Where to go for advice about life issues?
July 18, 2016 8:14 AM   Subscribe

If you don't have any close friends or trusted relatives in whom you can confide, where can you find a sounding board for problems you're facing?

I'm facing problems in three major areas of my life: Marriage, career, and finances. There is no impending crisis, and I'm not depressed or otherwise mentally ill -- but these problems are starting to weigh me down. Ruminating about them isn't really doing the trick for me. What else can I do? I've thought about therapy and about hiring a life coach, but I'm not overly enthusiastic about either option.

I spent a number of years going to therapy (with four different psychotherapists), and I found the process to be remarkably unhelpful. Each session would consist of me complaining about something for 50 minutes, but then nothing would get resolved -- and the therapists rarely had anything concrete to offer. They seemed bound by some kind of professional taboo against giving practical suggestions, or even responding concretely to requests for an opinion. (And don't get me started on the drugs they prescribed.) I gave up on therapy eventually.

I recently looked on-line to research the possibility of getting a life coach. But aside from the expense (which is considerable, and would put a real strain on my finances), I didn't discover anything that would give me confidence in this option. The first life coach I researched seemed mainly focused on helping business executives become more aggressive at work. The second coach had an emphasis on wacky "new age" mumbo-jumbo. The third posted videos of herself appearing on some TV special, where she gave glib and superficial responses to complex questions (she also seemed like a narcissist).

I wish I had a close friend or relative in whom I could confide, but I don't. And I'm not religious, so I don't have a clergy person I can consult.

Any advice on getting advice? I'd love to have someone that I could just bounce ideas off of, and who might provide some perspective on issues that are troubling me.
posted by akk2014 to Human Relations (21 answers total) 28 users marked this as a favorite
Different therapists have different approaches. Therapists who are trained as social workers might be particularly useful for you. You can call around and talk to various ones about what their approaches are.
posted by Jahaza at 8:22 AM on July 18, 2016 [6 favorites]

Do you have any older friends in the community? If not, can you join a group where older adults might be involved, such as a knitting group, writing group, or hiking group? People who have been educators of some sort can also enjoy relationships where they serve in a mentor capacity.

This relationship needs to be built up over time, so if you need more immediate help or depending on how bad your issues are, it may be far more appropriate to turn to a counselor or therapist. I also might keep financial issues out of a friendship-type interaction. For day-to-day issues of "hey, what do you think about this issue I've been turning over in my mind lately? I could really use your perspective!" an older mentor figure can be really helpful.
posted by gemutlichkeit at 8:27 AM on July 18, 2016 [3 favorites]

Best answer: You might try 7CupsOfTea with the caveat that your mileage may vary from person to person that you talk to on there; however, it has served as a resource for me quite well when I've needed it, so much so that I sometimes offer assistance on there in turn.
posted by a good beginning at 8:31 AM on July 18, 2016 [6 favorites]

Hmm... maybe this is just me, but I find Ask Metafilter a good place to go for advice. I have asked a couple of anonymous questions here and made serious life choices based on the answers.
posted by barnoley at 8:32 AM on July 18, 2016 [24 favorites]

gemutlichkeit suggested what has worked for me. I never had any advice or guidance from family, and did rely on teachers and friends parents throughout my youth. In recent years, older coworkers and neighbors with whom I already have some relationship have been real resources in a variety of ways.
posted by Riverine at 8:35 AM on July 18, 2016

Ask Metafilter for me too. Sometimes the answers were not helpful at all, but occasionally you got the gem of an answer that rethinks the situation in a completely different way. The only suggestion I would give about posting on Ask Metafilter is to write the question in all angles possible, otherwise answers get rather one-sided, and try to avoid "trigger topics" or "trigger words" that people tend to latch on to and go on the attack.
posted by moiraine at 8:59 AM on July 18, 2016 [5 favorites]

Best answer: If you have time to read and like to read, there are many books that deal with marriage, career, and finance issues, and many good blogs/articles, but it sounds like you're really looking for someone to confide in/share with.

If you can take up a hobby or class and make some new friends it would help you to build relationships where those things are possible. I did 10 month yoga teacher training (which was expensive but also really wonderful for me...it was 2 Sundays a month) and I met and made a great group of women who I would never have connected with otherwise, we still get together and I made 5 new friends as a result. Reconnecting with things you like and enjoy can really help to reduce rumination on issues that sometimes don't resolve themselves but still take up mental space.

Group therapy could be a better fit for you because you get several perspectives from different participants.

Journaling can help to clarify your thoughts and feelings so that you can express yourself better to who you share with.
posted by lafemma at 9:57 AM on July 18, 2016 [1 favorite]

I came to recommend 7 cups of tea, mentioned above, and AskMe, mentioned repeatedly.

I will add that keeping a journal or blog can be enormously helpful. Also, since you aren't having a specific crisis, I recommend you just read up on relevant topics. You can do that by reading AskMe questions and answers about relationships, money, whatever, googling specific topics, and hanging out on forums where articles get discussed.

If ruminating isn't helping, you are much more likely to benefit from seeking more information. Sometimes, the best solutions come from unexpected directions. Sometimes, trying super hard to solve a problem just magnifies the problem until it eats your world. Read whatever interests you. Learn more about life, the universe and everything, and you may be surprised to find that you just start doing things differently and stuck problems seem to mysteriously evaporate for no apparent reason.
posted by Michele in California at 10:02 AM on July 18, 2016 [3 favorites]

Therapists' job is to help people discover their own solutions (and dismantle any obstacles that are keeping them from doing so), rather than to give advice or tell clients what to do. If that's really what you're looking for, I agree that therapy is not the right avenue for it, though it may be worth thinking about if that's really what you want.

AskMetafilter and other online forums seem more likely to focus on advice.
posted by lazuli at 10:18 AM on July 18, 2016 [1 favorite]

For career/management advice, Ask a Manager.
posted by saturdaymornings at 10:20 AM on July 18, 2016 [2 favorites]

I wish I had a close friend or relative in whom I could confide, but I don't

Is there anyone you've fallen out of touch with, but have fond memories of, that you could maybe reach out to? I've often been surprised by how open conversations have been with people from my past. With older friends who were close at the time, things pick up where they were the last time I saw them. Even with people I vaguely knew back way back when, and thought I'd never see again - the fact of familiarity, past shared experience, combined with something we have in common now, is enough to provide ground for connection... If you're in your thirties, odds are your peers will have been through at least some similar experiences. Maybe some people are also feeling isolated, just because of the insular pull of responsibilities, etc., and would also like to reconnect, they just haven't thought of it or felt like they could.
posted by cotton dress sock at 10:37 AM on July 18, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I use an app called Talkspace. It's basically a platform that lets you text with a licensed therapist who is matched to you based on your stated problems and goals. It costs money but is significantly cheaper than normal therapy -- I think it's like $25/week. I like it because I can just send my therapist a wall of text anytime I'm feeling upset, and then I don't have to rely on friends to listen to me whine.
posted by a strong female character at 11:09 AM on July 18, 2016

Best answer: Reddit gets a bad rep, but there's probably a subreddit for any topic you can think of, including life or relationship problems. I've never posted a question, but having just read about problems similar to my own and reading the advice there made me feel better.

Nthing Ask Metafilter as well.
posted by ThatSox at 11:19 AM on July 18, 2016 [5 favorites]

Plenty of fine advice here. For me, this is a large part of why I go to a church (less than I should but still) that represents my moral values as well as my religious beliefs. There is a community of older people and peers there who are dedicated at least in part to helping each other and among whom I have found some pretty impressive accumulated wisdom.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 11:49 AM on July 18, 2016 [2 favorites]

What do you want from these encounters? You say "sounding board," which pretty much boils down to someone who listens and says, "That really sucks!" In which case, yeah, therapy can be like that--also shrinks aren't necessarily supposed to give advice, or at least that's going into risky territory for them.

Life coaching...I don't know. That seems to be more career-based than "I'm having marital problems." So maybe for career that's appropriate, at least.

"I'd love to have someone that I could just bounce ideas off of, and who might provide some perspective on issues that are troubling me."

Well, bounce ideas off of implies that you want someone to give you advice. Is that the case? I should probably ask: do you take advice if it's offered, or blow it off? Or just kinda take it under advisement and not do it? Because I've found that if you ask someone for advice that you know, they tend to get offended if you don't take it.

Or are you looking to talk to someone who's had the same problems you've had?

I think Ask Metafilter is probably the best suggestion here. You may find some people who have had the same problems, and we won't know if you take the advice or not.
posted by jenfullmoon at 12:10 PM on July 18, 2016

Here, on the green.

Plus, I had an acquaintance I walked with regularly with whom I shared some heavy-duty, very private stuff I didn't share with much closer friends and family members. We were both at the same life stage. The walking was a huge part of it. We logged years of time side by side spilling our guts. Neither one of us really asked for or gave advice unless requested. We just brainstormed our lives without judgment or tendencies to "fix" each other. We rarely saw each other outside of our walks. Do you have anyone in your life just outside the perimeter of closer family members or friends with whom you can go hiking or walking with regularly who might be a good listener, assuming you are the same? It was cathartic.
posted by Elsie at 12:35 PM on July 18, 2016 [1 favorite]

Yep, AskMe got me through my divorce. Not only answers from my own questions but also just from reading similar questions to the ones I wanted to ask. I learned so much and I felt cared for by the community. You can also hang out in chat.metafilter.com if you want to. People talk about all kinds of things in there and it's nice to have someone respond in real-time. The Slack channel is great too but can be a bit overwhelming.
posted by dawkins_7 at 1:58 PM on July 18, 2016 [3 favorites]

I can tell you that if there's anyone at all in your social circles who you admire and consider to be a compassionate person, you could ask them for life or career advice. Maybe over email if that's more comfortable for you. I've found that almost everyone looooves to give advice and will try to be helpful if I say to them, "I respect your opinion. Do you have any advice on this topic?" That doesn't necessarily mean you should take the advice, but it might be the catalyst you're looking for to build stronger relationships. Please obviously be respectful to your spouse and speak generally and don't criticize them if you ask an acquaintance about marriage. Financial advice is tricky because there's so much taboo over discussing money -at least in American culture. I've personally found Suze Orman books helpful.
And as someone who clearly loves to advise, you are welcome to memail me!
posted by areaperson at 7:39 PM on July 18, 2016 [1 favorite]

Counselors vary widely in quality and style. Many still practice outmoded therapies based on theories that have long been debunked!

If you try that approach again, I suggest finding someone who specializes in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. CBT emphasizes skill-building and practical, concrete steps. You focus on changing habits and thought patterns so you can manage stress more effectively. You don't spend much time in the past (and ranting is useful only so far as it divulges the present). By committing to a series of small, persistent changes, you work on building a more sustainable emotional life. You may have to shop around to find the right "click." Don't be afraid to ask potential therapists some hardline questions about their practices... after all, it's a mutual contract.

Barring that, I think advice forums or mentors or new social outlets are your best bets.
posted by fritillary at 10:47 PM on July 18, 2016

You would be surprised. One of the most flattering things you can say to someone is "May I ask your advice?" The key is not to whine or treat them as a therapist but to frame the question fairly succintly and ask their advice. Pick peers or elders whom you respect. Don't ask inappropriate questions of work colleagues like should I sleep with my other work colleague... or describe bodily functions that will disgust any one except a medical specialist.

People are generally delighted to give others their advice and views. My only caveat is that often they will give you advice which is very much based on their world view, so its good to make sure that you have a similar philsophical world view and values as the person you are asking. For example ifyou ask a "childfree" oriented person if you should keep an unexpected pregnancy, don't be surprised if they suggest an abortion.
posted by zia at 4:25 AM on July 19, 2016 [1 favorite]

If you know no elders, try volunteering with elderly people. There will be some one you respect among all those you meet and they certainly will have a lot of life experience!!
posted by zia at 4:26 AM on July 19, 2016

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