Lets start with the issue of attraction…it may not be an issue at all. During my psychotherapy training, it was a reassuring relief to learn that attraction - whether from client to therapist or therapist to client - could simply exist apart from the therapeutic process. It is human to find someone good-looking, and simply acknowledging this fact to yourself goes a long way to keeping the therapeutic relationship healthy and intact.
However, when it comes to love, one of two things could be happening:
• A client could begin to develop sexual or intimate feelings for the therapist. This is the most common occurrence.
• A therapist could also ‘fall in love’ with a client. If this is the case, the therapist must keep the client’s emotional well-being at the core of the therapeutic process and reflect upon and process his or her feelings via therapy and supervision. The therapist may need to refer the client to another therapist.
When a client tells you they love you, be aware of these key aspects:
1. The client is most likely experiencing transference, whereby he or she is redirecting unconscious feelings from another person onto you. So, it is best to discuss what the transference is and work it through.
2. Usually, clients who fall in love with their therapists have struggled to feel loved. They find that their therapist is filling unmet needs, and strong reciprocal feelings can result. Therefore, treat this occurrence as a way to unravel your clients’ core wounding.
3. It has probably taken a fair amount of courage for your client to admit the intensity of his or her feelings, so it is best to treat the matter while still ensuring the client is aware that the feelings are not mutual (if you suspect your client has fallen in love with you but hasn’t mentioned anything, also have the courage to bring this up and to work through it). Continued personal growth and self-reflection will enable you to better meet the client, and be as holding and authentic as possible.
4. A therapist’s main role is to support clients in developing intimate relationships outside of the therapeutic relationship. Dependency may exist at the start of therapy, but self-intimacy and ‘other-intimacy’ are the goals beyond client-therapist intimacy.
It is important to acknowledge that the therapy room is a loving space. How else do people heal? Greater intimacy and emotional well-being is why people seek therapy in the first place. Good therapists should feel loving towards their clients. Call it what you will: unconditional positive regard, a healing bond, a safe acceptance; what therapists offer most is their love. And with good enough love, clients can progress through any traumas linked with the lack of it.
Ellen Evans, Transpersonal Psychotherapist