I Have Feelings For My Therapist — But I Don’t Know Whether She’s Doing Right By Me

Reader’s Question

I am dealing with a lot of confusion and hurt and hope to gain some relief by simply sharing.

I was in therapy with a female psychologist for two years, being treated primarily for depression, anxiety, and alcohol dependence. My therapist and I worked through many things, and I really think I was getting better. But I ended up having a very strong transference response toward my therapist. Being a gay female, it was very difficult to bring up the feelings I was having with my therapist. I had read a lot on transference issues and knew that I had a lot to work through. My therapist didn’t really comment that much when I confessed my feelings for her but instead focused on whether the feelings made me feel uncomfortable. I admitted that the feelings did make me uncomfortable, and the issue was never mentioned again after that.

The transference reaction I was having to my therapist eventually became too difficult for me to handle, and I decided to stop therapy with her. It was the only way I knew to end the dilemma I was having. I later sent my former therapist an email talking about a lot of my issues, including the transference reaction I had, and expressed the hope that it had not caused her any discomfort. I told her I would leave my fee in an envelope at her office for the email consultation and that she could leave a receipt for me to pick up.

The problem is that I was really hoping for a bigger response than she actually gave me and also hoping for a greater offer of help from her to help me resolve the transference. But the only thing I got from her was a five line email saying she would support my decision and that I could contact her if I needed. It was professional enough, but not what I was looking for. I was hurt that she was willing to take my money and give me less of a reply than I wanted and not even a receipt. I questioned her later about the receipt, and she replied that she sent it, but I knew that was a lie. Then one turned up in the mail 2 days later.

I feel let down. This woman told me that I could trust her. Yeh, right! Am I off base on this one or just being stupid?

Psychologist’s Reply

Of course there’s little possibility of being 100% accurate in this reply, given the complexity of your situation. But it surely does seem that your therapist has behaved in as professional a manner as one might expect — and more than likely in your best interest. Observing certain caveats within the “therapeutic relationship” is paramount to your mental and emotional health and safety.

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You admit that you are still dealing with “transference” issues. From what you’ve said, that appears to indicate that you are aware that you are experiencing wants and needs from your therapist that go beyond what is appropriate for a purely therapeutic relationship. You also indicate that rather than have an unhealthy response herself and close you out entirely, your therapist indicated her willingness to be available for the support you might need, even when you made it clear that your feelings for her were too stressful for you to want to endure continued formal contact with her.

It’s absolutely essential that only your needs, wants, issues, etc. take the fore in counseling. If a therapist responds in a less than professional way to those things, they necessarily bring their own issues, needs, desires, etc. into the equation, which is ultimately unhealthy and potentially quite damaging. The only thing you mentioned that would even remotely question your therapist’s professionalism is that she didn’t spend as much time as you would have liked processing your transference issues. But even then you appear to indicate that you wanted her to take the lead with this, when in fact you really need to be the one controlling both the pace and content of such discussions.

The ultimate answers to your questions lie within your own heart. The intimacy of a therapeutic relationship is unlike most relationships. And, it’s hard to imagine that you would continue to have such an intense “transference” response to a person whom you now suggest might be such an untrustworthy and uncaring character. Rather, it appears that you have a need for this woman that she is certainly respecting but not exploiting. And as painful as the reality of that might be, it appears quite appropriate.

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