#726: “I want to talk to my *friend,* not my professional-advice-giver friend.”

Dear Captain,

I have a friend that I’ve known since high school (we’re both in our thirties now) and I consider her a good friend. Over the years we’ve gone through phases where we’re more apart and distant (mostly from living in other states or distant parts of the country from each other and only seeing each other a few times a year) and phases where we’re closer. I like talking to her and I like having her in my life, and very soon she’s moving to the town I live in now and we’re both planning on and looking forward to getting together and being closer again.

The thing is, she’s spent the last two years becoming a minister and sometimes when we talk about how our lives are going, it feels like she’s not listening and talking to me as a friend, but as a minister to a congregant or a counselor to someone seeking help; so I find myself not wanting to talk about difficult things in my life, or talking about them in minimizing ways because I don’t want advice, well-meaning and well-trained as it might be. I’m not seeking counseling or guidance or theological insight from her, I just want to talk to my friend and share some of our lives as friends do.

Do you have any scripts for gently asserting the boundary that I want to just talk as friends, that I love her dearly, but that unless I explicitly ask for advice or guidance, I don’t want her to act as my minister or counselor?

Thank you!

–not interested in unsolicited counseling

Dear Not Interested,

Thank YOU for a good question that can be answered quickly. And your last line is a great script if you want to just go with that.

Light-hearted script: “Thanks for the suggestion, most Reverend Friendname, but I want to talk to Just Plain Old Friendname now please.

Additional scripts:

  • “It must be really easy to slip into counseling or advising-mode, given what you do all day, but you’re slipping into it with me a little too readily just now. You know I value your insights, but I’d appreciate it if you’d ask me if I even want advice before offering it.” 
  • “Reminder: Me sharing a situation is not an automatic request for advice/Engage Counselor Mode!”

I think she’ll hear you and will be ultimately glad that you set a boundary and reminded her to relax and be a person when she’s around you. This seems like a good time to say, “Eep, maybe I do this sometimes, if so, Real Life Friends, please tell me to knock it off and I will be very grateful.”

92 comments
  1. Every so often I have to tag a social media post with something like, “This is me venting, NOT seeking advice. Unsolicited advice will be deleted, because my Social Media thingie. All the loves, MWAH!”

    I sometimes feel a little guilty about being so abrupt.
    But, I always feel better when I don’t receive unsought “Here’s what you need to do to Fix Your Damn Life” diatribes.

    • Terrified Gardener said:

      That doesn’t sound at all abrupt to me. Glad it works too. 🙂

    • Blue Meeple said:

      That sounds reasonable to me. I’ve definitely included “I don’t want to talk about x aspect of the post, please just leave it alone” types of things on personal posts, and occasional community posts as well (one comm I’m in can get really nitpicky, which is sometimes great but sometimes really unnecessary and can get out of hand).

  2. Dear LW

    She’ll probably be grateful that you’re NOT asking for her professional persona.

  3. Katie said:

    This is EXACTLY what some of my social worker friends are prone to at times (and certainly what I sometimes do too, even without an MSW. :D) With my social worker best friend, I can just say jokingly, “Stop social working me!”

    • gmg said:

      YES!! I was just coming here to post about “being social-worked” by a dear friend. Thankfully with time, he’s gotten better about not doing it. When he was still in school, it was like “Hey, chance to use my skills!” and I think the lines just got blurred because school is so all-consuming.

      • Kay said:

        Yeah, when I was in school and earlier in my mental health career, I’m pretty sure I did it a lot. No, I KNOW I did it a lot. I did it before grad school — that’s partly why I went to graduate school in psychology. My roommate in grad school used to talk about how whenever we went out she had to rescue me from sad drunk people at the bar telling me their life’s story “and you’re too nice to tell them to stop and they take advantage of you,” and I was like, “You’re not rescuing me! It’s fine! I like doing that!” (Really, though, she was totally rescuing me, I just didn’t recognize it.) And I would also naturally fall into that kind of pattern with friends. And in graduate school so much of your life is intently focusing on how to use those skills that it’s just hard to remember how to listen and support in a different way.

        But now that I’ve been in the field for longer, I have so much better boundaries around that. If a friend asks my opinion about something from my professional perspective, I’ll occasionally oblige, but I don’t slip into de facto counseling sessions anymore.

        And I really can no longer imagine an evening out for a fun break with friends that involves me basically performing a free intake session.

        (And part of my skill set has involved learning to shut down and leave conversations gracefully, which helps the “too nice to stop them” factor with strangers/acquaintances.)

        *mentally pats baby newbie counselor self on the head*

        I love my job. And my job is very intricately related to my personality and certain aspects of my nature. But I’ve also learned that my job is not me and it’s gotten much, much easier to put that role on and take it off.

        LW, the Captain and others have offered great scripts that you should absolutely try. I just wanted to also let you know that over time, maybe with gentle nudging from friends, there’s hope she may naturally come to the realization she doesn’t always have to be on, and for that matter doesn’t always WANT to be on.

        • Right, exactly. When people are new and keen, they are willing to help, but don’t necessarily yet have the full skill set. By the time they do, I find friends are jaded and also value their skills such that they won’t give “professional” opinions free of charge and out of a clinical setting.

          Either way, it’s not good to either solicit or be offered medical type opinions on a social basis. Well done OP for identifying rather than accepting this.

          I reckon if you use the Captain’s scripts for now, in a few years’ time even if you begged for a professional opinion it would make her awkward. So I don’t think this will last forever, only during the initial “I learnt something new and want to share it with the world” phase.

          • Courtney said:

            “See my shiny new knowledge!!!!”

          • Kay said:

            Good point about medical advice. Just to clarify, when I say I’ll occasionally oblige, it is never with a diagnosis or medical advice. It’s more like stuff they could find on Google but would like to hear from me (e.g., what’s involved in an ADHD eval? What’s a diagnosis of X mean exactly?) Anything along the lines of “could i/my kid/my husband have X issue? And what should I do if so?” promptly gets kind but strong encouragement to go to a non – friend professional.

    • M Dubz said:

      I’m in seminary, and we do it to each other too. I’ve definitely had friends tell me “nice pastoral work rabbi” not even realizing I was using Rabbi Voice instead of Friend Voice. And I have some classmates who communicate almost exclusively in Rabbi Voice.

      It’s challenging, because that kind of communication is designed to elicit calm and reflective communication, so it can be a great tool, but it is definitely not a great tool all the time and it can be disconcerting to have it used on you in regular conversation.

  4. I’m the oldest sister of three, so I tend to fall into an “advice giving” mode when my friends have problems. Sometimes, my advice is appreciated and sometimes, my friends have to tell me before outlining their problems, “I don’t need solutions right now, I just need someone to listen to me vent.” I’ve found that very helpful.

    • That being said, I would love to be a member of your congregation of Smartassery, Reverend.

      • We meet on Saturdays at the bar. And on Wednesdays, we wear whatever the hell we want.

  5. Joan of anon said:

    I do this all the time. I try not to but I do. My boyfriend has a similar profession to me as well so we often do it to each other and it’s like “okay it’s nice to communicate so clearly and reasonably but oh my god stop key working me right now.”

    Not that it matters, but it may make you less nervous to know your friend will probably feel some relief at being told to turn it off. It can be really tiring and make socialising draining to treat all your friends like clients/congregants/etc. If she’s been in training for 2 years it’s probably taken over a lot of her life, and a lot of her current social circle is probably like that to. I think quite possibly all you’ll need to do it point it out when she slips into that behaviour because I doubt she wants to do it. So the scripts are good, as would be things like ‘I can see why you make a good minister’ when she does it or ‘learn that in minister school*?’ I think the more aware she becomes of it, the less she will do it.

    * I do not know the real name for minister school.

    • Courtney said:

      Seminary?

    • Yes. It’s sometimes hard to stop “therapisting” at my friends, but being asked to stop often means “I get to make smartass comments and rude noises! Yay!”

    • Anne said:

      Agreed that telling her is the best option for both of you. As a mental health professional as lot of my conversations with co-workers and friends involve professional jargon. Recently a friend called me out on doing this and said it felt uncomfortable to her – that was awesome of her! Whatever script you choose, if she cares for you she will listen and understand that you are unhappy with the current situation. I want my friend to enjoy being around me, as I’m sure your friend does. Let her know so that your friendship can be at its very best!

      (My situation made for a really good in-joke with that friend. Maybe you have that to look forward to?)

    • M Dubz said:

      I am also in seminary, and I do this all the time with friends and family, sometimes consciously because “I want to support you in this hard time that is causing you to vomit feelings all over me, and the best way to do that is use the skills I learned in seminary to take some emotional distance so that I can support you without feeling like you are having feelings AT ME.”

      Other times, I do it unconsciously. I once was asking a friend in the car about something he’d been nervous about at a conference we just went to, and he came back with “Nice pastoral moment there, rabbi.” Or I will stop halfway through something and realize I’m rabbi-ing someone. Sometimes those modes of nonviolent, supportive, nonjudgmental communication are really helpful, but sometimes your friends want you to swear and threaten to kick whatever the problem is in the (metaphorical) shins.

  6. I think if you show her this beautiful and affectionate letter, she will get the message very easily without doubting how much you care for and appreciate her.

  7. sara said:

    Although I’m not a professional counselor in any capacity, I definitely do have the tendency to give too much advice when friends are just looking for someone to vent to/talk to/etc. Over time, I’ve learned to mentally check myself and actually ask them – “Hey, do you want my advice on this or do you want me to just comisserate with you over what a dickhead this dude is being?” I am also very amenable to friends pointing out when I’m overstepping — we tend to be fairly blunt people, and so they’ll often just say – “Hey, I just need a shoulder to cry on right now! Not looking for advice!”

    It sounds like your friend is pretty new to this minister role, and like the advice-y behavior is pretty new, and so I do think this is something that will mellow over time as she becomes more self-aware of the problem. In the meantime, I think it’s absolutely fine to either have a conversation with her at a time when you’re not in the midst of personal turmoil, and say, “Hey, I have noticed this dynamic and I want us to work on it,” or to just point it out in the moment when it’s happening, whichever feels more comfortable to you. She may not realize she’s doing it, but it IS fixable if someone is aware and willing to change.

  8. Jill said:

    And this isn’t just because LW’s friend is a minister. I think it’s hard for a lot of us to “turn off” our professional selves. As an accountant who specializes in taxes and estates I had to learn right quick that when someone shares that a close relative is near death or is aging they do NOT want me to start inquiring about whether they have a will in place or if they’ve designated a Power of Attorney or if their papers are all in an easy to find spot.

    The direct approach works in the opposite way, too. I’ve learned that people appreciate it when I ask, “Are you looking for my advice or are you just venting here?” It stops me from giving unsolicited accountant-y advice many times!

    • Yes to that last part. I do “Do you want to hear what I think, or do you want to vent?” with my partner and (when I remember to ask) it works very well.

    • TO_Ont said:

      Yeah, I wonder if it’s relevent that friend has only been training to be a minister for the past two years – it’s still pretty new and maybe they are still in the early stages of figuring out these boundaries.

      • M Dubz said:

        It has been my experience that baby clergy who are very excited about all their new skills can go a bit overboard with enthusiasm, and that people tend to mellow as time goes on.

    • jdrives said:

      Bingo. Especially in the counseling field, the personal is professional. Your authentic self, including your personality, beliefs, experience, etc. helps inform your counseling practice and helps you build a trusting relationship with another human being. I got into counseling because I like to help people solve their problems, I’m intuitive and empathetic, and I like giving advice (and am told I’m pretty good at it). That was all going on before my professional training, and now it’s even more difficult not to let Counselor JDrives out when a friend is venting. Like you, I have learned to check in with my friends – “Do you need to just vent and hug it out? Or do you want insight/advice?” I remind myself that while my friend probably needs help, it’s not up to *me* to decide what that help looks like.

    • gmg said:

      Agreed. I’m an editor by trade, and if a friend specifically sends me a piece of writing and say “Can you edit this?” then I am happy to do so. Outside of that, I never, ever, ever correct family or friends’ grammar in speech or writing. (Though I stumbled once in commenting on this site and failed to realize that this rule should apply to an online community as well, and the good Captain was rightly quick to put the hammer down.)

      • TootsNYC said:

        I also am an editor by trade, and the *only* time I will ever comment on someone’s grammar or spelling or word choice, in real life or online, is when they say, “I think I spelled that wrong,” and they were right. Then I’ll go say, “Your spelling instincts look good! Trust yourself.” (If they say “I think I spelled that wrong,” and they were wrong, I don’t say anything.)

        Or perhaps if someone misspells something that I think they might be doing a google search on–I’ll go say, “If you’re going to google that, be sure to spell it this way.” But that’s pretty darned rare. I’ve done that with sharing the proper terminology to improve google efficiencies.

        • Kootiepatra said:

          I’m not an editor, but I do grade papers and am a bit of an English enthusiast. I never correct people’s grammar or spelling in the wild–UNLESS we are in a good friendship and they are also word nerds, because I know it will (playfully) rile them up. Good-natured grammar wars can be awesome. ;D

          (But yes, in general, nobody likes the self-appointed grammar police.)

    • wintercherry said:

      Oh, yes, the professional self you forget to take off. I left librarianship five years ago and some days my friends *still* can’t wonder aloud about something without me immediately going into “oh-I-know-where-to-find-that-out-let-me-just-rush-off-and-look-it-up-for-you” mode. Or as a friend said recently, “Stop being Google, will you???” (The part of me that was a medical librarian I really do have to keep on a tight leash: not everybody is the better for being given a bibliography of that stuff)

    • dhara said:

      oh man, I’ve had to learn how to say something similar when a friend vents to me. like, “would you like problem-solving mode? just listening & making soothing noises? snuggle mode?” several of my close friends do the same for me, and I think it’s incredibly useful. sometimes when I get that question, I have to stop & think about what exactly I need/want from my friend, and that moment of reflection is really valuable & helps me tease some stuff out, you know?

      I think that most people, when they hear about a friend’s trouble, instinctively want to help and immediately flail around offering whatever help they think of first…but it can be so counterproductive if you don’t pay attention to what the situation actually calls for.

  9. Fangirl said:

    This is definitely something that I’m guilty of, same with my bestie. As two people working in mental health, it’s really easy to slip into counselor mode with each other. And, sometimes that’s helpful! Then, there’s sometimes where that’s not helpful.

    For me, I like to put a disclaimer on my interactions with her. If I need to vent about something, but don’t want any advice, I’ll tell her: “Listen, I just need to word-vomit for a bit. That cool?” This tells her I’m not really interested in advice, but just someone to hear me out. She also does this thing, which is great, that instead of giving advice she’ll ask open-ended questions. Like, “What do you think about that?” or “How would you like to move forward?” While still counselor-y, it lets me come up with my own answers rather than her advising about whatever I just vented about.

    On the flip side, I think telling your friend that she doesn’t need to give advice may make her feel relieved. People in helping professions tend to be expected to be advice-givers and problem-solvers at all times. It’s hard to turn that off when friends and family are coming to you for help, and all you’re wanting is to not be their counselor all the time.

    For example, a horror story from my past (tw: suicidal ideation, involuntary hospitalization):

    I had a roommate, Hanna (not her name), that had some serious mental health issues, the seriousness of which I did not realize until she was dumped by her boyfriend, Aaron (who was another roommate and also not his name). Aaron had legit reasons as to breaking up with her (not feeling as deeply, not wanting to be with her because of guilt, recognizing she had things to work out outside the relationship) and was trying to be gentle as possible.

    This cued a month-long downward spiral, where her anorexia reared its head through near starvation and laxatives by the handful. She might have had one salad a day alongside her twelve or so shots of vodka (that was just for lunch). She would have screaming crying fits that lasted hours, so loud that you could hear her outside the house. She would say super triggering things to me like “If he hit me, I’m sure I deserve it” and “I’m disgusting and ugly and he should hate me.”

    At this time, I was also a crisis clinician at the local suicide hotline, and it was impossible for me not to respond to her need. I would get home from work and she would glomp onto me, telling me about how horrible and worthless she was, about how no one would ever love her again. I would rub her back and make sure she ate and try to redirect her thoughts away from all that negative. I tried to convince her to move out; she refused (what if he realizes he loves me and I’m not here?). I tried to get her therapy; she wasn’t interested (her dad told her that curing depression was easy – just suck it up). I kept trying and trying and she kept eating up all the advice and help and support and it was never, ever enough. She always needed more.

    This all came to a head when I came home one night and she had two handles of vodka, a giant bottle of pain medications, and sheets and sheets of paper across her room screaming “I HATE HANNA I WANT HER TO DIE SHE DESERVES TO DIE I HATE HER.” I tried to safety plan with her, but halfway through I realized I just wanted to be her friend. I couldn’t be her counselor anymore. So, I called the paramedics and they took her to the hospital, kicking and screaming that she was fine. She was there for four days, and it was a blessed relief to have my home feel safe again.

    I’d like to say this story has a happy ending. It doesn’t (not quite). She did start therapy and taking anti-depressants (she was also diagnosed with borderline tendencies). She could never let go of Aaron, and eventually was forced to move out (the fourth roommate had called the landlord, stating he was terrified every time he came downstairs that he would find her dead on the couch). She lost her job, though she found another, and that negative self-talk was still a constant cycle.

    However, the moral of this story was I learned how to establish boundaries. No longer did I let her use me as her social worker and counselor. I insisted upon being her friend. I took her out to coffee and talked about the Marvel movies and played with her cat. I would even let her vent (just a bit) about her therapy or Aaron before saying, “I’m sorry to hear about that. That sounds like something to talk with your therapist about. Let’s go see a movie.” I moved back to Virginia a few months later and, while she wasn’t much better, I left as her friend, not her therapist.

    Obviously, your situation is not nearly as serious. But, I think it’s important to recognize that both friends can learn how to establish boundaries in a friendship, where one is not eternal advice-giver and the other is not forever advice-receiver. All it takes is honesty about what you need from each other and what you expect from the friendship, which is hugs and inside jokes and late-night donut runs, not “Well, how does that make you feeeeeeel?”

    • bea said:

      I am so, so sorry you had to go through such a terrifying and distressing experience. I appreciate how hard you must have worked at that situation, and there are a multitude of jedi hugs available to you from me (and the rest of the awkwardeers, I’m sure!), if you’d like them.

    • And in that situation, the “best friend” was what she actually needed, way more than the “counsellor”. Because boundaries are beautiful things, and even senior clinicians call in help when shit gets overwhelming or the client needs the next level of care.

  10. AthenaC said:

    Best case scenario, she may feel that it is part of her responsibility as a minister to, well, minister to everyone she comes across, including you! Hopefully she will feel relieved when you ask her to “just” be your friend. Even ministers need down time!

  11. Clarry said:

    I don’t know if this will help, but it might be soothing to know that this problem is way more common that people think. It’s also way more annoying. It’s a version of mansplaining where a guy assumes he knows about your life and your problems and what you should do to solve them. He elects himself expert and delivers a covert insult by implying that you wouldn’t need to talk to him if you just followed his advice so you’d have nothing more to complain about. I find it all the more insidious when it comes from a woman because I’ve let my guard down.

    Frankly, I haven’t had good luck with scripts like the Captain’s. They’re definitely worth the try, but I’ve had to step it up a notch to “When you give me advice, you sound dismissive and unsympathetic. Is that what you’re shooting for?” “When you keep asking me why I feel and act the way I do, you may think you’re helping me sort out my reasons and feelings, but you’re coming across as dense for not understanding and annoying for making me repeat myself. Is that what you want?”

    Even there, I haven’t had great luck. It’s really been a matter of drawing back from the friendship a bit, waiting, and hoping my friend grows out of the superiority act on her own.

    • jdrives said:

      Mansplaining is mostly used in regards to topics or fields of knowledge/study. It is indeed patronizing and irritating. However, I don’t agree with your comparison to a friend giving advice to another friend. It can certainly be delivered in a condescending manner, but generally it is meant to be helpful and coming from a genuine concern for the person. I’m really sorry if you’ve had friends who been rude or patronizing when giving you advice, that is definitely not cool, and your scripts/disconnecting tactics totally work there. That doesn’t sound like LW’s problem, though. LW is not complaining that her friend is covertly insulting, dismissive, or unsympathetic. Sounds like LW just wants to be able to share their life without getting advice or guidance all the time.

      • Courtney said:

        What you said. Also, LW refers to the minister-friend as “she” in her letter.

      • TO_Ont said:

        Maybe sometimes uninvited advice is genuinely meant to help. But even so, that doesn’t stop it from more often than not ALSO being rude and condescending. It’s easy to ask for advice if you want it from someone, and it’s easy to find out (e.g., by asking) if someone wants it from you.

        I think the situation in the letter is different because the friend has been learning to act this way for a legitimate reason. In her training and job it actually WOULD be appropriate and respectful to give someone advice or to speak to them as a mentor or counsellor. Especially since she’s new enough to the job, she may just be slipping into that behaviour by accident, since she’s been spending so much time practicing interacting that way and her brain is probably overflowing with it. Like when elementary school teachers accidentally use their ‘teacher voice’ with a friend or family member – it doesn’t necessarily mean they actually think it’s OK to talk to a friend like a child, it’s just an automatic habit they may forget they’re doing.

        Better to nip it in the bud early, though – easier for her to realise she’s doing it now than in another ten years!

    • duaecat said:

      I am sure mine is not the be-all-end-all of definition, but to me the core of mansplaining is the assumption that you know more about a topic because of something unrelated to the topic, e.g being male when the other person is presumed female.Or when I was at a zoo and a small child read the information plaque for Ring-Tailed Lemurs and an adult snapped at them that there was no such thing, those were Zebra-monkeys. They assumed that because they were an adult and the other person was a child they would know better about what the animal was called, even without any primate studies under their belt.

      It’s not a perfect definition because even if you are the head researcher at the primate studies center you’re still making an assumption that the people looking at the lemurs have less training than you do, and it’s still rude to swoop in without permission, but not on the same level as explaining a book you’ve never read to the author of the book.

      Using your counselor skills unasked is more like… you ask your friend to pick you up a pack of cheap hotdogs for you, and they show up with a free 4 course gourmet meal which is very lovely and you appreciate it, but what are you going to hide the dog’s pills in now?

      • All the love in the world for your last paragraph!!!

  12. A_lopez said:

    As this has already arisen as an issue in your conversations and you want to be super-gentle, it might be worth bringing it up at some time other than when she has already gone into counsellor mode. It could maybe be tacked onto the end of a conversation about her duties – “I know you’re operating in this mode a lot but by the way don’t feel you have to advise me when I start talking to you about something just as a friend …”
    I thought of it like this because I realize I find it particularly hard to set boundaries about unsolicited advice and my reactions tend to be of the “hmm there’s a thought” variety. I feel like even flagging the unsolicited advice is making too much of an issue out of it, but perhaps I know too many hypersensitive narcissists which doesn’t seem to be your problem here.
    I was also thinking on a tangent about an internet forum where there’s a rule that advice should not be given in the folder for prayer requests. If someone still feels an overwhelming urge to suggest something, they type: “Unsolicited advice in white:” and then the person has to highlight the white text if they want to read it. That’s a cool system, but the only way I can think of to extrapolate it to conversations is to set up a rule outside the context of the problem conversation.

  13. mythbri said:

    So, my dad is a counselor, and he often will switch into Counselor Mode when I talk to him about my problems or challenges. Sometimes I welcome that kind of feedback and sometimes I don’t. He understands people much better than I do, so sometimes he’s able to open my mind to what another person might be thinking, and that helps me to make better decisions about how to handle things.

    Sometimes, though, all I want is sympathy and validation, and we’ve had this come up often enough that I can say “Dad, you’re being a counselor again,” and he’ll laugh and immediately stop analyzing the situation, or let me change the subject entirely.

    LW, this friend of yours seems like a great friend who cares about you, and I have no doubt that if you tell her what you need, she will try to meet those needs in your conversations.

    • MadDissector said:

      My father was a Catholic priest for 15 years before he quitted (this happened after the Catholic Church allowed it at the end of the 70s), but he is still the vocational priest in his core and just jumps eagerly in when opportunity allows. He doesn’t realize that he can be so intrusive, patronizing or both at the same time. Like when a cousin’s wife, who had a painful, degenerative illness, tried to commit suicide: as soon as he heard about it, he booked a bus ticket to visit the family asap and “give them comfort”. We heard later that he had used the “there is so much to live for” and “life is god’s gift” argument to cheer the depressed wife, which, Catholic and all, was something rather insensitive to say to someone that was suffering chronic, incapacitating, acute pain. When confronted, my father just doesn’t get the point because he does it on good faith, and that’s a good enough excuse. He’s getting worse with age, because he needs to feel useful. And, yes, he plays the priest with me, until the extent that I feel compelled to begin conversations with trigger warnings: “this is something I need to deal with by myself, no help needed” or “if you play the priest in response to this, I am going to relish in the cardinal sin of wrath”. He will be offended, but at least he will mostly let it go.

      • attica said:

        Dear me! Like a real-life Mr. Collins, who has come from Kent “to condole with you all.” So not helpful.

  14. jdrives said:

    “Friend, I love you dearly, but unless I explicitly ask for you advice or guidance, I don’t want you to act as my minister or counselor.” << That's gold. Said with gentleness and the love you feel for this person, I can see it going over really really well. I'm like your friend sometimes, and if I was in receiving this message from someone, I might be embarrassed and feel guilty, but I would hear it and respect it with absolutely no love lost.

  15. I actually just had a long conversation with a family member about a similar issue. A friend of hers tried to bring some of her behaviors to her attention and she was sure that they were not things she did because she was trying not to. But I had to be the sad bearer of the news, that no, in fact, she does it to me all the time and it drives me nuts. (In fact, I realized later, she’d done it earlier in the conversation.)

    In her case it is more extreme, because she, and indeed both of us, have a tendency to be very Opinionated, and to want other people to believe that our Opinions are correct. However I”m not sure she’s as aware of that tendency as I am, and so she pretty much railroads everyone anytime they do anything she doesn’t agree with. Especially when it has to do with spiritual or medical issues.

    It’s gotten to a point where even just sharing generally what is happening in my life is challenging because she wants to try to fix it with spiritual BS. But no amount of positive thinking or yoga is going to change all of the things in my life that are sad right now, and I don’t really want to erase them with false happy platitudes.

    So I can only mostly commiserate about this, because it took multiple people to even get my family member to see it was an issue. I’m sorry, I hope the scripts help.

    • “Trying not to do something” is almost the total opposite of not doing the thing. It means you know you do the thing, and you’re actively catching yourself attempting to do it (and then stop yourself in that instant.)

      • Yeah, I think this is one of those things that it is hard for her to even identify she IS doing. It’s SO much a part of how our family communicates. And she’s always been much more accepting of being on the receiving end of it than I am, so I think it’s a process for her.

        It’s kindof amazing how oblivious she is to it, the first part of this conversation she went on a bossy pants rant because someone I know had a C section and she should never have had to do that because hippies say she shouldn’t have had to. And then 5 minutes later she’s telling me she’s like the least judgmental person ever. It’s clearly not something she’s conscious of at all, and I wish I had a better idea how to help her.

  16. Clarry said:

    I don’t know if this will help, but it might be soothing to know that this problem is way more common that people think. It’s also way more annoying. It’s a version of mansplaining where a guy assumes he knows about your life and your problems and what you should do to solve them. He elects himself expert and delivers a covert insult by implying that you wouldn’t need to talk to him if you just followed his advice so you’d have nothing more to complain about. I find it all the more insidious when it comes from a woman because I’ve let my guard down.

    Frankly, I haven’t had good luck with scripts like the Captain’s. They’re definitely worth the try, but I’ve had to step it up a notch to “When you give me advice, you sound dismissive and unsympathetic. Is that what you’re shooting for?” “When you keep asking me why I feel and act the way I do, you may think you’re helping me sort out my reasons and feelings, but you’re coming across as dense for not understanding and annoying for making me repeat myself. Is that what you want?”

    Even there, I haven’t had great luck. It’s really been a matter of drawing back from the friendship a bit, waiting, and hoping my friend grows out of the superiority act on her own.

    • moss said:

      I know this was a duplicate comment that was dismissed above but I really like those scripts and I’ve had to use them or similar in the past. To bring the boundary enforcing up a notch, as it were, these would be great.

  17. Ellie said:

    I’ve had just the opposite situation happen!
    I’m trained as a student advocate and supporter of survivors of sexual and relationship misconduct at my college, and our training specifically prohibits giving advice or looking to ‘solve a problem’ unless it’s specifically asked for. Once in awhile, I’ll ask a friend who’s venting if I can voice an opinion on the situation and they will laugh at me and tell me I don’t have to be an empathetic nodder all the time – Friend Mode can involve some unsolicited-advice, apparently (just not overboard!).
    I think it depends on the friendship – there are a few people I will vent to specifically hoping they’ll tell me what to do, haha.

  18. CLAO said:

    Maybe set the boundary as CA suggest, and add that in the future when you do indeed need the counseling help, you can stop by/make an appointment at her office/church as any member of her ministry would.

    • Eurekas said:

      I’m not in love with this proposed addition. For me, mentioning that you can make an appointment like any member of her ministry (if/when you need it) sounds more aggressive than just saying “Hey, I’d like to talk to my friend-friend, not my clergy-person friend”.

      Secondly, I think there are legitimate reasons why one might decide that one needed advice from a professional advice-giver just like your friend, except that you’d prefer an advice-giver who has never seen you in a bathing suit, never seen you drunk, and doesn’t know that you only eat green vegetables when your mother is watching. (Or maybe you’d prefer one you’ve never seen drunk, or in a bathing suit).

      If you’ve never “promised” to make an appointment with the professional advice giver-friend, I think it’s easier to explain that you wanted one with whom you will have a strictly professional relationship. Or one who is located more conveniently or whatever other reasons you might give for choosing one over another.

    • M Dubz said:

      I think that, in general, it’s probably not the best idea to schedule time with your friend in a professional capacity. You have one particular relationship that is (hopefully) vulnerable on both sides, and adding in the professional side can lead to further bad boundaries. It’s actually an issue of clergy in general, that you spend time socially with members of your community one day, and have to do counseling for them the next, which can lead to unhealthy expectations in the friendly side or the professional side of the relationship. And that’s just with people where the relationship started out as clergy and congregant. Probably the letter writer would (and should!) prefer to get their professional advice from a non-friend.

  19. Something that’s coming up for me is… Even some of the best and most effective people in the helping professions like counseling and ministry don’t really give *advice*-advice.

    As in, the best of therapists and counselors and teachers and ministers et cetera usually counsel through great conversation, and not by mandates or saying “you should.” Great helpers help by asking great questions while making use of intellect and intuition, and by asking questions in ways that help the other person (“the counseled”) tease out their own personal resources, insights, and strengths semi-independently, without advice but rather with a growing worldview and inner self-trust. If your friend is actually *advising*–as in, saying “you should do this” or “you should do that”–that’s also, frankly, not the most sensitive or effective counseling, not just as a friend, but even within her very profession!

    Of course it’s different if she is asked as a minister by a congregant, point blank, “What should I do?” But sometimes–probably often!–her congregants will want to come to her to share, not necessarily to be advised, but to be witnessed and cared for and/or to have a fun conversation. Usually people in these professions learn to be sensitive enough not to up and give advice without request not only among friends but also in more therapeutic settings.

    I just thought I would share that insight, not to insult the LW’s friend or suggest that she’s incompetent, but to suggest the possibility that, especially if this friend is in an early moment in her training, she may in fact be clumsily working out the role of a counseling position even in her professional life. It’s super annoying as a friend–it also can often be super annoying as an “advisee.”

    This insight is courtesy of personal experiences in therapy and with teachers and mentors, *not* from the perspective of a professional helper–although I read a *lot* of stuff about therapy/analysis, I am not a trained therapist. But I can assure you that the therapists and teachers that have been most personally effective have been the ones who trusted me to answer my own questions. (I’d be interested to see if other counselors/social workers/therapists/ministers etc. agree.)

    I know this isn’t really a script for you, LW, but hopefully it will add a dimension of clarity to your understanding of the profession.

    • Kay said:

      Gonna throw out a mention that this perspective is one style of therapy/counseling. It works great for a lot of people.

      And some styles and types of therapy are much more directive. And some clients/congregants respond better to and prefer more directive styles. No therapist is a good fit for every single client. I think it’s more a question of whether the level of directiveness of the therapist matches the level of direction/advice the client prefers and if they can adapt to feedback if it isn’t working.

      I mean, no, as a general rule your minister/therapist should generally not be telling you what your decisions should be and therapy should absolutely be collaborative. You should feel and be heard. But in a lot of situations they absolutely can be advising you regarding tools to make those decisions or changes or giving you outside information to take in about situations. And that’s advice.

      A couple of for instances: If someone comes in saying “I want to feel better” and I find out, say, they are staying up all night playing video games and getting maybe four hours of sleep, I would feel remiss if I didn’t bring up pretty darn quickly that good sleep hygiene is one way of feeling better and that I would be happy to share some information about that. And that is advice giving, even if I am gentle about it and respect their decision not to work on that if they don’t want to. Another example, any type of therapy that involves teaching skills of any sort. Collaborative, yes, hopefully, but it’s pretty implicit that the therapist wouldn’t be teaching those skills if they didn’t think you should maybe try them.

      I am mostly bringing this up because I don’t want someone to think their therapist is necessarily doing it wrong if their therapist is somewhat directive and it’s working for them. Or that something’s wrong with them if they do not flourish in more non-directive therapy. I know that’s not what you said or implied. I just want to put it out there explicitly.

      • Good Wolf said:

        Thanks, this is a great point. And it’s not even just about what works for what person; it can even be what works for what person at any given time.

        I actually switched counselors once because of just this. I liked Counselor #1 a lot and she’d helped me a ton, but I’d reached the point where I really wanted and needed more directive counseling. Basically, when I started going to appointments with the first counselor, I was feeling so “broken” and so unsure of my own perceptions that it was incredibly helpful to just have an unbiased listener tell me that no, I wasn’t overreacting; certain things I was describing really were that bad, and that no, I wasn’t broken, I’d just gone through a lot and needed some time and help to recover. It helped me SO MUCH and I think if I’d had Counselor #2 at that stage, his blunt and no-nonsense approach would have felt like too much for me and might even have made me feel more guilty and upset.

        But after a while of just basically having a sympathetic ear and outside reassurance (including the above-mentioned insightful questions to help me figure out what was really bothering me sometimes), I started asking her for specific advice, describing certain behavior patterns and habits that I wanted help breaking, etc., and she told me that she doesn’t really give advice. So I found a counselor who did. There were no hard feelings; Counselor #1 had helped me a ton already and was also okay with me getting help elsewhere because it was what was best for me then. Counselor #2 would listen to me describe a specific problem, and would teach me tools to try to deal with it. He’d often mention a variety of possible courses of action, and describe them in a lot of detail with examples, and I could choose what worked for me. It was a really huge switch in styles, from me spending about 80% of my appointments talking to about 80% listening instead. I’d let him know in the next appointment what was and wasn’t working for me, and we’d continue on from there. I still use several specific behaviors he taught me and suggested I try, and they’ve helped a ton.

        So yeah, direct advice can definitely be very effective professional counseling.

        On the flip side, sympathetic questions can sound very much like counselor “shop talk” too, depending upon phrasing and tone, and can be just as unwelcome when someone just wants to vent to a friend.

    • Vicki said:

      My impression is that a lot of ministers do give more directive advice than other sorts of counselors, because the members of the congregation may ask “What should I do about this?” They may also be used to getting up in front of a group every week and giving a sermon that is explicitly “You should all do this” or at least “any of you who is in this situation should handle it in this way,” and that’s a different approach from a more nondirective “How do you feel about that?” and “Have you considered talking to them?” style of therapy/counseling.

  20. kolobok said:

    LW, I think you’ve received great scripts and lots of affirmative stories from people close to counselors/religious advisors. I just wanted to add one little bit of advice to perhaps keep in mind when dealing with your friend: be conscious of the fact that she might get fatigued from hearing about other people’s crap all day that it may make it hard some days for her to listen to yours. My husband is a chaplain in a high stress position and, over the course of a work day, he listens to a lot of difficult stories. He’s a great husband and helps me deal with all sorts of things that upset me, but there have been a couple occassions where my situation, in the grand scheme of life and death, does not compare in severity to what he’s heard all day and he just doesn’t have it in him to listen to me complain at that moment. Perhaps when you set a boundary with your friend, you could also open up the door to her setting this sort of boundary (i.e. I love being able to talk things over with you, friend, but if you feel you need a break from listening to problems, just let me know and I can change the subject with no hard feelings or questions asked.”

    • This was the sort of thing I scrolled down to say and you did it way better. I didn’t get a lot of sense from the question that OP was recognizing that, while this is totally a reasonable thing for friends to want to do, her friend has now made this sort of thing her job and she should be flowing a little of that recognition back the other way too. You may not mean to impose on your chef friend when you invite them to recipe/pot luck night but they don’t get a choice on how they spend their work time. Give them that choice in their leisure time with you.

    • Pam Adams said:

      I like this. I try to be the listener in friendships, not the advice-giver, but when it comes to a friend or family member constantly venting, particularly if it’s a repeated topic, I find myself wanting to say ‘Let me solve this or shut up!’

  21. humanbaymax said:

    I worked in residence life for a long time, which basically erased and re-wrote all the scripts in my head for What To Do When Someone Needs Help. To the point where I used to not even know where to begin with, “just being a friend”. If your friend has been immersed in a counselling role, she may struggle to figure out how to respond “normally”. My only recommendation is to give her concrete ways of supporting you. “When I’m upset or angry, I need ______” is easier to get the results you’re looking for than, “please don’t counsellor me!”.

  22. Jessica said:

    Man, this hits home hard. One of my best friends is a psychotherapist, so sometimes when we’re talking (mostly about my problems in life) I feel like I’m being analyzed rather than being listened to. Sometimes all we need is to someone to listen to us, give a few advices and share past experiences. And not having Freud in the middle.

  23. Matron Of Dishonor said:

    I also have a good friend who is a minister. When she slides into Chaplain Mode with me (which, unfortunately, is pretty often), I just look at her, smile, and say, “Friend, dear, take off the collar.”

    Sometimes she goes through phases where she can’t/won’t break out of that mode, and when that happens, I move her out of the Friends For Confiding/Commiserating column for a while, for my own mental health and for the sake of our continuing friendship.

  24. Penelope Widdowson-Bonefat said:

    I do want to flag that your friend may react not by feeling relieved but by feeling rejected — many clergy, especially early-career clergy, feel that “ministering” is the truest expression of themselves, that their vocation is the best part of them, and if/when you say, “hey can you not” she may hear “I don’t want your life’s work to be part of our friendship.” That’s totally not what you’re saying! But some clergy have crappy boundaries, even with themselves. So you may want to be prepared to have to reassure her that you aren’t rejecting her vocation as an important part of her life and how she understands and interacts with the world, you just don’t want to be her congregant.

  25. monologue said:

    I’m not a counselor or anything, but I’m a person that does want advice and different perspectives when I tell friends about an ongoing issue I’m having. If I don’t like someone’s advice, I figure I just won’t do what they said. If I don’t want advice or perspectives of friends, I tend to not bring up the issue or bring it up in a very ‘that’s sorted out’ kind of way. Because of this, my default is to give my thoughts on my friends’ problems. I have two friends currently that are like you, LW. I try to be mindful when I’m with them, but sometimes they tell me, “actually I’m not looking for advice, I’m just complaining.” I think this is a totally fine thing to say when your friend starts up. Go ahead and interrupt them and ask them to stop. “You’re reverending again,” might be a cute way of doing it too. If they say ‘well what do you want me to say,’ go ahead and state that explicitly. Do you want validation? Do you want them to ask you how you’ll solve the problem? Etc. You might have to keep reminding them again in new conversations. Don’t feel bad at all about cutting them off multiple times until they get used to it. Hopefully they can break the habit and you can enjoy your conversations more.

  26. Dykotomy said:

    I’ve had the opposite problem – because I work in a profession that involves emotionally supporting people, I get people trying to hustle me into corners at parties and tell me about their traumatic childhoods. I do understand that where this comes from – that they don’t feel comfortable getting counselling/phoning a helpline/confiding in their loved ones and sometimes saying ‘I need help’ is hard, but similar to how little kids are shocked when they find out that teachers don’t live at school and have lives and families of their own, I think some people forget that those of us in helping professions aren’t in ‘supportive non-judgemental listener’ mode all the time and in our personal lives can be as self-centred, judgemental or rude as anyone else!

    • I’m an unemployed therapist right now, but I’ve seriously considered getting cards with the numbers of local free counselling centres so I can give them away to people who to vent on me, because I’m tired of trying to write them all out on whatever paper I can find at the moment.

      • Shanven said:

        My local community health service has started producing just such fold-out cards to give to hairdressers, masseurs and the like. In their jobs they’re often used as impromptu counsellors. They’re not trained for it, and they can’t just walk away because their livelihoods depend on their actual job. The CHS runs support sessions for them too. It’s an excellent initiative.

        • M Dubz said:

          That is so smart and an excellent local service!

        • sophylou said:

          This is such a fabulous idea.

  27. Msconduct said:

    I’m a psychologist, and I never have my professional hat on when talking to friends. Not only would this be annoying for them when they’re trying to talk to me on a different level, it’s also unethical. You cross all sorts of horrible lines being a therapist to someone you know in a non-professional context. No doubt this is a little less of an issue for a minister, but nevertheless, my feeling is that dealing with the issue in the way the Captain suggests will not only be better for you, it will also be a good reminder to her in a professional sense.

    • MamaCheshire said:

      Social work-ish person here, and YES THIS. +1000000000.

  28. tawg said:

    I have a friend who is a psychologist, and if I have some heavy stuff to talk about, I’ll give her a heads up and say “I want to buddy-talk this, not counsel this” and so instead of giving me coping techniques she’ll say “Wow, that’s really shit”, which is helpful in its own way.

    I also suggest bringing this up with your friend in a non-serious-talk situation. Ask her about being a minister, ask her how she keeps from slipping into that role. Ask her if she ever gets any signs in conversation that people are looking for guidance rather than companionship. I think that you two having a conversation about this stuff and getting on the same page will help in setting boundaries or signalling what kind of dynamic you want at any specific time.

  29. Shanven said:

    The Captain has some excellent scripts! Might I add another one to them? To be used before the sharing starts.

    “Friend, I’ve had a bad day, is it OK if I just vent at you for x minutes?” And then abide by her answer and stick to the specified number of minutes.

    • Chrissi said:

      Yes! My sister and I regularly do this or flip it around. She’ll start talking about a problem and I’ll ask “do you want advice or sympathy or both”? She usually answers sympathy, and I can always do that! Then sometimes later in the conversation she’ll ask for advice or a different perspective.

      The time limit is an interesting thought – never tried that before!

      I’ve actually started conversations with “I just really need to vent, and no matter how unrealistic I’m being, I just need you to be on my side for now”. This is very effective w/ my sister, but not so much w/ one of my friends who, even after that opening, will IMMEDIATELY start playing devil’s advocate. Grrr.

  30. kimmyontheinternet said:

    As a recovering chronic advice-giver (probably due to an overbearing, chronic advice-giving parent), when a friend comes to me with an issue I now *always* make sure to explicitly ask:

    “Are you just looking for a shoulder to lean on or someone to vent to right now? Or are you looking for some advice or thoughts on solutions as well?”

    It has really improved some close relationships where I was making the other person feel like I thought they were incapable and helpless with my once-insatiable need to “feel helpful”. Ends up it’s *not* helpful when you make other people feel like you think they’re incompetent or that they aren’t being properly heard!

    • MadDissector said:

      This reminds me of a family story: whenever someone would approach this relative in search of support, she would let the other person introduce the problem and then ask back “what do you want me to say? what soothes you or what I really think about this? You can only have one”.

      • Polychrome said:

        that sounds mean? How did people react to it?

        • MadDissector said:

          Funny enough, this relative is considered the person to address in the family when problems emerge. We have learnt that she can be very caring, but also brutally honest. On the other hand, the soothing and her opinion do not have to go always in strictly opposite directions. She only wants to set straight what people want from her. Also, after years of her modus operandi, people go to her knowing (vaguely, sometimes) what they want.

  31. TootsNYC said:

    I have a good friend who I realized I was avoiding, and avoiding the sharing of stuff. I realized it was because she would either leap to give me advice or leap to reassure me. I’d vent about being worried about my kid, and she’d say, “He’ll grow out of it,” etc. I felt shunted aside; like she was in such a hurry to brush aside or reassure my concerns that it meant she didn’t want to hear them.

    I vowed to stop doing that. To stop giving advice, to stop reassuring. And to just keep people company.
    So now I make a conscious decision to say, “Wow, that stinks.” “I can see how you’d feel that way.” “I’m mad on your behalf!” “How are you feeling about that now?”

    I mentally think of myself as walking over to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with them, looking at the topic from a point of view that’s beside them. From their perspective. Instead of standing off to the side and looking at the topic from my own viewpoint.

    I find that I feel closer to people when I do that. My deputy came to work, shortly after I’d told her about this revelation on my part, and told me her son was diagnosed as allergic to peanuts. I consciously chose to NOT say, “It’s not the hardest allergy to deal with,” or “I’m sure you’ll do fine.” Instead I just said, “Wow, that sucks! How did you feel when the doctor told you?” And “What a bummer for him. And for YOU–all the worries! It can seem so scary.”
    I felt much closer to her, because I was sharing in her emotions.
    If I share–no, give–my advice, I feel farther away from her.

    It’s very powerful. People want to be seen, and heard.
    So I try to focus on seeing them. And hearing them. And letting them know that I’m going that. You don’t have mental time or energy to give advice if you’re busy seeing someone and truly hearing them.

    I don’t even ask if they want advice or reassurance anymore. Certainly not right away. First I just go “stand beside them” and share in their emotions. I try to *see them*, not see their problem.
    Later, I’ll say, “did you want any second set of brains thinking about solutions? Would it help you if I reassured you?” (But to be honest, once we’ve talked for a while, and I’ve truly *seen* them, I can often tell when it would be a good time to say, “I’m sure you’re scared, but I see these strengths and abilities in you; don’t forget you have that on your side.”

    I’m sure I’m not perfect; I’m probably lousy at this with my kids (which is where it’s most necessary, to be honest). But I try.

    • Emma9 said:

      Just wanted to say this is really beautiful imagery and thank you for sharing it.

  32. LW, the school I go to is partly a seminary, and they have a WHOLE CLASS that a lot of people take at the end of their program on how to reintegrate into normal human society (one of the assignments is literally “read a book for fun”). I’m not even the same religion as most of them, and I’ve picked up some Minister Speak because so many of my friends/neighbors/coworkers are on that path. If your friend is a newly minted minister, depending on her denomination she’s just finished 2-3 years of schooling, several months or even a year of clinical education working as a chaplain somewhere (I hear that totally wrecks people), and sometimes 2-3 years of ordination work on top of that. Not to mention her job (I hope she has a job, or is getting one soon). She may also be kind of giddy about her relatively new skills, making it even more difficult for her to see when she needs to chill.

    What I’m saying is, she might not know how to turn off the Minister Switch because she doesn’t even know it’s on anymore. If she went to a decent program she should be aware of the importance of self-care, getting out of pastor mode occasionally, and interacting with people in the ways they prefer, so I bet she would appreciate a kind reminder. And if she went to a halfway decent program, not to mention survived the ordination process, she should be able to hear kind, constructive criticism without getting bent out of shape.

    If you follow the Captain’s advice, I bet she’ll be happy to have you as someone she can just be a person with, and you’ll have someone that you know CAN help you out when you’re in dire emotional straits, if you want to ask for her help.

  33. mountainshadows299 said:

    I think there might be a little bit of nuance of counselor vs. minister (depends on the person of course, but this has been my experience). So, I’ve got my degree in counseling and I work in social work. Typically, I know when I’m not maintaining my boundaries with others because I’ll find myself doing less and less talking, and putting more laser focus on the other person and constantly bringing the conversation back to how this person can best help themselves (not a healthy tendency when I’m not paying attention to the type of relationships I’m establishing with others- as I’ve gotten older I catch myself and try not to do it).

    I have a close friend from college, who, unfortunately, I am not so close with anymore because of his “ministering” tendencies. Instead of listening, he wants to fix. I am not religious at all, and he knows this, but any time I so much as bring up one tiny little problem that I just want to vent about, he’ll turn it around to telling me how to fix it and why he’s seen this happen to people in his congregation, and here’s why it’s bad, etc, etc. I have also had a similar experience with another lady who used to work with me, but who has now become a minister (and actually, while I’m thinking about it, a third guy who is a former minister). While I am certain that they may not fully understand that they are coming across this way, I also tend to think that it’s part of the religious directive in some way, since part of their job is to convert people and build people’s confidence in their ability to be an authority on faith. I have had to back off of keeping any of them very close, because I don’t like others to pretend that they are the authority on my life based on an ideology I don’t believe in. I grew up in a household without organized religion, so to me, there is a very stark difference in approach, and they tend to be more of the “fixer” types. (They are perfectly nice people, btw… Just- They know I’m not religious, and it’s hard for me to stomach their judgments on my life for very long because they don’t ring true to me).

  34. wol said:

    I don’t often post comments here, but I have at least two horses in this race so I hope my experience might be helpful.

    First, I am a counsellor, and while I was training and newly qualified, it was really hard for me not to go into ‘counsellor mode’ during friendly conversations. The training I went through didn’t feel so much “here are some skills and techniques you can use, when you want to” as “here is this New and Awesome Way of Being with people, which has such obvious advantages over your old ways of being with people”, and I got so used to trying to be the New Way and trying not to do all the old Unhelpful Things during my training, it just seemed to make sense to try to be that way all the time. After I’d qualified, I did gradually work out how to integrate the best bits of Me into my counselling work, and the most useful bits of counsellor into Everyday Me, and the whole things feels a lot more fluid and easy – but it’s still not a case of ‘switching on and off’, because counsellor-role and friend-role still both have to be authentically parts of me. All of which comes down to – I think it’s worth giving your friend time, because it will all balance itself out. She probably won’t go back to being exactly how she was before because she’s learning new things and growing and changing, just like we all are, but it will feel less like “what is my friend Doing this Thing at me?”

    The other part of this is that it might not be all that helpful – at least to start with – just to say “stop ministering at me!”, because that’s too broad. If there are specific things that irritate you (eg she’s giving you too much advice, or she’s not joking like she usually does, or whatever), I would try to address those very directly. In terms of the advice giving, I agree with lots of the comments above that that would most usefully come at the beginning of you starting to tell her something: “I had a really awful day at work and I just need to vent / you to joke me out of it / a glass of wine / a hug [or whatever it is you do want] – no advice needed at the moment!”

    The other horse: My dad was a minister when I was a child, and I saw how hard it sometimes was for him to be ‘on duty’ all the time. We lived in a small village where his was the biggest church, so there weren’t many people outside his area of responsibility; but he did have one or two friends he could really let down his hair with and be himself, and I saw how important that was to his sanity. I think this is another ‘hang in there’, really – if there’s a way that you can let your friend know, gently, that she doesn’t have to be ‘perfect minister’ with you, you’ll be doing her a huge favour, as well as yourself.

    • Emmy said:

      Minister here. Yeah, I think being patient is important. If she is still in school or just out of school, she’s getting a lot of “here’s how you do it” training without a lot of the real “doing it”, and so there will likely be a tendency to work out the training on whoever is handy. Once she’s actually working full-time in ministry (assuming this is the plan) she is soon going to be doing so much listening, reflecting back, gently counselling, non-judgementally advising, etc, etc, that she will probably be delighted to have a friend with whom she can just be a regular imperfect person, maybe even whiny and selfish and impatient sometimes.

      As someone else noted, make sure that you make time to listen to her problems too, and make it clear that you can be there for her in that way, because she will have almost no one else in her life who can do that (I remember vividly being told, “you MUST have a friend in your life who knew you before you were ordained,” and it is absolutely true). Again, she may need a little time before she is ready to let that part of herself out again … but she will need you when is.

      It is, as many have said, worth flagging the problem in a kind way now — I’d actually put it just a bit differently, and rather than saying, “I think you are talking to me like a minister and not a friend,” put it more as a question like, “Are you talking to me right now as a minister or as my friend?” I think that sounds a little less like blaming her, but still starts to clarify the roles, and makes her think through the difference between them.

      But I think this can for sure be okay in time, and she’ll be glad you worked it out.

  35. Nanani said:

    Hmm, the letter doesn’t indicate one way or other whether the LW is actually of the same religion that the Friend is a minister of (or is there a non-sectarian version of minister I’m unaware of?). If not, maybe this whole issue can be sidestepped by pointing out that LW really isn’t part of Friend’s congregation, so please just be Friend, not Minister.
    Even if LW is part of the same religion, if they’re not part of the same specific congregation, then it can still work as “I’m not in your parish” sort of thing, maybe?

    Sometimes, drawing a boundary is easier when there’s a system to reinforce it with.

  36. gryphon said:

    I have a “fixer” friend whose default response to anything I say is to give a stack of (im)practical advice, and I’ve recently discovered a strategy that might help here: using introductory phrases to cue up the mood for the *type* of thing you’re about to say.

    For example, if I try to tell my fixer friend a funny story about someone getting lost and I just start the story with no warning, she’ll butt in with route-planning advice before I’ve even got to the punchline. But if I start with “A really funny thing happened last week…” or “Let me tell you a funny story…” she’s way more likely to listen and see why the story is funny. So my conversations with her now feature a lot of phrases like “I’ve got some great news!” or “Hey, I learnt something interesting” or “I’m so excited that…” or whatever.

    Of course, “I’d really like your advice about..” and “I’m upset about something – can I talk it through with you?” can be part of the toolkit as well.

  37. Anti Kate said:

    I have a friend who is a counselor, in a small specialty area that thoroughly describes my husband and children, and maybe even me. (High Functioning Autistics) We met and made friends in another style of venue. And when it became clear that we were becoming good friends, I told her that I wanted her for a friend, not a counselor. And she SO appreciated it. A larger question is, are we who we are or are we what we do? I value who she is, and while what she has chosen to do professionally with her life is part of that, she is more than that, and I want to acknowledge that for her. The most I have ever done is ask for a reference to someone else in that field.

  38. thebearpelt said:

    I also find that just saying, “I just want to ramble right now, is that cool?” or something can be very helpful.

    I honestly wish it was just something people did more often, tbh. I’m autistic and my tendency is to always want to fix the thing with advice, but I began asking specifically when people told me about difficult stuff, “That really sucks, wow. Do you want advice? I can just listen too. Or I can ramble about something else to distract you, if that’s what would help.” I wish there was more asking/requesting specific kinds of help.

    You could tell your friend, “I appreciate that you want to help, but advice is sometimes frustrating me. I actually usually just want someone to listen a little bit. Can we try doing that from now on, and if I want advice, I will ask for advice?”

  39. sophylou said:

    Another thing to keep in mind that there may come a time when your friend may *want* the space to just be your friend and not have to put on her Helpful Minister Hat. If her training is fairly new, she may be wanting to Fix Things In A Ministery Way because that’s how she’s identifying herself, but, down the road, people whose job it is to Be Helpful can burn out if they don’t have space/people with whom they can be “off.” I have a job that gets heavily defined as Being Helpful. Because of some issues with my particular workplace, I reallyreallyreally need to be able to have/make friends who don’t automatically identify me with my job/job title (or make assumptions about my personality, interests, life goals etc. based on my job title). You may be doing your friend a favor by having this kind of conversation with her early on in her career.

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