Feeling Guilty — I Fell in Love With My Therapist

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Reader’s Question

I am 24 years old and am doing a master’s program. Last spring I went to a psychotherapy clinic for counseling. My counselor was extraordinarily beautiful. While in session, I experienced ‘transference’ feelings and told her that I was falling in love with her. She quit my therapy suddenly.

I miss her a lot and think about her often. She will not take my calls. I feel very guilty about this, and I started therapy because of guilt feelings. I feel so disturbed.

Psychologist’s Reply

Therapy is a very intimate experience. Where else do you get to have someone who pays attention to you so intently and is completely on your side? It can be a wonderful feeling, especially when you’re hurting (as people generally are when they seek counseling). That is why so many people believe that they’re falling in love with their therapist. It is easy to mistake the great feeling of being heard for true emotional intimacy.

Therapy only works when the therapist is truly objective. This means that she or he cannot be your friend, lover or family member. We have to be able not only to see the overall picture (which you cannot do if you’re too closely involved) but also to tell patients things they may not want to hear. People in close relationships often hold back the hard truths due to the fear of hurting that person or ending the relationship. Therapy is a different ballgame because people go into it knowing what to expect. That is one reason why we have such strict ethical guidelines. We have to be objective in order to do our jobs!

Being objective isn’t the only challenging aspect of our jobs. We also have to deal with feelings that can be tricky. For example, when patients are experiencing transference — which is the redirection of emotions from a past relationship onto another person — it is often quite uncomfortable for the therapist. Whether you were experiencing transference or were just attracted to your therapist, the result was a situation that became extremely uncomfortable for her. This type of situation is difficult for an experienced therapist to manage and can totally freak out an inexperienced one. As many people working in clinics are novice counselors (and often are young), I’m guessing that this may have been the first time she encountered a patient falling in love with her; that she probably didn’t know what to do and, instead of going to a supervisor, working through it and then talking with you, she abruptly terminated therapy.

That this occurred is very unfortunate but it isn’t something you should feel guilty about. Whenever something unpleasant that I cannot undo happens to me, I try to look upon it as a learning experience. One possible lesson for you in this instance could be that, if therapy is going to be effective, you may prefer to have a male therapist next time.

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