Is Friendship Therapy Worth It? How To Decide If It's For You

The Kristin Hannah quote, "That was what a best friend did: hold up a mirror and show you your heart," captures the golden depth of true friendship. Friendships can often outlast marriages and while they're a type of love relationship, they're free from the baggage and tension of a romantic union.

Having said that, two best friends, Ann Friedman, and Aminatou Sow, noticed after years of talking and texting daily, sharing vulnerably about boyfriends, and supporting each other faithfully, that their friendship was disintegrating. Their first solution was to revisit the activities that forged their bond in the first place, including taking a mini spa retreat together, but nothing worked. "And that is where we hit on this idea of going to therapy," Friedman told Today. Because "friendship therapy" wasn't a category, they sought a couples counselor and started attending sessions together. Their takeaway was they'd been unintentionally hurting each other by misreading each other's communication cues, but were able to repair it. It is absolutely worth saving a healthy friendship — and it's more than just good for your soul, friendship legitimately boosts your health too. 

Types of friendships

When we look at whether or not it's worth taking a friendship into a counselor's office, there's some value in honestly ranking, without judgment, the quality of our different friendships. Scan in your imagination the friends you've had over the past 15 years. They were either acquaintances (through work, school, or friend groups), friends, close friends, or a prized best friend.

These different tiers are just a fact of life and not a reflection of our intrinsic value as a friend. We can form alliances with people because of circumstances, like bonding with workmates you wouldn't ordinarily socialize with to navigate a challenging boss. If you're in a class with the same people for a semester, you might collaborate on a creative project together which could become the basis of a fruitful long-term professional alliance (Marta Kauffman and David Crane met at Brandeis University and later created "Friends"), or it could end after the project is done. Some friendships dissolve for no discernible reason. It's no one's fault and it's okay to move on. You're simply growing in different directions.

A best friend or even a very close friend has carved out a place in your heart. There's mutual trust, benevolent intentions to help each other grow, delight in your wins, and profound support through breakups, tears, and office drama. Out of all the friend types, these are the ones worth mending.

Why go to friendship therapy?

It might be rare for friends to go to therapy, but those who choose it are extremely bonded, like twin sisters. They feel concerned because there's a threat to that bond and they either can't pinpoint the cause or, if there was an obvious rupture, they sense it can be repaired and they're willing to put in the work.

One reason friends might go to counseling together (which could be short-term), is to carefully take apart the mechanics of a disagreement and then reassemble it with a better understanding of each person's point of view. If there are cultural differences, a culturally sensitive therapist can help people interpret body language, tone, and facial expressions that could be getting completely misinterpreted. If one or both of you has a background of significant trauma, you may find that friendship therapy alerts you to the need for individual therapeutic treatment, which could ultimately be the more productive choice. Therapy should be a psychologically safe space in which to explore yourselves and deepen your understanding of the other.

What's friendship therapy like?

Friendship therapy is just like couples therapy but without the sexual history or conjoined finances. Many romantic couples might be teetering on the edge of a divorce by the time they make it to a psychologist's office, but it's likely you and your friend will bring deep concern but considerably less drama. You're seeking to clear friendship obstacles, while a married couple could be negotiating a split.

Licensed marriage and family therapist Sandra Espinoza shared with GQ a reminder that when you go to couple's therapy, you personally aren't the client, the couple as an entity is the client. That requires transparency on all sides, and even with friends, if one person has "the problem," like alcoholism, they won't dominate the sessions. Everyone gets equal time. If you suspect a friend has depression or anxiety, there are additional realistic ways to offer support.

A good therapist is trained to not only listen compassionately, but objectively. They'll unearth stuck communication patterns and bring in more awareness to resolve conflicts. If blame has crept into your relationship, you can learn how to dissolve it. Make sure your therapist is licensed and discuss how to split costs. How to know it's not worth the effort: if the friendship has devolved into insults, mocking, or abuse, just get out. That's no longer a friend. And you deserve better!