends in person, Zoom fatigue made it harder to stay connected while apart, and differences in adhering to coronavirus (COVID-19) protocols created more tensions and conflict on top of it all. So, even at a time when solid and reliable support systems were needed more than ever, many friendships were shaken up instead.

According to a survey conducted by the mental health company, Thriveworks, "72% of clinicians surveyed reported an increase in people experiencing anxiety or depression in relation to their friendships in the past 12 months." Shontel Cargill, MS, a licensed marriage and family therapist at Thriveworks in Cumming, Georgia, says the root of these friendship struggles was largely the fact that everyone's "emotional bandwidth" has been limited over the past year. "[People] were so impacted by the pandemic, whether it be trauma, grief, loss, things of that nature, it impacted the ability to effectively communicate with each other," she says.

The good news, however, is that people seem to be willing to put in the work to get their friendships back on track. In the same survey, Thriveworks found that there's a rising trend in friendship therapy, and that "17% of clinicians have treated pairs or groups of friends together." So if this sounds of interest to you keep reading to learn more about friendship therapy, the benefits of this type of counseling, and how to decide if it's right for you and a friend.

What is friendship therapy?

Friendship therapy is essentially couples therapy, but for platonic relationships. As Cargill explains, "friendship therapy isn't typically considered within the framework of relationship counseling, but the dynamic that exists between long-term friends is very similar to that of a couple." In the same way, "many of the issues that commonly arise in our romantic relationships—communication breakdowns and feelings of betrayal or neglect—can also come up in our friendships and therefore, can benefit from the interventions traditionally used in couples counseling," she adds.

Benefits of friendship therapy:

While Cargill says there are various reasons that friends have come to her for therapy, she says the overall issue is often a "communication breakdown," or an inability to effectively communicate with one another. For friends who are struggling to communicate in an honest and healthy way, one huge benefit of therapy is that it creates a safe space for that conversation to happen—with some professional guidance. "If there are some adjustments that we need to make in terms of communication and conflict resolution, then we can actually do that as therapists in real-time," Cargill says. Then, she adds, friends can take these tools outside of the therapy room to practice healthy methods of engaging with one another in everyday life.

How to decide if you should do friendship therapy:

As Cargill explains, not all friendships last forever, and therapy isn't going to be worth the effort for every rocky relationship you have. "But if you find yourself in a long-term friendship that really feels like it's worth salvaging and worth reconciling, then I would say that friendship therapy is definitely the way to go," she says. Therapy can be particularly helpful if you have recurring issues in your friendship that you haven't been able to get to the root of and resolve on your own.

Cargill recommends doing a consultation with a mental health provider before starting therapy to help decide if it's the right route for you and your friend. "Many therapists are very open to consulting and answering questions before you actually step into the therapy room," she says, explaining that this can help you "feel a little bit safer and a little bit more comfortable about the process itself."

How to talk to a friend about starting friendship therapy:

If you're interested in broaching the conversation of starting therapy with a friend, Cargill says it's important to speak to the topic at the "very human level." Explain to your friend how much you value your friendship and that it's important to you to work to make it stronger.

Cargill also recommends acknowledging that the rough patch in your friendship is difficult for both of you, saying something like, "I recognize that we are both hurting in this situation and I want us to be the closest friends and healthiest friends that we can be."

If you think your friend may be worried about the financial aspect of therapy or other logistical factors, you can also help lessen some of those concerns by doing research and coming prepared with different options for them to review. (Read here for tips on how to choose a therapist.)

For those struggling with interpersonal relationships and considering friendship therapy, Cargill also recommends seeking individual therapy as well. This will allow you to access important tools surrounding self-care and communication, helping to strengthen both your relationship with yourself and others.