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April 23, 2014 - Welcome Guest!

Advice » Personality

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Ethical issues II: Having feelings for my therapist
Question:

I had been in therapy last year, and found solutions to most of my troubles, but the thing that has bothered me most since has been my affection (for want of a better term) for my therapist. I know it's neither love nor sex, more like a longing for a friend, but even though I can intellectualize the relationship I still have dreams about her and look for problems as an excuse to go back to therapy. I have (bravely I thought) brought this up in therapy at least twice, but she evaded it, and I was left feeling somewhat embarrassed. I even contemplated going to another therapist to help me get over it.

Can you explain the "patient falling in love with the therapist" phenomena? Can you suggest how to stop longing for someone, or is this a sign of unresolved issues?

Diana (37 year-old woman)

Answer:

Diana,

Who wouldn't "fall in love" with someone who listens patiently, has compassion and concern, focuses totally on our problems and helps us solve them? It's a very natural and normal response, especially for patients whose emotional injuries occurred in early childhood or infancy. (The assumption, here, is that the appropriate mirroring for infancy - via mother - was lacking and the patient is still seeking that all-consuming mirroring in his or her relationship with his or her therapist. Sexual feelings are normal, too, and part of the overall need to "merge" with Mom.)

I agree with you. You were brave (and direct, honest, open, authentic - all qualities you probably lacked at the beginning of your therapy) when you broached the subject with her. It was her opportunity to model composure, contain her own anxiety or discomfort, and offer you acceptance just by listening and perhaps, reflecting what you said. Obviously, she was unable to do this. When you say she "evaded" the subject, I'm not sure what you mean. It would be helpful for me to know exactly what happened. Nevertheless, it seems as though you felt your disclosures were inappropriate. You felt embarrassed. (I wonder if that's all you felt.) Persons in your situation might feel angry, confused, disappointed, hurt, rejected - or any number of other feelings.

Now, what purpose might be served by you feeling embarrassed? Maybe embarrassment is something you've experienced before and are familiar with. Maybe feeling embarrassed is more comfortable for you than dealing with other feelings. (Like anger.) I wonder if you wanted to protect your therapist from your other feelings. (Embarrassment would do that nicely.)

It's always so interesting to see the way our unconsciousness draw us to each other! This phenomenon affects therapeutic relationships just like it affects all of our other relationships. Why would you be drawn to someone who (apparently) cannot tolerate this level of intimacy in your relationship? Why would it cause a conflict, now? Maybe you "need" to reexperience rejection and abandonment. Maybe you "need" to doubt yourself, your thoughts, feelings and perceptions. Maybe you "need" to devalue all that you have accomplished in therapy in order to leave (since it sounds as though you've been, basically, tapering off sessions).

Why would you be drawn to a therapist you feel you need to "protect"? (The assumption, here, is that your embarrassment "held" the conflicted feelings for both of you, and took "the heat" off her.) What is it about you and your need that's so threatening? Why would you be drawn to a therapist who (apparently) has intimacy issues? (Is intimacy so threatening to you that you'd - unconsciously - choose a role model who'd also have intimacy problems?)

It's a good sign that you're open to the idea that you have unresolved issues. My guess is that you are beginning to "zero in" on some huge issues (namely, intimacy and, probably, abandonment ). Whether or not you want to continue with your present therapist is up to you.

You might consider continuing with her and bringing this up again (and again) just to see if feelings other than embarrassment emerge (since it seems like that would indicate self-acceptance and growth). You might want to show this response to your therapist. (She'd definitely want to know how you felt in session.) If you choose to change therapists, it'll be interesting to see if you, again, pick someone you need to protect from you.

Take care,

Margaret "Peg" Burr

This question was answered by Margaret "Peg" Burr . She is a California Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (MFC34374) with a private practice in Santa Clarita (near Los Angeles). She performs psychodynamic psychotherapy with individual adult clients as well as couples, teens, and families. She also runs groups for adults and adolescents. Her specialty area is Object Relations Systems Theory. This branch of psychodynamic psychotherapy uses a client's interpersonal relationships as windows into his or her intrapsychic structure.

For more information visit the site or compact information page on QueenDom.

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