I have been seeing my therapist twice a week for about 7 1/2 years. Often I talk to him in between also. I always have a hard time talking to him, but things have gotten much better for me in many ways, due to the therapy. So he has helped me very much. But the problem is that I love him very much, too. I don’t know what to do about it. I can’t tell him that.
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Well – actually you could tell your therapist how you feel about him. I’m not saying that you should do this – but you could and it probably wouldn’t damage him, and it might even result in more progress in your therapy.
Romantic or sexual relationships between a therapist and a client/patient are forbidden, both by law and by professional codes of ethics. The thinking behind this is that patients tend to be in very vulnerable emotional places when they seek therapy, and they very easily tend to become attached to their therapist. When a therapist is of the proper gender for a given patient’s sexual orientation, it is quite common for that attachment the patient feels to become a sexual and romantic attachment. But therapy can never be a reciprocal relationship where love felt by one can be returned equally by the other. A therapist will always have more ‘power’ in a given relationship with a patient simply because the therapist knows personal details about the patients life, while the patient doesn’t know about the therapist’s life. This power imbalance that is inherent in the therapy relationship means that the therapist can easily take advantage of the patient’s attachment to him or her. Most of the prohibition on therapist-patient relationships is to prohibit the therapist from harming the patient.
There is another angle on the situation too. One of the fundamental things that people do in life (besides breath, eat, poop, procreate, die and pay taxes) is to form relationships with others. Proper therapy takes advantage of this tendency of people to form relationships with one another so as to promote healing in the patient. Whole schools of psychotherapy are based on this idea. For instance, the psychoanalytic and interpersonal therapy traditions lean heavily on the idea of ‘transference’ which is (more or less) defined as a tendency for people to see in new people they meet, characteristics of people they had early relationships with. In a transference style psychotherapy, the patient is supposed to react to the therapist by forming an attachment (or non-attachment) that more or less recapitulates an earlier relationship. The therapist then uses the attachment to help the patient become more aware of their unconscious relationship choices. For instance, if you were betrayed early in life by your father, and in later life have had trouble forming intimate relationships with men, then (so the idea goes) it might do you good to enter into a relationship with a male therapist whom you could initially similarly distrust, but then later learn to trust through a process of working with the transferred feeling of distrust (whew!). If you’ve followed me this far, you can probably see the potential for how badly things could get screwed up if the therapist was to betray the patient’s need for a trusted (and properly bounded) father figure by having sex with her (or him).
While therapist-patient sex or romantic relationship is just a very bad idea, letting a patient talk about how they are romantically or sexually attracted to a therapist is not necessarily a bad idea at all. Talking about the feelings (but not acting on them) means that the feelings can be allowed, admitted, and processed. Talking about your feelings of love for your therapist might allow you to better come to terms with them and to move on past them so that you can ultimately attach your loving feelings to someone who is free to reciprocate your feelings. You don’t have to do this – it’s not necessary that you spill the beans here. But if you come to believe that there could be value in getting past your feelings, then you might profitably explore them with your therapist. His job will be to accept your feelings without reciprocating them, so as to help you grow. If you do this and he makes a pass at you or in any way suggests that you two should become a couple, he is acting unethically and you should get out of that therapy situation.
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