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  • Barkada versus The Therapist: Is a Therapist Better than Seeing a Trusted Friend?

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    Filipino mental health



    • Barkada is a term used in the Philippines to describe a social circle of people, 3 or more that are bound by friendship.


    Is it possible to find solace, comfort and healing solely from a barkada rather than seeking out a therapist?


    As an immigrant, I, too, had been accustomed to this practice and in my growing pain years have effectively sought the comfort even the guidance of a dear friend.

    What’s the harm in that if at all?

    The Barkada-Hood

    When I was growing up in the Islands/Philippines, my barkada, was my life-line. When teenage years of heartbreak or disagreements with my mom pushed me to the edge, it’s an unspoken expectation to be able to rely on a barkada in the same way they have relied on me.

    It’s possible to have more than one barkada circle, say a High School Barkada and a College Barkada, or not to belong to one.

    The uniqueness of a barkda circle lies in its exclusivity. Usually, a “new friend” can be accommodated but only with the mutual agreement if not all by most of its members. Even as I write that last sentence to check my objectivity; I know that a disagreement of just one person in the group can create deep tension within and many would probably decide to drop the “new friend,” to avoid it altogether, or at least let go of making that friend an official “barkada.”


    A barkada is composed of 3 or more people, and just like any relationship, you can find yourself more endeared to one member over the other.


    As I re-imagine and continue to observe this dynamic in the past and in the present through my travels in the Islands), it is quite fascinating but not surprising that even elementary-aged Filipino children have the social adeptness of trying to ensure that someone in the group “doesn’t feel left-behind.” A Filipino cultural trait that is stressed in our parenting, and social interactions (walang iwanan-no one left behind).

    It’s not surprising to find someone in the barkada, “jealous” because two people seemed closer to each other than the rest of its members. It’s also not uncommon to not tell a barkada that you had coffee with another barkada for the fear of getting their feelings hurt.

    There is a variance in this social circle, I observe that Barkadas formed later in life, for example after college versus one formed in elementary school have a less rigid exclusivity standard when it comes to welcoming a new member,” of course there is always a deviation from this generalization.

    Entering the barkada circle doesn’t have a formal rigid initiation process like some formalized groups (i.e. sororities & fraternities). What they do have is an evolving understanding around loyalty and a deep sense of camaraderie between its members.

    It’s an unspoken understanding that a barkada takes a higher level of priority over a “regular friend.”

    Barkada in the Filipino culture

    Barkada friendship is an integral social unit in the Philippines.


    Ka is a prefix in the Filipino language that is used to convey relationship when one does not originally exist. For example, ka-pamilya (connected like family); ka-babata (connected through childhood experiences); Ka-barkada (connected through the bond of friendship).

    Despite, nuances in the barkada circle interaction that I just mentioned, being in one creates a sense of belonging, an intrinsic need all humans share whether Filipino or not. Its probable that the function of a barkada may be one of the reasons why Filipinos in the Islands and Filipino Immigrants rarely view seeing a therapist as an option to relieve life’s challenges.

    Even to this day, I know I can pour my heart out to a barkada and be given undivided attention. Talking to someone without having to prove your character first is priceless; to speak with someone and picked up where you left off (even if it’s after a year) brings not only familiarity but deep sense of comfort.

    I think immigrating in America as an adult makes forming friendships a bit of a challenge, aside from work, life, mommy overwhelm that we all have, chasing an image of friendship I’ve always known creates a friendship standard that is not based on the present.

    The Barkada Therapist

    Despite a barkada’s best effort, a barkada is not a therapist.

    If you speak to one for mere venting, listening, validating and acknowledging, a barkada’s support and listening ear may be sufficient to meet your needs. This is a healthy way to activate your external emotional resources.

    In general, the barkada dynamics is a relationship that one hopes to keep for a lifetime. I find that the threat to loose such relationship creates a biased precursor for guiding our words during a heart-to-heart talk. This is human nature and you’re not alone.

    Especially in the Filipino culture, most of us absorb the life lessons that relationships are more important than being right and sacrificing for the sake of the truth,” may not be a sacrifice worth taking.

    I see this interaction more with barkadas in the Islands but they’re important to understand in the Western World because our mothers, titas, dad, uncles and even lolas and lolos may have all been a part of this social circle.

    Mind Your Circle

    There are a myriad of reasons why people stick to certain people, whether in a romantic relationship or in a friendship. If you simply want to be pacified and find agreeable people based on what you believe, certain friendships work fantastic at this. And, if you don’t have a need to grow or even gain insight at this time, then there is no reason to change.

    I can visualize faces of my barkada/friends who have an elevated level of maturity by way of their reflection and introspection; I greatly value their insight and even take some of them into consideration to make my final decision.

    These are examples on how friendships can be optimally utilized for our sake- for the comfort, relief, or simply to have someone listen on is vital to human beings to exist in this world. Even ignored toddlers learn to arch their back and throw their heads without any lessons taken because it’s human to interact and be interacted to.

    Minding your circle and being intentional with who you interact with is part of self-care.

    Why a Barkada is Not Your Therapist

    You might think that my bias opinion is because I’m a Psychotherapist by profession.

    I’ve looked closely at this & I’ll tell you that as an adult if I’m going through temporary life change stressors ( not lasting beyond 3 months in duration), and maybe needing advice here and there without telling a friend my life story (again!), talking to a friend has its place.

    Beyond this, I would prefer to talk to a therapist and here’s why-

    1. Confidentiality

    In a therapeutic relationship, confidentiality, meaning keeping your information sacred, private and secure is not only your therapist’s job but is a legal mandate (except for a few limits of, read here).

    You can go to a trustworthy friend and trusts that your information is confidential but trust and care with legal implication through a therapist is a much deserving space for you to be at.

    2. Providing a Non-Judgmental Space.

    We all have histories that we bring with us in any interaction, including but not limited to, family values, cultural traits, religious beliefs and many others. As a Psychotherapist, I hone my skills of being non-judgemental every single day, this is not something someone was “ just born with.”
    As a result, I’m very particular with my screen time, what I consume and how long as it’s my obligation to my clients to be in tip-top-shape physically, spiritually and psychologically.

    I can’t go to a hairstylist who can’t style her own hair. Sounds like a judgment, isn’t it?
    But, it’s true, we all make them.

    The therapy space is a place where you can come as you are, without the judgment.

    3.  A Temporary Caring Relationship

    The threat to end a relationship is threatening to all of us. Most of us would rather stay in an unhealthy one than be alone.

    This one difference between using a friend versus a therapist is crucial. Even the most insightful friend would not wish to lose you, a dear friend.

    Using a friend as a therapist may burden a friendship or keep you in the shadows. Why? If giving your honest advice to a friend may cause this friend pain or disagreements with you, why do it? This can create internal turmoil or a balancing act even a professional juggler would rather not do.

    From the establishment of your relationship with your therapist, there is mutual understanding that the relationship is temporary or at least short-lived.

    The sooner you leave your therapist, the better off you are and the more rewarded your therapist feels professionally. Honestly, for me, it’s beyond, profession, my heart and soul sing when a client finds their home in themselves.

    Therapy is a phone call away

    Therapy is a phone call away.

    4. You Pay. You Don’t Owe.

    In the Filipino culture, payments does not always come in monetary exchange but debt in time, energy, service and favors.

    Exchanging money with your therapist does not only provide the positive benefits of your valued investment on the service at hand but the ease that you don’t owe anyone anything.

    Sometimes being in-debted to someone is a higher cost to pay because you never know when the lender would ask for the favor back or if they’ll ever will. The psychological bondage is one I would prefer not to have if I can help it.

    (Some exchanging service, favors, and even love languages in the Filipino culture can come natural in many ways. They are beautiful as they are complex. In this post, I’m only referring to the exchange of therapy service from a friend vs a therapist).

    5. You are in control.

    In therapy, you are in control. You can start, try for a few sessions and stop altogether without finding an elaborate reason to tell your therapist. Of course, It’s best to give your therapist a heads up and a simple reason but it’s not necessary.

    Prior to therapy, you sign an informed consent form which basically gives you information on your treatment, who your therapist is, his/her approach to therapy and other pertinent information about your therapy.

    Often, your therapist will check-in with you. Therapy is about you and not about your therapist. It is possible that your therapist may give you homework, and even new things to try or experiment on. You may feel uncomfortable at times as you learn about new things about yourself. You may experience heightened awareness of triggers and painful feelings or events you’ve buried deep within. This is normal. These things can happen as you step into your growth.

    In therapy, you can express yourself and still be in control, a great fundamental of any therapeutic space.

    6. Healing is defined by you, not your friend.

    Your friend may not be totally defining what healing should look like for you but the healing strategies they may be advising is one that they use/have used. Of course, this makes sense, you do what you know.

    The benefit of using the therapeutic space is the marrying of art and science in it’s healing approach. Therapists who duly hone their skill, balance reading about research, studying modalities of their choice, practicing and tweaking it to meet their client’s needs and personalities.

    I am a therapist who is a student of narrative approaches (using stories/metaphors), using expressive platforms (sand tray, journaling, yoga poses, drawing, clay..etc), visualizations and hypnosis, and the use of self (gestalt) as my highest therapeutic tool. I marry these tools in my practice as it fits the person I see rather than seeking the person to fit them.

    7. Be a Good Friend.

    We all want to be seen as a good friend. Certainly, if seeing a therapist is not available to you, talking to a friend is a better alternative than none at all.

    I would be curious why you think a therapist is not available to you-is it logistics, time, money? I assure you that there are solutions for these.

    I find that the greatest barrier we all have about therapy or self-care is our mind-set.

    With all honesty, list down your pros and cons on seeing a therapist on a sheet of paper with the presumption that time and money are not an issue for you. Just do an experiment.

    If you’re like me, it might be helpful to do a cost-analysis, and thinking how therapy can help you in the long-term, save you money, energy and even relationships.

    It’s important to understand that therapy is temporary care for a long-haul of living an improved life, it pains me that people can live and leave this world simply existing and not living at all.

    If having a friend suits your needs right now and you find that you are able to align yourself with your deeper purpose in life, stay with this and hug a friend often.

    If you need temporary support, care and a person who can see you through without strings attached but one is deeply committed to your healing, serving as your guide to your visualized destination, try speaking to a therapist.

    If you’re interested with this therapist, schedule a FREE 15-minute consult here.


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    About Roanne

    Roanne has been a Psychotherapist for more than 12 years. She has frequented at least 400 Filipino homes and counting. She is the author of the Ebook: 5 Pinoy Love Languages and the creator of the presentation entitled: Filipino Core Values & Considerations in Culturally Responsive Care.

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