Many people these days, during the pandemic especially, are suffering from stress, exhaustion, loneliness, anxiety and sadness. It’s understandable. Everyone struggles with something. Everyone is going through something hard! Should you see the same therapist as a close friend or family member?
Many choose to turn to a therapist for support. Sometimes, they ask around and find out who their friends or family members see. Maybe their friend tells them the name of a super therapist. This seems like a fine idea at first, but is it?
When two friends or family members see the same therapist, it is not a good idea for many reasons. It becomes especially problematic when the relationships are adversarial (like an ex). It creates a weird triangle when you have the same therapist as a close friend or family member.
The therapeutic relationship requires a whole lot of trust. Like any doctor-patient or therapist-client relationship in any field, trust is crucial. Psychologists and therapists are not treating broken limbs, though. They are dealing with the brain, the most complicated and complex organ of all. They are dealing with vulnerable clients who open up to them with very private details of their lives. The weird triangle can make people more vulnerable.
We are dealing with broken hearts and traumatized brains. Some people have a harder time with trust, like those who are going through relational issues. Or, those who have suffered abuse.
Therapists and psychologists are bound by confidentiality ethics (HIPAA). Confidentiality is key, but aren’t there other important ethical factors to consider? Are there factors that therapists overlook?
So often, therapists assume that the only issue is confidentiality. Total privacy is not the only factor that makes a therapeutic alliance great!
Neutrality and Loyalty
The therapeutic relationship is a sacred one. Like trust and confidentiality, neutrality and loyalty are paramount. Without these, it is not possible to have a good alliance and grow in therapy. It will be hard to talk about relationship issues about the friend, family member or ex-spouse who is also seeing your therapist.
The therapist can develop subconscious bias, even if he or she does not try. Feelings of disloyalty are bound to arise in certain cases. Even if a therapist does have the superhuman ability to remain neutral, the client might not view it that way. This interferes with the alliance.
Here is an example. You leave your therapy session having just vented about your traumatic experiences and trust issues with your ex. Shockingly, you bump into your ex in the parking lot when he or she is on the way to see your therapist!
Given that you were your therapist’s well-established client first, how would you feel? Stress with your ex, betrayal trauma from his or her cheating, and financial secrets were the reasons you were going to therapy in the first place.
Would this destroy your trust? Your view of your therapist’s neutrality? Your sense of your therapist’s loyalty to you? For many, this could be very damaging.
I have come across many cases like these. What do you think? Is it good or bad to see the same therapist as a close friend or family member?
In rural communities, there is sometimes no getting around seeing the same therapist or counselor. This is because the population is so small that there are not enough to choose from. Consequently, your therapist could be your mother’s therapist too. You know this from the get-go.
In large towns and cities, this is usually avoidable.
Are there many therapists to choose from in your area? You might want to pick one that your friend, family member or ex is not seeing. You might want to be clear with your therapist about who you would not like them to see (like your ex or a previous abuser).
As coaches and therapists, we must be extra sensitive to these dynamics. If we aren’t, we could add to our client’s trauma. We are dealing with brains, not broken ankles. We don’t just treat the person who walks through the door. Our current clients come first. Many therapists already have rules against this.
We must give these issues more thought and care. There is high potential to cause the client harm if we don’t.
Check out my previous article HERE on this topic.