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Are therapists just rent-a friends?

talking friendsIt’s virtually a right of passage. At some point in every psychologist’s career, he or she must confront a psychotherapy skeptic. My first opportunity came many years ago when I was seated on an airplane next to a middle-aged gentleman decked out in standard business-traveler attire: a charcoal gray suit, white shirt, and maroon tie. I’m not one for idle mid-flight conversation, but the gentleman was feeling chatty. After clearing the standard where-are-you-traveling-to conversation, he asked what I did for a living.

I told him I was a psychologist.

To which he replied, “Oh! A rent-a-friend.”

His premise was a simple one: Psychotherapists are friends for hire. If you had real friends, you wouldn’t need to pay a therapist.  In the intervening half-hour conversation, no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t convince this otherwise intelligent man that there was more to therapy. He was dead set on the belief that therapy couldn’t possibly work, at least not any better than chatting with an acquaintance. More.

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