Erotic Thoughts About My Therapist; How Do I Work Through My Transference?

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Reader’s Question

I’m not sure how to work through my transference with my therapist. I’ve recently realized that I have feelings of a somewhat erotic nature towards my therapist. I know I’m not in love with her and I’m also aware that these feelings, while at moments are intense, do not come from genuine feelings of desire. Even so, I was so taken aback by this whole discovery, that I emailed her somewhat out of desperation (I intentionally left out the erotic part). She replied saying she was interested in hearing my feelings and asked if we’d be able to talk more in our next session. I obliged but now I’m wondering how I can explain how I realized my feelings, without being inappropriate or offensive. Since my path to realization had to involve self-gratification, I’m not sure how this is possible. I’m fearful of losing the client/therapist relationship we have.

Psychologist’s Reply

First of all, good for you for confronting your feelings and recognizing them for what they are. That took insight and a lot of courage, as did reaching out to your therapist about this issue. It sounds as though your sexual thoughts about your therapist are, understandably, disturbing and confusing for you. It also sounds like the thought of discussing this issue with your therapist is uncomfortable and concerning. The therapeutic relationship is very emotionally intimate in nature — generally clients share their deepest, most intimate thoughts and feelings, and trust their therapists to listen without judgment, validate their experiences, keep their information confidential, challenge them appropriately, and help support them grow and change. It is understandable that such a deeply personal and intimate connection can at times lead to misplaced thoughts of attraction which, as you identify, are not based in reality.

(However, if your therapist is behaving inappropriately, this is another issue entirely. As I am sure you are well aware, a sexual relationship between a therapist and a client is never appropriate. In fact, the American Psychological Association Ethics Code specifically addresses/prohibits such a relationship. If a therapist behaves in an inappropriate manner and/or violates professional boundaries, he/she should be reported to the appropriate licensing board immediately.)

Although discussing these feelings may be uncomfortable, a skilled therapist should be able to effectively explore and process what these thoughts mean for you and the underlying issues related to them, while maintaining appropriate professional boundaries and without becoming offended. As these thoughts are distressing to you, it seems as though not addressing them may negatively impact your therapeutic relationship with your therapist and, consequently, your progress in treatment. In general, in therapeutic relationships, if clients believe that thoughts or feelings they are having may interfere with their ability to benefit from therapy, it is important to discuss these issues with their therapists as frankly as possible. However, that does not necessarily mean that you need to disclose every embarrassing detail, unless you believe that information is somehow related to or impacts your treatment issues. Using appropriate boundaries and social skills, a general discussion about your feelings of attraction and how they are affecting you and your treatment should be sufficient. Although your fear of losing your relationship with your therapist is understandable, working through these issues with your therapist in a healthy, appropriate way may actually serve to strengthen your therapeutic bond and give you a new level of understanding.

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