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How Therapeutic Skills Can Enhance Peer Support

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Today, we’re cracking open a Pandora’s box that most of us have puzzled over. How do you balance your professional skills with being a good friend? As someone in the thick of it–an LCSW with my feet both in clinical practice and real-world friendships – I’m excited to untangle this web.

Where does the professional role end, and the human role begin? This piece seeks to spark discussion on how therapeutic skills can enhance peer support, all while upholding ethical standards.

Evidence-based therapies: A brief overview

OK, so you’ve heard the terms – CBT, DBT, pick your T. These evidence-based therapies are like the Swiss Army knives of our profession. They have tools for every emotional hiccup based on scientific research that’s as sturdy as an old oak tree. But is it taboo to use these tools outside of the office? Spoiler: it isn’t straightforward.

The nuanced power of peer support 

Professional help is fantastic, but sometimes it’s like listening to a song without the bass. It misses that oomph, that human touch. Enter peer support. When someone can look you in the eye and say, “I get it. I’ve been there”, it’s like emotional gold. And you can’t put a price on that kind of connection.

Shared emotional experiences can often serve as a robust healing agent. Beyond the therapy room, there exists a potent form of support often overlooked by professionals: peer support. It serves as a vessel for mutual understanding and empathy that often can’t be replicated in a clinical setting.

Balancing dual roles: A case study 

A recent experience presented a unique ethical quandary: Can one apply therapeutic skills in a peer support setting without transforming the interaction into a formal therapeutic relationship? A close friend, a client of another therapist I recommended, needed emotional support one evening. Armed with therapeutic knowledge but consciously sidestepping the role of her therapist, I ventured into this uncharted territory.

The evolution of the evening: Adaptive skill application  

What started as an informal evening between friends gradually transformed. As the night progressed, I naturally integrated therapeutic techniques to support my friend emotionally. My experience tonight was planned and organic. This adaptability signifies the dynamic nature of the skills we clinicians acquire. They are not confined to the four walls of a therapy room but are tools that can adapt to the moment’s needs.

It’s provocative: Can someone be a professional therapist and a peer supporter of the same individual? To explore this, let me share an intimate experience involving a close friend undergoing a challenging emotional period. She’s under professional care–a therapist whom I connected her to – but this particular evening, she needed more. It’s not a “page-58-of-the-therapy-manual” situation. So, I step in, but not as her therapist. What unfolds is a blend of authentic connection and therapeutic wisdom.

An evening of therapeutic friendship  

The outcome? A successful evening where professional knowledge augmented the healing power of friendship without usurping or trivialising it. The following day, I received a message from her. She couldn’t stop talking about how much better she felt. It wasn’t a therapy session, but I had infused it with therapeutic vibes. It was like adding a dash of gourmet salt to a homemade meal – a small addition that can make a big difference.

The transformative power of therapeutic friendship  

It’s an update that offers invaluable insights into therapeutic skills’ role in peer support. While our evening together wasn’t a therapy session, it was therapeutic. The key takeaway is that peer support can significantly offer immediate, impactful relief when enriched by a nuanced use of therapeutic skills.

A relieved burden: The immediate impact 

Traditional therapy has always been like a crockpot – slow and steady. Immediate relief? That’s more like a pressure cooker situation. And that’s precisely what our evening out provided. It showed that sometimes you don’t have to wait weeks to feel a little lighter; sometimes, it just takes one significant interaction. While blending friendship and therapy isn’t a cure-all, it does present a new route for swift emotional relief.

No panacea, but a new pathway  

Is this blend of friendship and therapy a perfect solution? No. However, it offers a new pathway for immediate, potent emotional relief. My friend’s call reaffirmed that this innovative approach could work, albeit within a framework that respects ethical boundaries and individual autonomy.

Max E. Guttman, LCSW  is a psychotherapist and owner of Recovery Now, a mental health private practice in New York City.


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