About being a psychologist to friends with MH problems

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About being a psychologist to friends with MH problems

Post by miriam » Tue Apr 10, 2007 3:11 pm

I think you have to be careful about wearing a work hat out of work, and trying to apply psychology to people who are friends, relatives or acquaintances rather than clients of a service you are employed by.

I have learnt (from bitter experience) that I need to have boundaries and not mix the personal and professional. I know plenty of medics and police that love to have a holiday where they don't have to be in their professional role (and plenty that don't give their title when booking flights, for example).

People with personality disorders and difficult relationship styles need proper professional input, not the counselling of a friend who happens to have some (insufficient) knowledge of psychology. Being their friend is a difficult job, and one I know takes a huge amount of energy and commitment. I personally like to have friends that give as much as they get in a relationship, though the balance can vary over time (and I obviously would no more drop a long term friend who was depressed than I would expect them to drop me when I have been). Some people do nothing but take in emotional terms, and aren't able to take help or advice and move on, so they leave you feeling powerless and frustrated. I have learnt over the past 12 years that people who seek me out for my capacity to give make very poor friendships as they are not balanced and reciprocal.

It is unrealistic to think that we don't make judgements about who we choose to socialise with. We all choose people with similar interests, similar intellect, common reference points. Rightly or wrongly that means we don't tend to socialise across all the boundaries of prejudice. That doesn't make us bad people. It only makes us human. And there is something very grandiose about expecting us to be more than human just because we are psychologists.

Trying to wear both hats can be tempting, but it really doesn't allow us to perform either role well. It puts you in some really difficult situations and these are much better to prevent than to resolve once they have arisen. For example, in a professional role we have a team and policies to draw on, we aren't expected to be available 24/7 and we have clear guidance about how to act when people place themselves or others at risk. We are objective, have access to supervision, have a clearly defined role and know our own limits. With family or friends we are already within the person's system, so we aren't independent (nor will they see us as such). In this position we can much more easily stretch ourselves beyond what we can do competently, we lack the support structures, and we end up doing the client a disservice (and making ourselves stressed too).

So, although it feels mean, its always better to say "I'm your friend, not your psychologist, but if you want to talk to a professional I can help you find someone to contact" - and this is true whatever level of experience you have.

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Content checked by qualified Clinical Psychologist (BlueCat) on 28/01/2018
Last modified on 10 April 2007
Last edited by BlueCat on Sun Jan 28, 2018 10:01 pm, edited 4 times in total.
Reason: Checked

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