Other Side of the Couch

Welcome to a blog that aims to be full of insightful ramblings from a licensed psychotherapist, with a specialty in sex therapy and marriage and family therapy. It is my hope that this blog will be of interest to people in therapy, people contemplating therapy, people contemplating being therapists, people about to be therapists and people who already are therapists!

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Falling In Love

This blog was unwittingly inspired by an innocent comment made by a client last week. When talking about an interaction with a fellow bodywork professional, my client referred to their mutual understanding of what it feels like to “fall in love” with clients. I understood immediately that this was not meant in a sexual way, but referred to a clinician’s ability to fall in love with people’s vulnerable humanity. But it got me thinking, because I fall in love with nearly all my clients.

Many years ago I read that the need to love is as important for human beings as the need to be loved. I remember crying when I read those words, because it explained something important about the way in which I contribute to the world that was heretofore unexplained. I am a love machine – not in the way that the Motown group The Miracles meant it, but in a human miracle way. I get a kick out of liking and loving people and I’ve always been good at it. And while I’m definitely a caring person, I’m not exactly a caretaker. I don’t have too much difficulty with giving folks some straight talk if that’s what I think is required, even if it means they experience discomfort as a result. I don’t shy away from people’s feelings. I like people to feel good, but I’m not invested in that outcome if feeling bad for a while will get them to a more whole place in their lives. My friends tell me that I’m very loving, thoughtful and caring, good at expressing my affection and nurturing feelings towards them. My partner thinks that I’m the bees knees in the loving-and-caring department. In fact, I’m so programmed to like folks that I think of myself as somebody who can like and see good in just about anybody. As I have been known to point out to disbelievers, “Even Hitler loved his dogs.” In other words, even delusional crazy folks have at least one good quality, and I have rarely, if ever, failed in finding one.

I like thinking about liking people and interestingly, I’ve come to realize that it’s a lot harder to consistently and freely like and love partners, friends and family than it is to for me to like and love my clients? Why? Because relationships between lovers and family members are complicated. Even people who love you reciprocally will get tired of you complaining about the same old thing and tell you so. They won’t always be sweetness and light first thing in the morning or last thing at night. You have fights and struggles over the top left off the toothpaste and have to find ways to deal with the complicated minutiae of life, like who walks the dog most, and who forgot to pay the car insurance. And we take these fights very personally and they can get extremely messy.

Therapeutic relationships, like all relationships, have rules attached and the rules around caring and love are pretty clear. In therapy, the relationship exists to promote and benefit the client’s life, not that of the therapist. While the eroticisation of the therapeutic relationship is necessarily prohibited and contraindicated, verbal expressions of caring and liking are not. Just about everybody understands that seeing yourself reflected positively through a therapist’s eyes has a beneficial therapeutic impact. And, while there is a fragility inherent in most relationships, if you play your cards right you can return again and again to the relationship you forge with a therapist whose job is to see through your imperfections and personal challenges and reach for the true person inside.

There have been times when clients have made comments about the fact that I “have” to like them because they pay me and there are times when the issue of therapy fees can complicate therapeutic relationships between therapist and client unless you are completely willing to talk about the issue of money. However, while it’s true that therapy ceases for the most part when the fee is consistently not paid, it’s also true that the therapist remains willing to resume that relationship if and when the client returns. (I’m fascinated by the exchange of money in therapy and am working on a blog about this which I hope to post in the next few weeks.) This is not much different from other caring relationships where money exchanges hands. For example early childhood workers and teachers are paid to teach and encourage young children, and they invariably love and care for the children in their care, which is not a condition of their salaried position; the same goes for nurses and their long-term patients, and school teachers and their students.

Most clients are surprised by my willingness to talk of my affection and caring of them. They are surprised that I think of them outside of their sessions and frequently are moved to tears by observations and thoughts I have about them that surface in between our appointments. But as a client in my own therapy, I have had the experience of finding faith in my ability to tackle frightening challenges, buoyed only by my therapist’s caring and love for me. They don’t have to use the “L” word for me to know that I am loved – but sometimes the therapist’s empathy and nurturing have been the only things I have been able to rely on to propel me towards bravery. I use this personal experience of therapy in my own work as a therapist.

So, I see part of my job being to show love towards my clients and to encourage them to use this experience of my caring for them as a tool in other parts of their lives. Many people haven’t had the best experience of being loved in their early lives and without this experience it becomes difficult to love and treat oneself well. Therapy, with its one-way focus on a client is an opportunity to feel that acceptance and affection, the one-way focus on an individual’s life that many of us did not get to have as children. Therapists are, or should be, unfailingly polite and respectful, attentive and caring, concerned and thoughtful about their clients. It’s a gift to have this non-stop outpouring of thoughtful attention lavished on you for one hour a week with somebody who remembers the most seemingly inconsequential details about your life and can pull them together and tie up loose ends. And while being loved and cared for by your therapist isn’t THE whole story in psychotherapy, it sometimes forms the solid ground under the client’s feet that makes change possible.

29 Comments:

  • At 10:45 PM, Blogger just one of many said…

    Oh my...I really needed to read this tonight. You have no idea how much and I can't explain why...crying here...thank you for saying what I needed to hear.

     
  • At 3:35 AM, Blogger Jassy said…

    Just one of many:

    I'm glad that you read something that was helpful to you tonight. If, and when, you figure out what specifically was helpful, I would love to hear about it if you feel like telling.

    Jassy

     
  • At 6:36 AM, Blogger Dori said…

    Such an interesting post! I, too find it easy to love, and find it hard to understand why so many people struggle with "three little words." I also struggle with my definition of love vs. affection. My criteria for loving someone is that I'd give him/her my kidney.

     
  • At 6:17 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Jassy- Your words are perfect. You described so well and so openly the real "magic" that is therapy. It is talent, time, patience, and understanding-but, it is also love. Kristina, Lesley Writng Workshop

     
  • At 9:49 PM, Blogger Broken-Winged Cherub said…

    I've spent more than five years searching (in three states now!) for a therapist with these kinds of ideals and views, and they've never been put into words in this way for me before. The only one I ever found who fit the bill was a wonderful elderly lady in Arkansas who volunteered at the clinic I went to once every month or two, which was really nowhere near often enough to begin to work on more than simple crisis management for me. Now that I've moved again, I'm searching again... I only hope I'll be able to find what I'm looking for.

     
  • At 12:17 PM, Blogger susanthequietone said…

    I found your post and your wisdom of words very interesting. I saw a therapist for about 2-3 years and we fell in love with each other even while I was still his patient. I was just 22 years old and he is in his 50's. Things back then were too complex, so I quit seeing him as my doctor. Now, about one year later we're an item. He's gone nuts on me though. And now I am doubting ever pursuing this guy. I think he's the one who needs the therapy. He is so insecure and not what I expected at all when I was seeing him as my thearpist. Any suggestions for me or comments would be greatly appreciated!

     
  • At 3:29 PM, Blogger Jassy said…

    Thanks for posting. If you check back tomorrow I will be posting my next blog focusing on dual relationships between therapist and clients. I don't feel that I have enough information to really give you a meaningful response, so my blog may not adequately address the kind of advice that you are looking for. I don't know the extent of the relationship that you have with him, but in what way has he "gone nuts?"

     
  • At 8:14 AM, Blogger susanthequietone said…

    Thank you so much for responding to my post I left earlier and writing a blog about it. The thing with my "therapist" is that we are now living together in my apartment! I am 28 now and he's 57. He has issues of his own. When I said he is nuts before it's because of the way he acts. I see him as abit crazy. I'm not sure how to describe it. It scares me. He even once recently grabbed my arm tightly in the kitchen and got in my face with a angry look yelling at me and was blocking me from leaving. I just don't like that. It's my apartment, but somehow I feel abused and stuck. Now, I've fallen back into depression and he's well aware of this. He's still a therapist and see's patients in his own practice. When he's with me though he is totally different! I fell for him as the "therapist". He acts like a young ignorant guy in his 20-'30's with a chip on his shoulder/attitude with me now. He may think it's funny, but it's not to me. He's even called me by the name of "bitch" and even asked me where his blowjob was? He told me he's joking, but why is he the only one laughing? So, I told him that hurt me deeply and that I felt really disrepected and was shocked by his rude behavor and demanded an apology. And all he said was, "baby, I thought we were close enough now to know each other by now that it would be ok to joke around and say things and not get offended" I couldn't believe my ears when he said this to me. Now, I'm stuck in a bind with him. We aren't very sexual as he has a problem, but we try to be intimate in other ways. It's not how I want my life to turn out. Sure, I was his patient and fell for him, but now I am in a different state of mind and things have changed! He almost seems obsessed with me. I could go on and on about the things he does and says to me. I am just so lost as to what to do about the situtation I've gotten myself into. Any suggestions?

     
  • At 8:27 AM, Blogger susanthequietone said…

    I always seem to go towards danger...

     
  • At 1:10 PM, Blogger Jassy said…

    Susanthequietone: As I'm not your therapist, I'm not in a position to advise you extensively. But I am concerned for you and would like you to seek help. I can't tell whether you are wanting to leave this relationship, and don't know how to take action, or whether you are planning to continue in the relationship with your former therapist, as is.

    If you are trying to leave the relationship, and don't know how to do this, my first suggestion is to find yourself a new therapist, preferably a woman. Explain the situation to her, and ask her for her help. You might also want to consider contacting the ex-therapist's professional association. It is my opinion that he should NOT be practicing and should be seeking supervisory help given that he is not making choices that benefit you, his patient.

    One of the main things that concerns me if your fear. You said that he grabbed your arm, and has called you bitch. If you are fearful that you are in danger I again suggest that you contact a therapist whose specialty is abusive relationships, and explain the situation to her. You may need to come up with a safety plan for yourself, and a therapist (or an advocate from a Battered Women's shelter) can help you do this.

    Please re-read the comments you made above out loud and try to hear your own voice. You said that you feel depressed, scared, abused, stuck, disrespected, hurt, shocked, disbelieving and lost. If a relationship with a therapist made me feel that way, I would be seriously re-considering whether this person had my best interests at heart. What do YOU think?

     
  • At 8:56 AM, Blogger susanthequietone said…

    He also stresses the fact that he loves me deep and intense and has to have my face!? He's just so strange in his demands. He scares me. As for your advice I am going to take it! He stresses me all day everyday even while at work. Its gotten to the point that I tell him I am going to kill myself or him!

     
  • At 9:46 AM, Blogger Jassy said…

    If it has come to the point that you feel that desperate, please seek help immediately. If you go to www.PsychologyToday.com AAMFT.org or any number of professional mental health sites, you can look on the therapist locator pages to find a therapist in your area.

     
  • At 1:24 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I think you have a beautiful way of putting into words a powerful and transformative experience that I (and many others) have had in therapy. My former therapist who was able to do for me exactly what you've described here, and it changed my life. The problem is that there was a side efect. I developed deep feelings for him that haven't gone away no matter how hard I've tried, and even a year after therapy has ended, I still can't overcome them. This is made worse by the fact that he and I are members of the same community in which we have many shared interests, and we are close in age (late 20's/early 30's) and have some of the same friends. He was always professional, even when we talked about how we wished we could have been friends, how sad it was to say goodbye, as well as the feelings I'm describing here. But what I want to know is: how can I take the beautiful gift I was given and go on with my life, when it feels like my heart is broken?

     
  • At 10:25 AM, Blogger SSchofield said…

    I would like to know how to handle falling in love with a professional.

     
  • At 12:44 PM, Blogger habibi said…

    I am in love with my therapist. She will not even be my friend cuz ethic boundarie crap, that she don't want to violate. She e-mailed me this information. But I read about the ethic crap,and the hippocratic oath,and how therapists should never cross that line because it would be taking advantage of their clients and exploiting them. But i don't agree with this. I would never get her in trouble even if an outside relationship did not work. I would not be mentally damage because i had relationship with my therapist. I don't care what the studies show. I want to kiss her but I scared that if I tell her that she will terminate the therapy. I do now want this to happen. Will she termintate the therapy?

     
  • At 1:11 PM, Blogger habibi said…

    To anonymous,
    I totally can relate to you? I have broken heart too. My therapist asks "what I want in life" and I want to tell her, I want YOU, but I can't. She don't know that the reason I am depressed is because I am in love with her and I can't have her. Maybe someday she will look past that ethic crap and give me a chance.

     
  • At 7:09 PM, Blogger habibi said…

    Yet again, my therapist asked me, " what I should do to get what I want in my life, I wanted to say,you tell me, how do I get you? You have to abide to the ethic crap, that I don't agree with. I want to kiss her. How can I make the first move when, she may take it as sexual harrassment, and then I will get in trouble. I wanted to tell her about my dream that I had of her. We were kissing and making out. It was heaven. Second I want to go on walks with her and hr dog. When I seen her in the park,I was surprised and happy. But I just said hi and continued rolling away on my roller blades, cuz I wanted to give her her space, and I did not want to intrude. Her dog is so cute. I wanted to hug her dog. I would NEVER hurt her or her career. Next time I see her i will ask if I could look at her books in her office. Then If I have enough guts I will ask for a hug. I will not let her know I love her because I don't want to scare her or kick me out. So I will stay grounded as much as possible. I wish she would ask me if i love her, then we could go from there. She has to know that I flirt with her during our sessions. Someday I will tell her about my dream. I was going to tell her today but I chickened out.

     
  • At 12:45 AM, Blogger habibi said…

    Yes I do still love her. But I am learning to let go and heal a broken heart. I am happy that I have her as a therapist because she is good at her job. I know it seems weird to go to seccions when I was in love with her but whatever I am just thinking of the therapy part now. I know how to convicne myself that I don't have any feeling for her. Before I go to a seccion I just tell myself that I don't love her anymore. This usually works. I am good at convincing myself ot things. So I definately know that we will never be in a relationship but thats o.k. I am just thnkful that she is a great therapist. And the great thing is, she will never get this blog. So she probably just thinks that I had a little crush on her and its not a big deal. But it was more that a crush. I totolly fell in love with her. I lied to her and said I was drunk when I confessed my feelings for her in a e-mail. I was not drunk. I was torally sober but she don't know. My broken heart is almost healed but I will always think of her and what it would be like to be with her. But I know it will never be. I will just bennefit from the great therapy she gives me. And now and then I will fanacize about her.

     
  • At 7:54 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    DO NOT EVER have a relationship with your therapist. Trust me - I did five years ago and I have been paying for it ever since. Not only is it nearly impossible to get over but it also makes it hard to feel comfortable with a new therapist. The law is there for a reason. It is not worth it.

     
  • At 2:50 PM, Anonymous Abby said…

    I really needed to read this....Thankyou. I am in therapy right now for a past trauma that I am trying to work through. I find myself thinking that I am in love with her. I think about her all of the time. I know that the feelings are never going to be recipricated, but, my delusional thinking makes me think that I could actually have a relationship with her outside of our sessions. And, yes, she does care about me, but, it goes back to what you said about how she is paid to care. I dont know what to do. I want to tell her, but, i'm afraid she wont work with me anymore if i do. But, reading this helped me a lot.

     
  • At 3:03 PM, Anonymous Abby said…

    And Habibi, I can totally relate to you... I see her twice a week now and i keep telling myself its because i need that much therapy. The truth is that I just want to spend as much time with her as possible... She's 36 years old and i think, heterosexual, and for one, MY THERAPIST. So, I dont think i will ever have a chance. And, I did the same thing you did. I texted her one night recently and asked her if i could see and talk to her. I said that i knew it was against her oath to talk to me outside of sessions, but asked her to put that aside. The next day i emailed her and told her i was sorry and that i was drunk when i said that. That was a lie as well.I just wanted to see her and tell her how in love with her I am. I don't think i should tell her but i want to so bad. I think she knows that i have feelings for her but i know she doesnt know the severity of it. Please help me, i dont know what to do!

     
  • At 11:07 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I was looking for Advise on breaking up and found this great site www.saveabreakup.com I gotta admit its great and it worked for me and helped me a lot.

     
  • At 4:21 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I am 28 years old, and I was having really strong affectionate and sexual feelings towards my therapist, who is 55. I was terrified of telling him, thinking he would reject me as a client, but eventually he forced the admission out of me. Then he said its ok. I will never, ever do anything about it. I am the one who will maintain the boundaries, I'll tell you what is appropriate and what's not. And the reason why it is happening is this - it has never been safe for you to love a man, and now that you do feel safe, those feelings are coming up. It is important for you to be able to saftly love a fat old man, and not be exploited, so that you know how you should be treated when you go looking for the right man.
    I love him so so much, am so glad, and feel so safe with him. It has been such a relief to allow him to maintain the boundaries, which he does really well.
    That was a year ago, and my feelings have gradually changed into just deep affection for him. I still don't think he is fat or old though.

     
  • At 5:05 PM, Blogger Jassy said…

    Anonymous:

    Thank you for such an inspiring story of how good therapists manage boundaries, (and brave clients take risk!) and how such feelings CAN be risked, discussed, evaluated and come to terms with. I'm so glad you posted this comment.

     
  • At 9:17 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Thank you for writing about your love of your clients. I feel the same way about my clients! I deeply love them and it is not just because I am paid to care!

    There is a client I am currently working with who I have the feeling of "falling in love" with. The client's missing experience as an infant was the deep love bond from his mother and I understand my countertransference in this regard, but it is disconcerting that I feel I have fallen in love with my client and am having a hard time to stop thinking about him! I will be taking this into supervision ASAP! The feeling of falling in love goes both ways from client to therapist and therapist to client!

     
  • At 3:28 AM, Blogger Jassy said…

    Anonymous:

    Thank you, thank you for doing the smart thing by taking this countertransference to supervision. So very smart of you and I wish more clinicians would pay attention - our love is powerful and what happens in the therapy room should be transformative. But it should never be an abuse of power. Good for you!

    Jassy

     
  • At 6:17 PM, Anonymous Tina said…

    Hi, Jassy

    Wow, great topic. I am in therapy. I have been seeing my therapist for a little over a year now. I wrote a letter to her telling her that I loved her. But that I also have fallen in love with other women in authority and who were unavailable. So now, that is the context in which we talk about my feelings for her. She is an incredible therapist and has stuck by me through this. It has taken me a year to finally believe that she won't abandon me. However, I am in love with her, and I am going nuts because she is away for 10 days. I saw her last Mon. and won't see her again until a week from Thurs. I also see her twice a week. I am anxious and thinking about her constantly. My coping skills are not working well. I have listened to past messages that she has left on my phone. She offered to do this early in therapy
    It helped a lot but they are not working anymore. The intensity of my feelings are increasing because i can't see her. I know I am going to be a nervous wreck when i see her again and I'll probably waste the whole session looking at the floor because I don't want her to know how much I missed her. Why is
    falling in love for my therapist so incredibly intense!! Is it because rationally I know I can never have her?? I've been in only
    one relationship my whole life. It lasted one year back when I was 30
    I am now 51. I guess in some ways it feels safe to lover her BECAUSE
    I can never be in a relationship with her. I don't know... but I am
    feeling like I'm going backwards instead of forward. I almost ended therapy with her because it was just too painful. She had me give a list of the pros and cons of staying, and pros and cons of leaving. I am staying but it is DAMN HARD. Any suggestions or comments you might have would really help. Thanks

     
  • At 3:58 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I think it's deeper than "getting a kick" out being caring. I don't know you, but based on my knowledge of therapists and books by and about therapists, I would say that you feel most valued as a person when your love is accepted by another person. The value that you find in Hitler was his ability to love (his dogs). I have found that when therapists are caring and their caring is accepted, they feel a sense of union with the person receiving their care, and this makes them feel valued and not alone. Often, as children they had parents who were needy;c the child felt most wanted when she was giving her parent empathic attention.

     
  • At 8:31 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I have been in therapy for about 5 years now. I am a female, and have a female therapist. I have fallen for her. I have never been attracted to females. I find myself thinking about her constantly. She is very caring. She always hugs me after our sessions. I feel very close to her. At times it is painful and difficult. For this reason I'm thinking about leaving.
    I told her I would like to become friends in the future, if it works out.

     

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