Monday, July 16, 2007

Talk to me

Personally, I've always relied on friends to help me through the bad times. Professionally, I've always advocated the support of friendship as a way of getting through the bad times. But a recent study in the Journal of Developmental Psychology, suggests that friendship may not be the solution of choice when one has problems - at least, if one is a girl.

The study, which involved 813 American girls and boys aged 9 to 15, got them revealing how much - and how effectively - they discussed their problems with friends. As expected, girls did it more. As expected, both boys and girls felt closer to friends after doing it. But, not as expected, girls felt more anxious and depressed as a result. Boys simply chatted things through and then let them go, but female teens ended up reinforcing each other's negative thoughts, feeling worse and worse about themselves - and then talking about it all even more as proof of friendship!

This study was done on adolescents but I strongly suspect this theory holds true across the board. Women like to talk things through and we tend to think that in and of itself is the solution. But actually, we may have a lot to learn from the boys. They don't get bogged down in the negatives. Their strategy - define the problem, find a solution, but avoid overthinking and overtalking - leaves them feeling more positive and more resourced. Perhaps, just perhaps, we should take a leaf out of their book and use some of the Mars approach rather than being unilaterally Venus.

Let me be clear. I'm not arguing against talking. Properly done, it supports, clarifies, and inspires. The problem is what the Developmental Psychology study calls "co-rumination" - going over and over negative issues, and so spiralling into ever more negative states.

And, let me be even clearer, I'm not arguing either against talking therapies. Well-done, counselling isn't co-rumination - any therapist worth their salt will slash straight through a client's descent into that kind of unhelpful thinking, and encourage them to find solutions to their problems.

No, the message of this study for me is not to drop our friends - or flee the counselling room. It's to learn just when, where and above all *how* it's good to talk - and when you need to simply take action and move on.