Do therapists love their clients?
If you’re in therapy, you may have wondered how your therapist feels about you. Do therapists love their clients?
A few months into the therapy process, I started to wonder about love. Specifically, Do therapists love their clients? I remember asking my therapist directly, “How do you feel about me?” and getting the straightforward yet frustrating answer “I have lots of feelings about you; and when I think it might be helpful to tell you about them, I do”. Hmm. Really, what I wanted to know was “Do you love me?”
Do therapists love their clients? I wondered. And, more to the point: Do you love me? I didn’t dare ask outright. I thought the answer would either be No, or Yes. And to be honest, the thought of getting either of those answers was pretty scary. I certainly didn’t want to hear a No. And yet, if I heard Yes, where would that leave me? Would my therapist somehow try and seduce me? Would I now have to live up to something or risk losing the love? Would I have some strange burden to bear?
So I never asked. But for a long time I wondered: Do therapists love their clients?
And over time, I came to realise that there is never a simple yes/no dichotomy when it comes to love. And that applies whether we’re talking about therapists and clients, romantic partners, best friends, and even parents and children (if you’ve ever been up all night with a screaming baby, or dealt with a toddler tantrum in a public place, you probably know that love is not the only feeling you have for them!).
But still… Do therapists love their clients?
I’m now a therapist. And as such, I can get the inside scoop about such questions. In two ways. One: I have access to my own feelings towards my clients. Two: I sometimes get to hear other therapists talking about their work. Not about their clients, exactly (confidentiality is taken very seriously); but about their own feelings and experiences. Like last week.
Therapists talking together
Recently I was privileged to attend a one-day masterclass/ seminar led by Susie Orbach, one of the best-known contemporary psychotherapists in the UK. The title was ‘Resolving Clinical Dilemmas in Therapy’. We listened to excerpts from recordings from the radio series ‘In Therapy’. In this series, Susie Orbach was the therapist, with actors playing people coming for therapy. Orbach invited us to discuss clinical dilemmas raised. From many angles, we looked at choice-points, questions and conundrums. Orbach gave frank, warm and layered insights and perspectives, sparked by the incredible (and impressively realistic) ‘sessions’ we heard.
And yes, we talked about Love. Therapists’ love for their clients, and clients’ love for their therapists.
Love is a word that can incorporate so many layers, vagaries, and characteristics. Love can be longing. Love can be yearning. Love can be a spark glimpsed, a spark of wanting to live again. Love can be hope. Love can be excitement, a spring in the step. Love can be a fountain of creativity. Love can be deep, warm comfort. Love can be compassionate loving-kindness. Love can be in shared smiles and laughs; even in ‘gallows humour’. Love can be about feeling met: truly seen and heard. Love can be holding someone in mind; thinking deeply about them. Love can be terribly, painfully sad (think of grief and loss). Love can be a tender, vulnerable sweetness. And yes, sometimes love can be erotic, passionate desire.
So… do they? Do therapists love their clients?
Yes. Not always. Not only. Not just. But love is very often there, playing out in its different ways.
“Love, in all its forms, ineffable and undefinable, is the oil that suspends the wheels and surrounds the entire mechanism so that therapeutic work can take place at all.” – Martha Crawford
Do therapists love their clients? Click To Tweet
COAL: Some Building Blocks of Love
In his book ‘The Mindful Therapist’ neurobiologist and psychiatrist Dr Daniel Siegel uses the acronym COAL. It stands for this: Curiosity, plus Openness, plus Acceptance – leads to Love.
Curiosity: Good therapists have a stance of being curious: being really, genuinely interested in and trying to deeply understand their client.
Openness: Therapists aren’t usually that open with clients about their own private lives (with good reason). But therapists aim to keep themselves open to flexible ways of thinking about the client and his/her difficulties. Therapists also endeavour to have an openness to their own intuitions and feelings about their client. They hold these in their mind alongside their thoughts about psychological theories and techniques.
Acceptance: Therapists know that if the client does not feel accepted, he or she will not make progress in therapy. Therapists suspend judgements and pre-set ideas about their clients. Therapists aim to help and support the client to know, accept and understand all of him/herself. Once we feel more acceptable, we can make better and wiser choices in our life. (And we are in a much stronger position to truly accept others, too, and relate better to them).
And, um… **cough** Do therapists hate their clients?Do therapists hate their clients sometimes? Click To Tweet
Absolutely they can. Again, not always. Not only. Not just. Renowned psychotherapist Dr D.W. Winnicott once wrote a famous (and much-admired) paper which included a long list of reasons for a mother to hate her baby. He was also talking about reasons therapists will, in some moments, have complex feelings about their clients, and these feelings may include hate. He was also saying, Look, these relationships are intense, they are emotionally meaningful, and they help people to deeply change and grow: of course there will be hate, AND love, both. (And many other feelings besides).
I have always wondered why therapists do not talk more about the healing power of love as a necessary ingredient of therapy. – Susan Pease Banitt, LCSW
“But I’ve heard that love in therapy is just about transference and countertransference.”
Well, yes and no. Transference is about how we transfer feelings that we have had towards influential people in our past**, on to people we meet day-to-day. Transference happens all the time in various ways, and it’s usually evident in the therapy relationship. (Countertransference is just the word that gets used when we talk about the therapist’s feelings towards the client.)Is love in therapy just about the transference? Click To Tweet
If you feel loved by your therapist, this might be telling us something about your transference onto him/ her. And it might also be because your therapist genuinely feels loving towards you.
(Transference feelings, by the way, are really useful in therapy, so please don’t try and hide them out of awkwardness, shame, or anxiety. Speak about them with your therapist, so that this can helpfully contribute to the work you are doing together).
Transference isn’t fake. When we feel a transference feeling towards someone, it’s a real feeling in us (which may – or may not – give accurate information about the other person’s feelings towards us). When a therapist feels loving (or anything else) in her countertransference towards a client, it’s a real feeling she is having. The therapist uses her own feelings partly as useful information to help guide the work, and partly as fuel and tools to help power the therapeutic work.
What we are doing here, really, all boils down to love” – Dr Michael Nakkula
Do you ever sense your therapist beholding you – attending to you with an open-hearted curiosity, openness, and acceptance? One word for that ‘beholding’ is love. It doesn’t mean your therapist desires you like a lover, or loves you like their child, or wants you as their best friend. This kind of love is not possessive, nor is it acted out sexually. But this kind of love – some call it ‘agape’ from the Ancient Greek word for the kind of love that a wise, caring grandparent might have for their grandchild – still counts as love.
Do therapists love their clients? Yes.
New York AEDP psychotherapist SueAnne Piliero, Ph.D. puts it this way: ‘Fierce love is deeply attuning and focusing on your patients in a way that lets them know that you really see them, you really feel them, and you really feel for them even if they can’t see or feel for themselves. As Winnicott said, “When you are felt you exist.” ‘ – (Personal communication, 2019)
Now. Here’s what therapists’ love should not be:
- Sexual behaviour
I came across this term in Jon Frederickson’s book ‘The Lies We Tell Ourselves’. Psychosyrupy is a kind of gooey, lovey-dovey kind of pseudotherapeutic relationship which is characterised by lack of challenge, clarity and boundaries, and which might seem loving but doesn’t actually help clients individuate and grow. ‘Tea-and-sympathy’ might be comforting when you are sitting with a friend or neighbour, and it certainly has its value (and yes, it can include love, sometimes) but it is very different from what effective therapists offer.
Therapists’ love is not the tea-and-sympathy, psychosyrupy kind of love. But just because your therapist is boundaried and professional, and getting paid for their expertise and time, doesn’t mean love isn’t part of the picture.Love in psychotherapy: is it psychosyrupy? Click To Tweet
Therapists’ love is not the acted-out-sexually kind of love.
Therapists have bodies, and feelings. It is not unknown for a therapist to have a client for whom they experience erotic feelings. Responsible therapists process these feelings in professional supervision or their own therapy. (They don’t discuss their desire with their clients, because this would not be helpful for the client’s therapeutic work). It’s important to remember that there is a big difference between feeling something, versus acting on the feeling. If your therapist (god forbid) tries to act out their erotic desire with you, this is not a helpful or therapeutic kind of love. This is abuse of power, and it is never okay (and should be reported to their professional organisation).
Therapists’ love can be genuine, heartfelt, nuanced and layered. And real.
Most therapists won’t tell their clients directly that they love them. There are many reasons why they don’t, some rooted in therapeutic effectiveness, and some because of concerns that it could be interpreted as manipulative or misread as an invitation. It’s not always helpful, and depending on the situation, it could even be quite the opposite.
But even if they don’t say so directly: Therapists love their clients.
Therapists don’t always love their clients. Therapists don’t feel only love for their clients. Therapists love their clients in various ways, at various times. And yes, I’m sure there are some therapists out there who never love their clients. But, a lot more than we might think or recognise, love is around in the therapy relationship. Sigmund Freud, the founder of psychoanalysis, even described therapy as a ‘cure by love’.
“I’m thankful that I’ve never met a patient that I couldn’t love or couldn’t learn to love.” – Jason Mihalko
And here’s the thing:
The challenge for clients is to discover ways to take in the love. To really feel loved inside. To find ways to feel filled up by the love of others (including the therapist) and to discover the healing power of self-compassion. Not easy, for many of us. But possible, over time and with repeated instances and real, felt experiences.
The issue, you see, isn’t so much about whether your therapist loves you. It’s more about whether you can make use of that love, take it in and allow it to help transform – and when therapy comes to an end, carry it in your heart as a precious and reliable inner resource. It’s also about learning to connect inside of yourself with your love for your own “difficult” parts (including the hurt child inside of you that feels anger and shame and sadness etc).
Because when you really feel love inside of you, and can also take in the love that others give, then you don’t have to hunt for it in unhealthy ways. And you’ll have more love to give out to others, to help make our world a more loving, fair and supportive place.
AEDP (‘Accelerated Experiential Dynamic Psychotherapy’) is a therapy modality that specifically works with how to help clients process their feelings and become more able to take in good things (including love and care). AEDP is becoming more widely known and practised in the UK and around the world, although it is more established in the USA where Dr Diana Fosha developed the model. I offer AEDP therapy, as well as integrative arts psychotherapy, online.
Have you felt loved by your therapist? Was it hard to recognise or to take in? And were you able to use it to help you to accept and have compassion and love for yourself? And if you’re a therapist yourself, what are your thoughts on love in therapy: do therapists love their clients?
I’d love to read your comments below.
*You may still be able to hear BBC Radio 4’s ‘In Therapy’ via BBC iPlayer Radio.
Jodie Gale: “I love you Stutz. I love you too, Jonah”
Alison Crosthwait: Love in Therapy
Jason Mihalko: Dear Young Therapist, Don’t be Afraid to Love
Jassy Timberlake: Falling in Love
Dr Kelly Flanagan: An Open Letter From a Therapist to his Clients
Dr Jeffery Smith: Attachment to Your Therapist
NYU Course on Love (love in therapy is briefly mentioned)
Laura K. Kerr: When Soul Informs Psychotherapy
Stephanie Law Can Therapists Love Their Clients?
Christine Hutchison Falling in Love in Therapy
Richard LaBrie, Psy.D Love for two clients and for his own therapist
Reading For Therapists:
Diana Fosha: The Transforming Power of Affect: a Model of Accelerated Change
Diana Fosha (Ed.): Undoing Aloneness and the Transformation of Suffering into Flourishing
Susan Pease Banitt: Wisdom, Attachment and Love in Trauma Therapy
Joy Schaverien: Gender, Countertransference and the Erotic Transference: Perspectives from Analytical Psychology and Psychoanalysis
David Mann: Psychotherapy: An Erotic Relationship
Kerry Thomas-Anttila: The Therapist’s Love
Karen Maroda: Seduction, Surrender and Transformation: Emotional Engagement in the Analytic Process
** This brain structuring and shaping happens most dramatically in our early months and years, by a combination of factors including (most powerfully) our relationships.
Psychotherapy is, in essence, a cure through love.Dr Sigmund Freud, in a letter to Dr C. G. Jung
Marg Ryan says
Wow Emma, Susie Orbach sure did inspire you! Beautifully written & illustrated blog about the complexities and nuances of love, Do I love my clients? Did I want my therapist to love me? Absolutely. Buy yes it is so much about the complexities of that human need to be loved and of course can we take it in and use it to nourish us? That’s the challenge.
Emma Cameron says
Thanks Marg, I know you’re a therapist too and it’s great to hear you agree.
Laura Reagan says
What a thought provoking article! While reading I was thinking – yes I love my clients, but it’s not a motherly or sisterly love or a friendship love, it is more of a love of their humanity. It’s not a sexual or romantic love. A recognition of our shared humanity, and yes – loving kindness. It’s compassion – as I now understand it. I am reminded of the greeting “Namaste,” often followed during yoga class with “the Spirit in me honors the Spirit in you.” That is what my love for my clients feels like. It is truly a unique experience, colored by my own attachment style and the client’s attachment style.
Thanks for writing this!! I really enjoyed it!
Emma Cameron says
I love your description, Laura! Thank you for sharing your experience of love in therapy.
Awilda Rodriguez says
I am on the other side of the spectrum, the client who dared to ask my therapist [while on the phone] “do you love me?” Her quick response, “yes, I love you.” I didn’t quite understamd fully what that meant, but in time I realized that “Hallie’s” genuine interest. patience. warmth, comfort, understanding of and protectiveness of me was evidence of her “Yes. I love you”. I am blessed to have had 6 long term absolutely wonderful professional effective therapists over the past 25+ years. Each mark left a palpable mark in my heart and mind. And though the pain of losing each one was almost unbearable. my life is now bearable because ” My therapists loved me”
Emma Cameron says
Thanks for sharing!
Chris Redfern says
A fabulous article Emma. Richard Erskine talks about Love as one of 8 Relational needs, that like Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, are life-long and necessary for healing Relational ruptures in the past.
Sounds like you had an amazing training day
Emma Cameron says
Thanks Chris! I’m a big fan of Richard Erskine – you’ve prompted me to go back to my bookshelves and take a look.
I fell in love a little bit reading it, your writing and understanding is beautiful and I am grateful that you shared this.
Emma Cameron says
Thank you so much Cal! Having more love in our lives is probably always a good thing, and therapy is one of the many places we can discover it.
Exquisitely written. Made me feel loved. I can take it in! Thank you 🙂
Emma Cameron says
Thank you for the feedback! It’s good to hear.
Thank you for this thoughtful post. I have had deep feelings of love for my therapist for several months. They have never been of the erotic or passionate sense but rather those of warmth, caring and positive regard. Prior to this therapeutic relationship I had never experienced such affection from someone who I didn’t perceive as “supposed” to love me (i.e. my husband). Understanding this dynamic has drastically changed my perception of myself…from someone who is worthless and odd to someone who is genuinely love-able. I find myself with a self confidence I never had before (I’m 39) and the ability to meet and make new friends who enrich my life in so many ways. I have even grown closer to my husband and appreciate him more than ever before (16 years of marriage). As a clergy person, love for others is a part of who I am, though I never felt I had received it in return in much the same way. My therapist has told me he loves me. I have told him the same. It has never felt odd or inappropriate, just genuine. I am grateful for his willingness to share his feelings with me. It has truly changed my life. I know when the time comes it will be difficult to end our relationship but I also know that that is ultimately the goal.
Love, agape, is incredibly powerful. Thank you for taking the risk to love others.
Emma Cameron says
Thanks so much for sharing your experience! What you are experiencing sounds really transformative. Great to hear that for you, the therapy relationship “has drastically changed my perception of myself…from someone who is worthless and odd to someone who is genuinely love-able”.
I’m a doctoral candidate, in therapy myself. After a terrible sexual assault by a clinical supervisor (no worries – it’s reported), I’ve been grappling with the “l” word – and all its uses as my sense of reality has been completely demolished. The trauma has unleashed a whole host of issues within my personal life, and, obviously, my professional life as I push forward to heal and complete my degree. My therapist has been with me – before, during, and after the incident. She’s been a presence like no other. Though I never wanted it or even expected to want it before, lately I’ve been struggling with wanting to hear her confirm what I think I sense to be true (just to validate that my “knowing” is true). I feel confused when I ask for this, because as a clinician in training, I don’t think I’d ever say “I love you” to a client who asked, even if, indeed, it’s true.
Because, it’s not about a yes or a no. It’s not a categorical question, even if posed as such.
And yet, I’ve been so twisted up over this concept of unconditional positive regard, it’s similarities and differences from unconditional love. UPR doesn’t capture that therapists are, after all, human, and beyond all the terms they/we use in session to beat around the “l” word, at the end of the day, they/we really do have feelings. As clients, one’s just not privy to them. It’s sort of a hard pill to swallow, though, it’s swallowable. Perhaps there’s comfort there. Somewhere.
Thank you for this. (((THANK YOU))).
Thank you also, for all the amazing links on the topic.
Emma Cameron says
I’m sorry you’ve been going through such a painful experience, and it’s wonderful that you feel your therapist there as a really solid and loving resource. It sounds like the relationship you have with your therapist is invaluable in helping you navigate the trauma you’ve been through, and everything that’s been stirred up.
And thank you for taking the time to comment on this blog post; it’s so good to know that it’s resonating.
Louise R says
I came across your wonderful website whilst looking for reasons to (or not to) quit therapy and found your list of 17 reasons people think about quitting incredibly helpful. This article has made me feel a bit heartbroken… my therapist knows one of my main issues is feeling unlikeable (let alone lovable!) and she knows I feel fond of her and dependent on her and yet never gives me any reassurance that I’m at least tolerable – hence thinking of quitting because it’s just making the pain worse! Seeing other people comment that they have had positive reactions from their therapists after being honest about their feelings reinforces that I’m either a) impossible to like or b) seeing the wrong therapist.
Emma Cameron says
Hi Louise. It sounds like you’re dealing with a lot of strong emotions in relation to your therapy. Your word ‘heartbroken’ is full of feeling. I can’t advise on your particular situation, of course. But a resource you might find interesting and helpful (regarding your difficulties in feeling likeable, tolerable, loveable, etc) is a book called “Loveable’ by Dr Kelly Flanagan. Another suggestion I have is that you talk with your therapist about reading this article, and what it brought up for you. Good luck!
Louise R says
Thank you Emma
Louise R says
arghh! Way too much of the ‘G’ word in this book… will leave it on a park bench – maybe someone else will benefit from it! 😉
I loved reading this article. I have strong transference feelings for my counselor and she actually reassured me that she has strong countertransference feelings for me (appropriate, with strong boundaries in place). While I wish the boundaries could be loosened and we would be allowed to “hang out” and go get coffee or text all day or call everyday, we have a strict agreement we can only call or text about scheduling appts and times and such. I admire her for admitting to her love for me, yet not allowing those feelings to cross over into unethical things. Thanks again for this article!
Thank you for this well written article. Love in therapy can be extremely complex. I’ve been told “It’s not real”, “It’s just therapy love” and so on.
I’ve learned not to discuss it with anyone who has never experienced long-term, emotionally intense therapy because I don’t want to hear the gasps of horror.
I’ve struggled immensely with wondering if my therapist loves me. He did not know what hit him when we met. Neither of us knew how intense this relationship would become because of so much upheaval, child trauma and crisis in my life and the bond we forged. It has been an extremely varied and complex relationship. We have talked about love in a general sense, because I never knew what it was or received any. He said it is different for everyone and impossible to define; I liked that response because I believe it now to be very true. I will never let anyone tell me what I feel for my therapist is not love, it is.
So, one day we have an ’emergency’ phone call after a session. I asked him if he loves me a little bit, just like a frightened kid would ask in a whisper. I don’t think I could have asked him that question in person, and I wanted to hang up and run away. Of course, he says we will discuss at the next session. Typical!
In a follow-up email I told him he would surely forget my question and my question would be forgotten. Well, he did not forget and he steered me in that direction in person. Of course, he did his therapeutic dance with me, which I totally expected, but went with it. I wanted a definitive YES or NO, dammit!
So we talked and unfolded those feelings as I did much of the unfolding with the delicate way he was working with me. It was uncomfortable and was not sure I would get the answer I needed or wanted. I knew he was not going to come out and say the WORD. At the end of the session it was quite clear that I answered my own question with the definitive YES. What a feeling! I have felt loved by him many times and told him if I had experienced this on a consistent basis when I was younger, my whole life would have been so different. So, it is real. It is very real love.
BTW, Dr. Jeffery Smith’s articles are excellent!! I discovered him years ago.
Thank you for letting me share this.
Emma Cameron says
Thanks for sharing your experience, Summer
I am so relieved that I came across this article. It was so well worded. I have often wondered if a therapist loved their clients. I am a teacher and I love all my students and have often wondered if it was similar for therapists. I have found it difficult not to feel love toward my therapist. She understands and has never judged me. I was worried about how I was feeling… but it appears that it’s normal. Thank you so much for this insight.
Emma Cameron says
I’m so glad you found this article helpful, Crystal!
The problem with talking about love in therapy is that it’s a different kind of love to love in the ‘real world’ and therapists need to make that very explicit. My therapist told me she loved me but now after 8 years is retiring and essentially abandoning me. To me that is not love. I think it’s dangerous to say you love a client without talking about the ways that love differs to love from other people. You need to be so careful with this especially when working with people who have already been so hurt by people who supposedly loved them. I don’t want anyone to get hurt by this the way I have been in therapy.
Emma Cameron says
Thanks for sharing your thoughts Belle.
I guess I was trying to say in my conclusion that ideally we grow to find ways that we can internalise the love we experience from our therapist, so that when therapy ends (as it always does, at some point) we can take it with us. It’s not that easy though, as you have found! I hope you find a way through this difficult time.
I read your aticle, and was very releaved when I saw I was not the only person in the world, having feelings for her therapist. So I took on board some of then comments, and decided to talk to my therapist about how I was feeling. I am beginning to wish I hadn’t! I come away more confused, that befor I went in.. it was very hard to talk about and she thanked me for being open and honest. I just couldn’t carry on with out mentioning it because it was impacting on the dynamic of the sesssion. I had started to closed down with respect to my ability to communicate my true feelings. I said I was not able to look at her because I get embarrassed and the response was what are you a friend of. If you look at me., what would you see. I couldn’t answer. But I did with, well a person I liked even more. Any way I felt the issue was not addressed and I felt more confused when I left than when I went in. She is a highly professional therapist, but I just wish sometimes, therapy could be directed more directly rather than pussy footing around issues.
you may ask, what was I expecting from confronting the issue, I suppose I expected some straight talking and direct answers. And the oppertunity to explore more why I was feeling that way towards her.
I was contemplating writing /an email, saying all that I wanted to say so that during the next session it could be explored further. Hopefully led by her, because I felt physically sick when releasing that bundle of emotions. Any advice gratefully appreciated.
Emma Cameron says
Hi Nat, it sounds like you and your therapist are probably doing just fine. It was courageous of you to start to talk about these vulnerable feelings, and it sounds like she understood that (in thanking you for being open and honest).
Sometimes when we think we want ‘straight talking and direct answers’ that’s our left-brain speaking; when we would benefit from making space for the different perspectives of the right-brain, which understands how to value more subtle and ambiguous and less logical ways of connecting and communicating and being with others.
You are clearly a person who has a knack for writing. It might be interesting for you to explore your thoughts and feelings in writing, just in order to get a bit clearer yourself perhaps. Maybe you could keep the writing for yourself, rather than sending it, and then discuss it (and/or show it if you wish) in your next session. I think that with this very vulnerable interactions like this it can be most helpful to ‘keep things in the room’.
I hope all goes well and one day you are able to look back on your therapy experiences with an inner feeling of warmth, strength, connection and gratitude.
Thank you for your insight, it is very much appreciated. What you says makes sense…but of course it does and I will be guided by the advice.
Robert Paul Williams says
I was with the same therapist for 13 years. I really looked up to her, and really loved her. I know she loved me too. I did ask!
Now as a therapist, I do love my clients. I really care about them, sometimes worry about them. I want to do my best for them and see the beauty in them.
I can feel a very real affection and a sort of reaching out to them with my heart. I can feel like I’m holding them in my heart and mind, even between sessions when I am thinking about them.
Sometimes there can be slight erotic feelings from time to time with a new client, but often that is brief and I suspect that it is oftentimes to do with a clients expectation/fear of me.. When that happens I usually suspect a history of abuse.
I feel compassion for my clients suffering, but also, admire the qualities that they haven’t seen or accepted in themselves yet. They are just so amazing, talented and brave.
Eros is its broadest sense doesn’t have to be about sex or physical attraction, but more like how Jung used the term, to mean the impulse to connect, to have a bond.
Without some sense of personal human bond, call it love, for the client then the therapy won’t be very deep.. though it may take a while before the client is ready to hear that, and be able to accept it and trust in it.
Wonderful article btw.
Emma Cameron says
Thank you so much for taking time to write your thoughtful response, Robert. It’s so valuable to hear from a fellow therapist about their perspective on this topic. And I’m so glad you enjoyed my article!
I’m thinking unless you can depend on your therapist then what’s the point? There’s a moment in therapy – others may concur, or not – the only way I can explain it is that the client arrives in my heart. Sometimes it’s palpable, often when I’m washing up or just musing. One year it was when I was camping with my son. I say the attachment is two way, and essential for long term work. Controversial?
Emma Cameron says
Thanks Cassandra – that’s beautiful!
I have been with my therapist since Oct. 2008 she just retired Dec 31st of 2018. She is 71 and I’m 49 her retirement is sad for me but she deserves to retire and enjoy herself I honor her by doing the very best that I can in my life with the tools she has given me for me to live a whole happy healthy life for myself I don’t want her work our work to be in vain. I look at it as a mom showing her children the way to depend on themselves and knowing that they will be okay when the time Mom passes. It definitely feels like a death to me but I got this cuz she raised me cuz I have no mother figure. I was thinking of contacting the Dr. Phil show to see if he would have a show to honor these beautiful loving counselors and theripists who changed their clients life completely around a life I would have never thought could happen to me but it did and it only takes one person that makes a difference in someone life and that someone for me is my therapist. To her I say I love you Happy retirement!!
Emma Cameron says
I’m so glad you have had a reparative experience with your therapist, Jennifer! It sounds like this relationship will continue to live on in your heart and mind as something very valuable and nurturing.
Thank you for taking the time to share your experience.
[I edited some of your comment in order to protect confidentiality.]
I had a therapist for 12 years. I remember the first time I asked him if he loved me. I was scared to ask. Telling him that I loved him was just as scary. His response to me was, “I love all my patients.” That wasn’t what I wanted to hear but I wasn’t surprised by his answer.
The second time I asked him if he loved me he told me that in Sanskrit there are many words that mean love but he never gave me a yes or no answer.
At the end of one of my last appointments with him he got up to open the door. Before he reached the door I said, “Hey.” He said, “What’s up?” I said, “I love you.” He responded, “I love you too Charlotte.” That’s what I had been waiting for.
Emma Cameron says
Thanks for sharing your experience, Charlotte. It sounds like you reached a point in your therapy where you could really experience and take in a feeling of deep acceptance and love, and that this has been very meaningful for you.
This is a moving story. Thank you, Charlotte, for sharing it.
And Emma, thank you for this column. You write quite beautifully and honestly; both your columns and your responses reflect so well on the profession.
About this topic specifically – I’m a therapist, and I often feel love for my clients.
Emma Cameron says
Thank you, Andrew!
I really enjoyed reading your article!
I am primarily a child therapist and currently working with a client whom I feel an intense and sometimes overwhelming love for. Having an excellent and supportive supervisor and empathic caring personal therapist are really helping me to understand the feelings – and the transference of what this client needs.
However, reading your article has really helped me to understand the genuiness of my feelings and how they connect to, and are a further development of, unconditional positive regard.
I am a client in a relational therapy with a wonderful and skilled man. I have done many years of therapy with two other wonderful women off and on over the past 36 years. But there is something special in the connection I have with this man, perhaps it is because of the deeply relational method. I do love him. He tells me little bits about himself, his life, I believe carefully considered. How can it be relational if it is strictly one-sided and the therapist doesn’t exist as a human being? It took some time to not idealize him, perhaps I still do a little. It is part of the work to grow through this I think. It is not dangerous or incorrect to show one humanness sometimes as the therapist, what kind of role modelling is that? Also I think he feels in me a need to be treated with trust and some reciprocity or equality in that way. Of course he cannot need me as I need him, though he does need to me actualize himself and his deep calling to the healing of me and others. I feel incredibly fortunate and in awe of the relationship we have developed. It gives me my first real experience of being loved for who I am, and I do love him for who he is too. His choice in work, his revealing bit by bit himself in ways he deems safe, his deep calling to do this work, his integrity, his deeply held boundaries, his deep ability and willingness to attune and be vulnerable, his courage, his quirky humor, and his humaness, which I have met more fully and deeply through a couple of ruptures, show me who he is. We have survived and deepened and learned through a huge rupture that seemed almost insurmountable, but we did find each other again and grew our resilience. I learned so much from that excruciating experience. How could we not love each other. We have said I love you a few times, always initiated by me. He is less comfortable to discover these feelings in himself than I am and we have just allowed his questions and conflicts to exist unresolved. For me it is human love, how could it not exist in two people who work so deeply together, bringing at times their deepest selves to the work. I don’t know now if he has resolved his conflict about finding love in himself in the room. I do wonder sometimes but I think that is his personal business and if he wants me to know he will tell me. Or perhaps I will ask one day. It seems that some of the training of a psychologist (not the AEDP part) is discounting of love, euphemisming it as unconditional positive regard or saying you love your friends, family but not your clients (I have read these things). This is so wrong I think and creates the conflict I believe he meets in himself. Love is a heart’s response to another – it can’t live in a box of any kind, it must be free to roam and feel and exist where it does. It isn’t a crime in the therapy room, or evidence of poor boundaries or bad ethics as I have also read. It’s not bad to feel love. l do not feel pressure to perform or act in some way to keep his love. It is clear that I am accepted no matter what. And I now give him the same (that was a process!) – even a knock down dragout rupture would not make me quit this therapy relationship. We can and will work out whatever needs to be worked out, we will find each other again. What rich lessons for me (and I suspect, him), and of course scary but relationships do not come with guarantees as he reminds me when I try to get them. I know we are different in our reasons for being in the room, that my need for him is greater and different. I need help, he is helping. I know he cannot need me socially or therapeutically . I also know the the bond of love we have grown is the same. I feel he loves me, warts, trauma, pain, beauty, quirks. And I love him beyond the fact that my needs are met so well in that room by him. I love HIM. Step by step we have grown our connection – he has not rushed it while I have pushed, jumped in to the deep end too quickly, or wanted to. I am learning. He has said, “step by step” we will grow our connection, allowing this to go as it will, no preconceptions, no pressure, touching as it comes – it so happens deeply, working together for my healing and coming almost unexpectedly to love. I am healing in part because I feel truly loved for the first time in 64 years. It doesn’t have to be often said, it is just there and those rare times when it is said are lovely. Love and connection, great skill and perseverance on both parts, courage, these are healing deep isolation, severe abuse and trauma and recently emerging fragmented memories of sexual abuse. What would I do without his courageous vulnerability, his incredibly deep well of skills, his depth and his love and his acceptance of my love? I feel very lucky. (If I seem a bit defensive it is because I have read some things about how love cannot be in the room and have seen in my therapist his conflict between some of his training (I suspect) and his heart. I also don’t think many outside a therapy room, where I believe love is often found, (not always, not everyone, and in great variety), can understand. Some, not understanding, think sex, or “in love”. I am so appreciative of many here, and you, who know different.) I feel vulnerable posting this. But I feel this is so important and so misunderstood by some therapists though I think I am preaching to the converted here. Thanks you or your beautiful writing and the other resources you post. Why does this come up for me now, again, I am wondering? Perhaps it is because we said I love you as he went off on holidays. I still cannot let it in that he does feel love for me. But I am so glad I am challenged by love’s existence to somehow, someday learn to let it in, to believe and know it exists in the heart of another for me.
Emma Cameron says
Thank you for sharing your experience, Cathy. This really struck me: “I am healing in part because I feel truly loved for the first time in 64 years”. It sounds like you have a very powerful therapeutic relationship.
Thank you so much for this wonderful essay. It’s very timely for me, as I just recently told my psychiatrist (who also does psychotherapy with me) that I love him, in a non-sexual way, and how important that is to me. I thought it over a long time before I realized I had to have it out in the open, and agonized that he would reject me and fire me as his patient for what I was worried would be considered a major boundary violation.
I am now taking on board that he didn’t fire me, and instead said he cared about me, which was and is very meaningful to me. I feel very strongly that I will be able to find healing with him.
I am 60 years old, and he is in his mid-forties. I originally went to him three years ago for medication management, and never thought about therapy, as I have had a couple of bad experiences with it. I have bipolar II and am in the middle of the worst depressive episode I’ve ever been in. Besides the meds, I just started ECT, and am pleased to say it’s starting to work. The pain and anguish he has borne witness to on my behalf during this terrible and terrifying trial is astonishing to me.
With the therapy, I was skittish as a cat at first, but his gentleness, compassion, and empathy are making me come out of my safe hiding place under the bed, just as a cat would hide. It’s very moving to me to experience such a deep and non- judgemental relationship. Love is, without question, the most important thing in the room.
Emma Cameron says
Thank you for sharing your experience, Judy. And the cat in her safe hiding place being gently encouraged to feel safe enough to venture out into relationship – What a great metaphor for how you, and so many people, feel in therapy with a therapist who’s a good fit for them!
Thank you so much for this article. Thanks also to everyone who has added their thoughtful and heartfelt replies.
I have been working with a therapist for 18 months. Very intensively for the last 5 months. Her focus is mainly AEDP. She is a truly wonderful person in every way imaginable.
I have had three other therapists in my life at various times. All were kind, caring and effective people who have helped me. None used AEDP – their focus was mainly CBT. My current therapist is unique, at least based on my experience and based on everything I thought I knew about the therapy process. At times I have been surprised, almost shocked, by the amount of emotional connection she is willing to share with me. For example, when I cry she often cries with me… words can’t express how moving that is. I am so grateful for this. I still can’t wrap my head around the fact that she is willing to care so deeply and be so vulnerable. I see it in her face, and she explicitly states the emotions that she feels. She shares other emotions with me too, like celebrating the little “wins” we have with a burst of joy and praise or joining me in shared (assertive) anger towards a bully from my past. Her therapeutic skills are equally impressive. I don’t know how she manages to stay so close to me emotionally while expertly guiding the session towards a positive result. And she accepts me as the very, very flawed person that I am.
Her efforts are helping me to reconnect to emotions that I did not think I was still capable of feeling. Maybe this is how all good AEDP-based therapists operate, or maybe she is special and I got very lucky. Or probably both. All I know for sure is that I am very blessed to have found her.
Our last session this past Tuesday felt like a breakthrough. We talked about love. Specifically the kind of love that a child feels for his or her parents. I was able to remember and evoke within myself just a little bit of that feeling. The safe, warm, loved feeling that most of us were lucky enough to experience as children and hopefully carry with us into our adult relationships. I haven’t really felt that feeling in 30 years. I thought that part of me might be dead and gone forever. It was very cathartic and moving for me, and I think it was for her as well. During a particularly intense part of the session, she reached out and briefly held my hands. I’m crying now remembering it. I so much needed that touch and wanted so badly to ask her for it, but couldn’t bring myself to do so. I think she sensed that and responded to my need.
So… to be blunt, I have strong feelings for her. I know that’s probably not all that surprising given how I described our history together. Also, you did a great job of explaining how love can blossom from therapy when you were discussing COAL. I know it’s a fairly common phenomenon in the therapist-patient dynamic. None of that minimizes how I feel for her though, or how special I think she is. Nor am I convinced that my feelings are strictly a byproduct of the therapy process.
My feelings for her are not new. I’ve felt this way for at least a few months now. But the feelings that I’m experiencing after this most recent session are intense and beyond my ability to control. Before, I was always able to compartmentalize and rationalize my feelings. Mostly by reminding myself that she is a professional and this is a professional relationship, and she almost certainly cultivates the same sort of relationship that she has with me with most or all of her other clients. She cares for me – she makes that very clear. But it would be foolish of me to think that she shares my romantic inclinations. She is married and has 2 young children. I wish that fact made the feelings go away, as it should. The last thing I would want to do is cause damage to her family. But I’m still struggling. I want to focus my thinking on the therapeutic aspects of our last session, but my feelings for her overwhelm my ability to do so. And… it is so captivating to imagine myself with her, loving her, receiving her affection and giving it back tenfold. Right at this moment, I can’t imagine wanting anything more than that.
So… I’ve been feeling stuck. Should I talk to her about this? My gut tells me no. What would it really accomplish? And what am I risking? A lot. I cherish her trust in me and don’t want to say or do anything that crosses her boundaries. I don’t want to introduce a feeling of awkwardness into the sessions. My biggest fear is that she would consider my feelings to be inappropriate in a therapeutic environment and ask that I accept a referral to another therapist. That would crush me. But I can’t figure out how to go forward with her while keeping this information entirely to myself. It may inhibit me in ways that will sabotage the whole reason why I am there.
Then I was lucky enough to stumble upon your article. It has helped me to look at my feelings from a better, healthier perspective. I love your explanation of the many forms in which love can exist. I was happy to read that it is not inappropriate for me to feel this way. I think that feeling love for her is a good thing… I didn’t know if I was still capable of loving anyone like that. Now I know I can, and that makes me happy. It saddens me a little to come back to reality and know that this will never be romantic love. But I can still care for her in my own way and feel good about that.
I still don’t know how or when I will approach her about this. If I’m honest with myself, I’m not entirely sure that I will. But if I do, when I’m ready, I’m fairly confident that it won’t harm our existing relationship. I think we can maneuver our way through this as we have with so many other things. And I think I can express my feelings appropriately.
Thanks again for your wonderful article. And thanks for letting me ramble on about this, it has been very helpful for me to do so.
Emma Cameron says
Thanks for sharing your experience, Steven. And I love how you answer your own question: “I’m fairly confident that it won’t harm our existing relationship. I think we can maneuver our way through this as we have with so many other things. And I think I can express my feelings appropriately.”
Maria H says
I see so much of myself in your comment. I feel for you, truly. My therapist too is pretty special, though she has never cried with me, she has done something that to me, is more powerful. Her calming accepting smile melts my heart in a way I have never known. She has away about how she says things to me that and gives me this smile that I cannot explain….
So many times I have wish that we met before we knew each other as patient and therapist, but then I remind myself that it wouldn’t have worked. This I know due to my issues. Then I would have lost possibly the love of my love and the opportunity for her to be my therapist. What a heartbreaking situation.
Maria H says
Thank you for this article. I started having loving feelings for my therapist almost right away. I told her a few months ago after seeing her for 8 months or so, that I felt attracted to her. When I told her I was attracted to her, basically the response I got was “as long as it didn’t interfere with my therapy it was ok and yes, it sometimes happen.” I have often wondered why she didn’t want to talk about it, because I thought that’s what was supposed to happen. It has left me wondering if maybe she has/had some feelings toward me. I’ve wanted to ask, but am so afraid of losing the relationship and being referred to someone else. I would be completely broken and devastated if that happened. I can’t even think about let alone talk about it.
At some point I know the sessions will end, and it breaks my heart. No one I’ve ever known has made me feel this accepted. I feel so comfortable with her in a way I never knew was possible. As I type this I have tears streaming down my face. Because of her, I know what I want and need in a romantic relationship. I’ve told her that I want the version of her that is “out there”. She has told me she gets what I mean, but went on to say “you don’t want to be with a therapist”, but at the end of the day, I think that is exactly what I want.
Is it safe for me to ask her how she feels for me without the risk of losing her as my therapist? Even if she said she loved me, though not in a romantic way, what potentially would that do to me? I’m codependent/love addict. I feel like I’m in a no win situation around this.
Emma Cameron says
Thanks for sharing your experience Maria.
S. Dearing says
I hope the one I hired didn’t think she loved me. That sounds horrible. I found therapy to be an awful and pointless experience. If the therapist was clueless enough to think there was love of any sort -that would just be ridiculous.
Emma Cameron says
Sounds like you had a bitterly disappointing experience.
i would love to be like a human form of a therapist journal, where its there time to just come along and off load everything on there mind . I would just be there to listen to them just a human sounding board. because after all they are human and everyone needs a human listening ear even the best of us need an outlet
Jessie C says
Wonderful read and very straightforward answer which is in fact pretty complex. A reminder that love is so many things. I think of it like a painting after reading this – therapist as the paper and client is the paint. Many different colours and images.. but without love (the paper/therapist) our work is never reflected back on us.
I have had phone therapy for almost 2 years now and have a great alliance with my psychologist. I have no idea what she looks like or how old she is. I am 27 and I’m guessing she is 55ish. We have similar interests and share humour. I feel like I’ve hit the jackpot because she is my first and only therapist. I’ve made massive progress in the time we’ve had together. We’ve never said the word love to one another but she recently cried with joy at one of my achievements. I’d really like to meet her just to say thank you in person but my fear of her saying no is a bit too much at the moment.
Emma Cameron says
Thanks for sharing your experience, Jessie! Sounds like you’ve found a therapist who you can really connect well with.