First of all, relax. If you’re worried about it enough to search out a possible cause, you are probably not weird, creepy or otherwise disturbed. Being attracted to your therapist is not unusual and can actually be very healing and very healthy- as long as it is handled correctly by both you and the therapist.
Problem is, some people who are in therapy don’t know this, they don’t expect it and they don’t know how to deal with it. Another problem, is that some therapists are not fully aware of, or comfortable with, this phenomenon. Hopefully talking about right now will take away the fear and shame that can be associated with it.
So, let’s use a fake example… Fred Flintstone has been seeing his therapist Lucy for a few months. He’s been able to open up about his fear of commitment. Fred and Lucy have even approached the subject of his troubled relationship with his father. One day, much to Fred’s surprise, he notices that he’s having some attraction to Lucy. Like, attraction- attraction.
Now, let’s pause here because first, we need to address why this happens and then we need to look at the potential consequences or outcomes based on how we handle it.
First of all, Fred’s reaction is a common response to feeling vulnerable and intimate with another human- especially if Fred hasn’t allowed himself to talk about these personal struggles before. This newly found experience of emotional intimacy can manifest as attraction.
Why? Humans under stress look for ways to feel better. Think about the friend who went through a divorce and wound up acting in a promiscuous manner, or the neighbor who found a live-in girlfriend only months after his wife passed away. In these examples, sexuality can be somewhat of a self-soothing technique.
Humans sometimes funnel a variety of emotion into sexual energy. Think about make up sex. A couple fights, there’s lots of tension, aggression, stress hormones. Maybe some anxiety over losing the relationship and a desire to reconnect. Solution? Sexual energy.
Let’s go back to Fred… his symptoms of anxiety or depression may be lifting. He feels better, so his own self-confidence – and sexuality- is starting to return. In addition to just overall starting to feel better, his emotional improvement may be consciously or subconsciously credited to the therapist, who then is seen as attractive or desirable.
All of this stuff is what is generally referred to as transference in therapy.
So now that we’ve covered a few reasons why attraction to your therapist may have started, let’s look at how we can handle it.
Let’s say Fred doesn’t know what to do with this. He begins to feel awkward and wonders if he’s a bad person. Due to his embarrassment, he never mentions it to Lucy. His attraction eventually begins to become a distraction in therapy. He doesn’t want to focus on personal growth because he’s either thinking about Lucy in a romantic way or he’s feeling ashamed and hoping that Lucy isn’t on to his secret. Fred gets tired of the mess and drops out of therapy.
Not only did Fred miss out on the insight and healing that can occur by working through the attraction, he missed out on any other therapy work that could have been accomplished by participating in therapy with Lucy a bit longer.
Let’s say Fred brings this issue to Lucy. He might say it nicely using tact and good manners or he may be clumsy and blurt something out. Or, he may ask Lucy out on a date. In any event, the information is now there, and work can be done.
If Lucy doesn’t know how to handle this information, she will get flustered, insulted and/or embarrassed. Lucy may even tell Fred that it’s inappropriate to say that – or to feel that way. If this is the case, what did Lucy just do? 1) She shamed Fred, 2) she probably destroyed any work that had been done previously, and 3) she may have given Fred a reason to not trust any therapist or any therapeutic process. This would be one of those “more harm than good” situations. Unfortunately for Fred, he will probably internalize the bad feelings instead of realize that Lucy just wasn’t handling transference correctly.
Let’s say, however, that Lucy is well-versed on transference. She looks for it. She welcomes it. She knows that transference is a sign that therapy is working. Lucy correctly handles Fred’s revelation. Fred feels great because he realizes that he is not a weirdo. Lucy feels great because she just used her awesome therapy skills to help Fred.
Moral of the story… both the person in therapy and the therapist have a responsibility to handle attraction appropriately.
I hope this has helped you understand a tricky but useful happening within the realm of therapy.
Watch the painfully awkward video of this at Can We Talk? (We re-establish my awkwardness from time to time. Consider it one my endearing qualities.)
The Motley Ms.
Hi! My name is Melinda (or Mel, if you like). I'm a saved-by-grace-er, lifelong learner, INFJ, health & fitness trynabe, Mom, mental health vlogger (hey! go subscribe!!) and Child & Family Therapist - not necessarily in that order (well, except the first one). If you want to see my business-y side, check out my super-professional business website.
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