HOW IS TALKING TO A THERAPIST DIFFERENT THAN TALKING TO A FRIEND?
Family members, friends, and partners can be great resources for support. Having close interpersonal relationships is a very healthy thing and the value of those relationships should not be downplayed. However talking to a psychologist is very different - though you may also do a lot of talking with a psychologist, we have years of training and expertise to understand precisely how a person may be in some way "stuck" in their lives. This clinical experience and intuition helps to guide therapeutically-relevant questions, to formulate an accurate assessment of the presenting issues, and to facilitate a therapy process that will help you address the issues that brought you to therapy.
The therapeutic relationship is also different from a friendship in that it is primarily a one-way relationship. So while the job of a psychologist may at times involve being an emotional support to their client, the therapist does not expect anything in return. The clinician, for example, does not need you to cater to their psychological needs, for you to care about what they think, or for you to even like them. The therapeutic relationship is unique in that the entire focus is on you - within a professional relationship that utilizes confidentiality and therapeutic boundaries to create a safe, structured, and non-judgmental environment, where clients can readily express whatever thoughts or feelings they need to, without much fear of what their therapist might think. This is in part only possible because there is no mutual relationship or friendship (or promise of one), and therefore nothing to lose other than the therapeutic or professional relationship.
In our relationships with friends, who we want to like us, we may unknowingly hold back the full extent of our thoughts and feelings, if we think on some level that it may not be received well or if we first need to "see how they are going to take it." In addition, since our friends typically want to be liked by us, they might hold back on their true thoughts or feelings toward us, which is not always what we need. So unlike in our relationships with friends, who we want to like us, the relationship with a clinician is in some ways safer - since a client should not care so much about whether their therapist likes them (though I must admit that I have yet to meet a client that I dislike).
Both client and therapist rely on this very unique therapeutic environment in order to stay focused on the specific issues a client wants to address, and so that they can be honest with one another about their impressions of the therapy process. In my sessions, I encourage my clients to be open with me about their thoughts and feelings about any aspect of therapy. This might include positive or negative reactions to the therapy approach, level of comfort within the sessions, or reactions about my own interpersonal style or in response to any comments I may have made during the therapy hour. This gives us an opportunity to overcome any roadblocks or relational impasses that may have occurred during the sessions. In short, the professional relationship between a psychologist and their client is unlike any kind of interpersonal relationship, but in my view, these differences are the precise ingredients that make it possible for something therapeutic to happen.