Friendship therapy: How it works and what it’s like

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It’s common for people in romantic relationships or family relationships to turn to therapy to help them solve problems. But when Friedman and Sow were looking for friendship therapy, it was relatively uncommon. “We did not even look for a friendship therapist because there were zero results when we searched […]

It’s common for people in romantic relationships or family relationships to turn to therapy to help them solve problems. But when Friedman and Sow were looking for friendship therapy, it was relatively uncommon. “We did not even look for a friendship therapist because there were zero results when we searched for that,” Friedman said.

But an expert in relationships can help you solve your problems when you can’t solve them on your own.

“A third party that’s more objective and not so emotionally close to the situation might be able to offer you tools that’ll assist you in navigating whatever the challenges may be,” said Shontel Cargill, a licensed marriage and family therapist with Thriveworks in Cumming, GA, who has experience treating friends together.

How friendship therapy works

Friendship therapy can follow the model of talk therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, or emotionally focused therapy. Cargill said that sometimes in friendship therapy, one or both people discover that they could benefit from individual therapy.

“[In friendship therapy] we’re having conversations, and we’re creating that space to be open and honest and transparent,” Cargill said.

When Friedman and Sow were looking for friendship therapy, it was relatively uncommon — they found zero results when they searched the web. Courtesy Milan Zrnic

Therapy helped Friedman and Sow discover they were struggling with a common problem in relationships. They were misreading each other. “If you’re continually misreading each other in the same way, it becomes harder and harder to break that loop,” Friedman said. “Therapy really clarified that we were both unintentional about the hurt we caused each other. We both were trying our best in the friendship.”

Therapy helped them see their relationship in ways they couldn’t see themselves. “The sessions began paying off as our therapist started to show us where the cracks in our relationship were,” Sow said.

Friedman pointed out that therapy wasn’t a quick fix. It was an intervention that gave them both the tools they needed to keep their friendship healthy. In fact, they cherish their friendship so much they wrote a book about it: “Big Friendship: How We Keep Each Other Close“. “It would be amazing for every friendship if you were forced to write down the arc of it — what’s wonderful about it, why it’s worth preserving,” Friedman said.

Your friendships might have suffered during the pandemic

If you’re struggling to reconnect with your friends as pandemic restrictions are easing up, you might want to consider friendship therapy. “The pandemic impacted us on an individual level, and our relationships were impacted as well,” Cargill said.

Some people needed a friend to be there for them during the pandemic, but the friend didn’t have the emotional bandwidth to support them. A therapist can point out how both people are hurting and create the space for them to talk about their feelings.

Cost can be a challenge

Even if you want to invest in your friendship, paying for therapy can be a barrier. Your health insurance plan might not pay for therapy to help you repair a friendship the way it would for a diagnosed mental health condition.

If money is keeping you from finding a friendship therapist, consider a mediator. Friedman said she met someone who acted as a mediator for two of her friends who were in a tough place. “I like that idea,” she said. “If the two of you can agree on having a mutually trusted third party in the room, there could be some of the same possibility present there.”

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