There are times, places, and circumstances that call for professional help. By the term "professional," I mean people who have specialized skills in helping others figure out complex issues and relationships. Some of these helpful souls may prescribe medications, and others may coax out issues of pain and confusion in a safe environment in order to teach a person, married couple, or anxious parents how to cope with challenges.

Because I believe there is a real need for these specialists, nothing I am about to say should be heard as negative to their work. I respect them. I sometimes refer people to them. And I have partnered with therapists in my role as a Christian minister to offer help to persons in pain.

But, I have a theory to run by you. Perhaps it is too simplistic. You will have to be the judge for yourself and for your life situation. In its most direct and candid form, it is that a few people who really care about one another would put most therapists out of work.

A single-frame cartoon sticks in my mind. A lady on her psychiatrist's couch was talking to her therapist. "If only my husband would pay attention to me like you do!" was her lament. Think there's anything to that?

Last week, I saw a newscast that included a report about a 13-year-old boy who had vandalized several buildings and had a history of assaulting his classmates. A child psychologist theorized that "years of professional therapy" could bring him around. His father is nowhere in his life, and his mother says people are making too much of what he has done. Might real parenting have forestalled the need for professionals?

Here is what my friend Paul says: "I have come to believe that what often does more good than a dozen visits to the therapist are some close and loving friends. Friends have a much larger experience profile to draw from than a therapist. They are around when the therapist isn't. They won't waffle out if I can't pay the bill or don't get better. And should I come back battered and bruised — and I will come back to my friends — they don't fuss or scold. They just ask a few loving questions that help me make better decisions next time."

Think there's anything to that?
The reason I take Paul's comments so seriously and wanted to share them with you is that he is a therapist. He is highly respected in his field. He is an author who trains others for therapeutic roles.

Some people only play at friendship, but a true friend sticks closer than one's own family (Proverbs 18:24).

Ain't it the truth!