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Troubled Woman Needs Expert Advice Friends Can't Provide

DEAR ABBY: My wife and I have a friend, "Cara," who lives in another state. It's not a very reciprocal friendship. Cara calls us frequently, but wants to talk only about her problems, which are never-ending. When she visits, she demands our full attention at all times. Frankly, we find her exhausting and would like to cut her out of our lives.

Our worry is that we are some of the few friends Cara has left. She has alienated most of her other friends as well as her parents, sometimes over trivial matters. We know she's depressed and has emotional issues, and we suspect she may have a mental illness. She has been suicidal in the past, but now refuses to see her therapist.

We're worried that if we don't continue serving as her talk therapy -- which we find draining -- Cara might become so depressed she'll hurt herself. How do we extricate ourselves from this relationship while still doing the right thing? -- WORN-OUT BUT WORRIED IN CHICAGO

DEAR WORN-OUT: You and your wife are well-meaning, but neither of you is qualified to be Cara's therapist. Allowing her to monopolize your time and sap your energy may momentarily lessen her pain or anxiety, but it hasn't -- and will not -- give her the tools she needs to fix what's wrong.

You can extricate yourselves by encouraging her to talk to a mental health professional. It doesn't have to be the therapist she no longer wants to see, but it does need to be someone who has the training to help her. You should also shorten the length of the conversations. This is happening to you because you are allowing it.

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