Question: As part of my graduate program in psychology, we’re required to do our own counseling. I found a counselor at a psychotherapy clinic. I felt very comfortable with her and thought I was making progress. While we were in session one day, I told her that I was falling in love with her. She got upset, refused to schedule a follow-up appointment and will no longer take my calls. I know you’re not supposed to have romantic feelings for our counselors, so I feel very guilty about what happened. Why do so many patients fall in love with their counselors?
Answer: 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 counselor when they actually are not. They mistake the great feeling of being heard for true emotional intimacy.
Therapy only works when the counselor is truly objective. This means that she or he cannot be your friend, lover or family member. We have to be able to not only see the overall picture (which you cannot do if you’re too closely involved) but also be able 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 counselor. Whether you were experiencing transference or were just attracted to your counselor, the result was a situation that became extremely uncomfortable for her.
This type of situation is difficult for an experienced counselor 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 telling her he was in love with her. 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 happens that you cannot undo, try to look upon it as a learning experience. One possible lesson in this instance could be that, if therapy is going to be effective, you may need to have a male counselor.
Originally published at http://www.thepsychologicalhook.com on September 12, 2019.