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Therapy Lingo

How to Deal with Transference

Over a dozen different ways to navigate transference so you have
more control over your feelings.

TABLE OF CONTENTS

1. Transference is present in everyday life.
2. Why working through transference is beneficial.
3. Therapy tip for working with transference.
4. Shrinklady's personal experience with transference.
5. Healing from transference.


RELATED COMMENTS (and Shrinklady Replies):

1. Terrified my therapist will leave me.
2. Can I heal from transference on my own?
3. I'm afraid to tell my therapist how I feel.
4. How do I bring transference up to my therapist?
5. I'm in love with my therapist.
6. My fantasies are getting out of control.
7. Is it okay to fantasize about my therapist?
8. My therapist suddenly dropped me.
9. I don't trust my therapist.
10. Transference involves rejection.
11. How do I tell if my therapist is genuine?
12. My feelings are getting to be too much.
13. My therapist has countertransference feelings with me.
14. I long to hear my therapist say the words.
15. I think about her sexually...
16. My therapist acted on her feelings towards me.
17. Being emotionally vulnerable scares me.
18. Can my CBT therapist help me resolve my transference?
19. Would it hurt if my therapist said those things?
20. I'm drawn to the whole transference thing.
21. I struggle with feeling dependent on my therapist.
22. I feel humiliated by my transference feelings.
23. I love and hate my therapist.
24. I became dependent on my therapist so quickly.

Photo Psychologist Dr. Shrinklady

By: Psychologist Dr. Suzanne LaCombe
Updated: July 17, 2013.

Transference is one of those "strange but true" manifestations of the human spirit. If you are just beginning your work in psychotherapy and don't understand why you're feeling the way you do towards your therapist, consider that it might arise from the transference.

Working through transference is probably one of the most powerful ways of learning about yourself, of becoming more conscious and being able to let go of patterns (i.e. of both feelings and actions) that are no longer working for you.

Transference in psychotherapy (or counselling) is typically an unconscious process where the attitudes, feelings, and desires of our very early significant relationships get transferred onto the therapist.

In other words, as your relationship with your therapist deepens, the situation triggers familiar feelings related to previous connections with others. You begin to experience the therapist - in the present - in much the same way you had experienced a significant person from your past.

Transference in everyday life

Transference actually operates in all our relationships to some degree. The therapeutic relationship is not immune and it is inevitably encouraged just by the nature of the interaction. This isn't necessarily a bad thing. In the hands of a trained therapist, it provides a great opportunity for healing.

If tranference is popping up in your therapy, it's important to know that it is showing up to some degree in your interactions or relations with others. The therapeutic relationship heightens it (i.e. owing to firm boundaries), so it's easier for you to see. Once it's worked through, you'll have a better sense of how it was holding you back.

Now, this is something folks usually have a hard time wrapping their heads around: Everyone sees the world through their own perceptions. (Remember, infants must learn to see.) Our eyes see the surrounding environment in slightly different ways, unique to our own history.

And, it's been my experience, that we often only get the impact of how our perceptions create reality after we've gone through a life change.

As a rule of thumb, the more baggage we carry around the more likely transference distorts our perceptions and severely restricts our vision of the world. It's sorta like seeing black and white when the world is in full color.

You see, the brain shapes our perceptions to make it easier for us to tolerate conditions that are too overwhelming for our psyche to take in. An infant might develop this propensity in response to unmet needs. It's a way they learn to cope.

Conversely, the more emotionally "together" we are the more clearly we're able to accurately perceive the world and the people around us, without projecting our personal hangups.

Why working through transference is so beneficial

Basically, transference allows your issues to be experienced - not just talked about in a superficial way. In other words, transference makes your issues more palpable so you can work through the feelings being triggered and ultimately make new neural connections. Without it happening in the moment, change is only a left brain idea.

And, as we have mentioned elsewhere, new pathways in the brain result in different ways of being in the world and behaviours that feel natural and integrated.

Ideally, whether in relationship with a partner or therapist, certain factors need to be present for you to heal (e.g. attunement). That is, in fact, what we believe draws us to certain people…our sense that they can inevitably help us heal.

Without these conditions, you risk being caught in the same stifling dynamic that was the cause for the transference in the first place. (See the Dance of Attunement)

Therapy Tip

What's important to understand is that simple awareness of the transference is only half way to healing. To change your internal reactions, the brain needs to "experience" the transference in the present moment. This provides an opportunity for the brain to re-wire itself over the emotional issue.

This is why therapy is such a great change agent. Within the safety of the therapeutic relationship, you can experience your responses with fewer of the risks that are normally part of your personal interactions with others.

To benefit most from the phenomenon of transference it is essential that you be present with your feelings. Access your right brain, the seat of your emotions. A verbal discussion largely divorced from your emotional reactions will compromise your chances for real change, embodied change(see True Insight for more info).

What this might look like in a session is taking the risk of letting your therapist know your personal reactions or feelings towards him or her.

Click here to learn how to sort through transference faster.

My Personal Musings

In writing this article I was reminded of a personal experience with transference. Over the years, I've come to recognize a part of me has struggles with an unmet need, a yearning to be taken care of. But it often doesn't show up in my close relationships, at least to the degree that I'm aware of it. That makes sense to me, because it would be too threatening for me to feel the depth of it.

So, where does it show up? It pops up in my interactions with office personnel in positions of authority. If a clerk in an institution has the power to take away or give me something that I value, then his or her reactions to me are potentially triggering.

Here's a recent example. On May 31st, I wrote about a difficult time I had with the folks at one well-known online payment processor (see Emotional Meltdown in RSS Feed). After several attempts at explaining my situation, the fifth clerk I spoke to appeared to understand my problem. She had a warm voice and seemed to sincerely care about helping me resolve the issue. She also had the power to do so.

Over the course of our communications, I felt safer and became more open, indeed more vulnerable. Then towards the end of the day, my last email was unceremoniously bounced. I was cut off!

Other folks might have felt frustrated and left it at that. But this disconnect sent me into a tailspin that took days to recover from. That's transference. Like a child, I felt cut off and abandoned.

The reality is, this clerk was only doing her job. It isn't her job to take care of me emotionally. But this is indeed the yearning that emerged. It was more important to me that she understood my problem than whether I would get my $500 back.

And, that's ludicrous when you sit back and think about it. Transference is just that powerful. It didn't matter to me that I understood the rationale for the cut off. Knowing it logically did not change my feelings.

Healing from Transference

When we feel transference with our therapist it is often experienced from a child-like state. This knowledge can help us in the healing. For what does a child crave but safety and attunement with their needs being met in the moment.

So, you can imagine, in the hands of a poorly trained therapist, how potentially detrimental it might be to a client's well-being if the transference is not worked through appropriately. Just so you know, transference is not something that is easily navigated by the client and the therapist.

Make no mistake about it. Experiencing your transference isn't always a cakewalk. It is far easier to have a nice chat analyzing your therapist's interpretations. But we already know that anything truly worthwhile cannot be attained without effort.smiley-wink.gif


One of my hopes for providing a forum for discussion and information on topics such as this is to help clients recognize when therapy is not working as it should and what to look for when it is.

You'll get a better idea of transference in the posts below. Several folks were kind enough to share their stories.

Then, be sure to also check out the discussion on Transference in the Psych Cafe.

Reviewed by: Coquitlam Psychologist Dr. Carole Gaato

Related Topic

Reenactments

External Resource

Transference among people online

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Reader Comments

Terrified my therapist will leave me.

Oh my god............it helps so much to hear other people feeling the same! I have been in therapy for close to 12 years (twice a week), following one year in therapy where a therapist had me admitted to the hospital and had the hospital tell me that she was terminating with me. Soon after discharged I overdosed and was in the ICU for five days.

After years of being ambivalent about attaching myself to this therapist, I am terrified that she will leave me some day. I have told her that she is going to find me dead in her house when she retires......this is no joke and I am scared to death! When she goes away my symptoms are so bad and the only way I can deal with it is to overdoes on my medications and stay in bed for weeks until she returns. I just don't see a good way for a termination to happen. I only think of the pain that I will be left with and it isn't something that I will be able to manage! I just know I will die.

I keep telling her that I need a plan in place, in the event that something happens to her, and she still hasn't developed a plan for me. I think therapy just doesn't work for everyone and in some cases it makes people worse.........it provides you with one of the best relationships then takes it away. I can't even stand the thought of the pain...............I just know I will die! And I want her to know that pain.......not physically hurting her, I just want to die in front of her and have her see my pain. TJ (so distraught at the thought)

TJ (USA)

Wow TJ, when I first read your post I was stunned to hear that your first therapist abandoned you, and in such an abrupt manner. I'm embarrassed for my profession when I hear stories like this.

I'm also disappointed your current therapist is not heeding your absolutely reasonable need for a plan to resource you during her absences. This seems to be essential for your therapy.

One of the things I have done in the past is to arrange a "back-up" therapist for those clients that might need support in my absence. For example, in your case it might even be beneficial to meet this therapist ahead of time. Then you can be sure you feel comfortable enough contacting him or her if needed. In fact, you might even set up prearranged appointments.

You mentioned that you feel "scared to death" because the feelings are so overwhelming that you refuge in bed when she's out of town. We know that emotional and physical pain arise from the same place in the brain so I recognize that your fear "I will die'' is absolutely real. People do die of heartache and this is likely the pain that you are tapping into.

Try to remember that these fears have roots going back to your childhood experience. They were formed at a time when your survival was at stake; this is why they are so energetically charged. Just remember: you're not creating these fears or making them up.

It is unfortunate that the experience you had with your previous therapist only reinforced these fears.

Neuroscience research shows that the right emotional brain changes through experience (see the free eCourse "Is therapy working for you"). So how are you going to learn to trust others if your therapist is not recognizing your needs? How will you learn that your needs count if she doesn't take action to calm your distress with a plan?

I would encourage you to draw attention to the fact that she hasn't responded to your request, or to the possibility that she hasn't understood the distress you're in.

Sometimes therapists dismiss the remarks clients make of their transference experience as an expression of heart felt feelings for an idealized parent. Maybe your therapist is coming from this place. That is, maybe she sees your request for a plan as an expression of your deep need for her at this time, rather than a sign of your developing self-care.

Yes, TJ, therapy sometimes makes folks worse. Is it possible that your therapist's lack of action in this regard is hindering your progress?

And here's a final musing for you TJ. A hallmark of therapy and a connundrum as well is that as we get better, we get closer to losing a primary, and in some cases, life-saving connection with a therapist. I wonder if this transference response is playing a role in your therapy. Is it possible that your unresolved suffering is constantly being reenacted as a way of keeping your connection with your therapist alive?

I hope this gives you some food for thought,

All the best,

Shrinklady


"Absolutely amazing site."

This is an absolutely amazing site. I have gained a lot of information, your responses are clear and warm, and I feel there are others who expereince similar things after reading the posts and responses. Thanks so much.

Sheryl (Illinois, USA)

It's always nice to hear someone is enjoying the site. Thanks for your wonderful feedback, Sheryl.

Shrinklady


Can I heal from transference on my own?

I'm really confused with this whole transference issue. I recognize that I'm having very strong transference feelings for my therapist right now... and I also recognize that I've done this in the past with other people as well -- where I feel an overwhelming attachment for no logical reason.

It is very painful for me because I feel sooo dependent. I'm finding any excuse I can to have a reason to contact him between sessions... and find that just a simple phone call or e-mail from him can literally turn my day around. But when I don't have any contact, each day between sessions seems to last forever. This is not a healthy way to live!

I also recognize that I seem to have all the major pre-disposing factors to this: Early childhood neglect, mom died when I was six, neglectful / abusive family dynamics after that.

Here's my question though... is there any way to work through these feelings and achieve healing on one's own?!? Two reasons I ask -- one is that I'd be mortified to bring up the intensity of the feelings with my therapist... I know where they stem from, and I know I'm not 'in love' with him, etc... but I'd be really embarassed to talk about this and I don't know how he'd react. I'm also quite worried that he'd take steps to eliminate any extra contact with me so as not to make the problem 'worse'...but in so doing it would remove the little bit of comfort I get from that extra contact!

The other reason is that my husband is really getting unhappy with the amount of money spent on therapy and does not want me to continue if at all possible. He won't absolutely prevent me... but he does not see the value for the money, and feels that normal, relatively healthy people (which I do consider myself to be) do not need this. I can see his point... and I almost see it as an addiction... I'm willing to pay almost anything in order to have time with my therapist... because of these transference feelings... so how do I get out of this loop?!??!? I recognize the source... I feel the pain... how do you go from feeling to healing?

Lost and Curious (Illinois, USA)

Hello Lost and Curious,

Thank-you for your detailed post. I smiled as I read your post thinking of a child's nursery rhyme - "can't go around it, can't go under it, guess I'll have to go through it."

I can hear the angst in your story and I appreciate how scary it must be to even think of bringing the subject up of feeling attracted to your therapist. You asked if you could work through this transference on your own.

Honestly, that'd be pretty tough. For instance, you speak of being embarrassed. Shame is a biological emotion that ignites the stress reaction in the body. It's also a powerful social response and as such, requires a social engagement for healing.

Can you imagine conjuring up the feeling of shame - feeling like you want to crawl into a hole - and then consciously moving your thoughts into a different state? Pretty hard to do, eh?

However, what if in this imaginary hole, you found yourself in the company of a non-judging, compassionate companion? How would this be different? What would change?

Yup, it would be totally different and you wouldn't be alone. Notice what happens in your body.

That's essentially what needs to happen to shift your feelings and create change in the brain.

You see, the relevant neuropathways need to be fired and then coupled with an experience that's positive. That's therapy at its best.

My suggestion Lost and Curious is to spend more time "feeling" in the session, bringing awarenss to those moments with your therapist and noticing what happens when you do so.

I hope you make the choice that's right for you,

All the best,

Shrinklady

P.S. By the way, I beg to differ with your husband's view of what constitutes "normal" healthy people who need therapy. Just because we have a job and are in relationship, doesn't mean we're functioning optimally.

Consider a glass that's half empty versus one that's half full. What feels better? Where do you go within yourself?

In fact, as I hope to explain increasingly on this site, the opportunities available to us through therapy are boundless. Therapy isn't just about regulating the negatives, it's about learning how to tolerate the expansion of positives.


Click here to learn how to speed up your healing through transference.


 


Afraid to tell her how I feel.

I have issues with people walking out of my life. I am constantly worried about being close to anyone. However, I notice that i have a serious attraction to my therapist. I feel like I need to stop going to her because I feel like she will realize this and stop seeing me. I find it hard to open up to her like i sholud because of my feelings for her.

What is your advice to this problem. ps I am thinking of telling her how i am feeling. Is this a good idea?

Audrey

Hi Audrey, should you tell her? Yes, that's what therapy is all about.

It's been some time since I'm responding to your question Audrey so you may have already taken this step. And I believe you already answered this question for yourself in your post. You mentioned that you have a hard time being close to someone. Yet, here you are...deep into the beginnings of a new level of closeness with another human being and your fear of abandonment is coming up. Good.

We need the feelings to be present in order to change them. This is what therapy offers, a new experience from which the brain can learn from.

Try to remember that your fears arise from experience - experiences you likely had as an infant. What we've learned through neuroscience is that what develops in relationship, must be healed in relationship. So, it is natural that you would be fearful of becoming close and then abandoned. Good therapy offers a chance for us to tease these crossed wires apart so that one day, feeling emotionally close is synonymous with trust and safety.

All the best on your journey Audrey,

Shrinklady


How do I bring transference up?

I have recognized that I am experiencing transference with my counselor. I still have issues of fear of talking about things because of always having bad repercussion from my child hood.

She is a great counselor and I want to work through this but I do not know how to bring it up and talk to her about it.

Can you give me some advise on that?

Tina (Reno, NV, USA)

Hi Tina

Yup, for the most part, it's never easy to directly address transference feelings with a therapist. It's even harder when we already have a tough time talking about things.

But I'm glad to hear that you have entered this therapeutic journey.

An easy way into this topic is to ask your therapist how she thinks people in therapy actually change. You might add to the discussion by making it more personal through asking, "How is my therapy with you helping me get better?" This questioning lends itself more easily to the subject of transference.

If it fits, you can tell your therapist about the reading you've been doing on transference and that you're curious about what she thinks. This can give you some clues as to her approach about it. If she is sufficiently attuned to you, she will likely ask if you are having transference feelings towards her.

You might even bring up an example of how your feelings show up. For instance, after describing how you can't wait to see her, you could ask "Is this about transference?".

I wouldn't wait for her to bring the subject up however. I think it's a real challenge for most therapists to ask clients about their feelings towards them. Far too few therapists are trained to recognize it's importance yet alone its presence in therapy.

I hope it works out for you and that you do indeed tell your therapist how you feel Tina.

All the best,

Shrinklady


Googled 'I'm in love with my therapist'.

I have a similar situation to that of Dale's. I am a lesbian as well, but I am married to my partner of 11 years and very much in love with her. I have been very concerned with my feelings that I have had towards my Psychiatrist (also female, but much older).

I have serious issues with talking to people about my personal 'stuff' so seeing a Dr. was a difficult choice to make for me. My first 10 sessions were very very quiet on my part. But yet after my 4th session I realized that I had significant sexual feelings towards her and started to research her on the net, finding out such personal things as her home address (which I have driven by).

I feel like a stalker and my partner is also becoming concerned with how interested I am in the Dr's life! I'm afraid to tell her (Dr.) how I feel because like everyone else, the thought of the rejection is horrifying. By the way, she has diagnosed me with an Anxiety Disorder with Panic Attacks.

I really noticed that I had deep feelings for her when she had suggested that our sessions end until I felt I was able to participate in the Talk Therapy she was offering me. I freaked and started to cry (the first time I showed any emotion in an appointment). I told her that we couldn't end the sessions because I wasn't ready and I didn't think that I could handle not coming, then explained how stressed I was when our appointments were cancelled over Christmas.

She decided to continue the sessions as I had made a breakthrough at that point. I should have said something at that point but didn't understand the feelings myself, let alone have to explain them to her.

I googled 'being in Love with your therapist' and came upon the word 'transference', I've now realized, after reading your site and others, that I am normal (so to speak). I think that because I had a very poor connection with my mother as a child/young adult (before she died) that I am possibly confusing sexual feelings with that of wishing she were my mother because of the compassion she shows, and her ability to make me feel like she cares.

Anyway, thanks for having such a great site, it's motivated me to talk to her about transference, if I can manage to get it out of me.

Hannah (Manitoba, Canada)

Hannah, thanks for sharing your story with us. As you may have read elsewhere, transference is often a good sign that it feels safe enough to let your emotions out. There just might be enough connection in the relationship that the therapist is likely able to acknowledge and to help you work through these feelings. So I'm glad to hear you are on this journey of healing.

If you haven't already brought up the subject (it's been some time since you posted) I'd encourage you to do so – it can be a real door opener for you and a healing moment and more for your therapy.

You mentioned that "I should have said something" in reference to your breakthrough. You know, you can always pick this up at any time during your sessions and make it your right time.

For example, you can take a moment and recall that session with her. Tell her you've given it some thought and you realize now what you didn't realize then, that you've become attracted to her. Even if you've already raised the subject of transference with her, remember that earlier sessions and your interactions with your therapist always make for good therapy material.

Another observation: I felt it was unfair and unfortunate for your therapist to threaten abandonment because you weren't saying enough. When I read your post I was reminded of my own experience many years ago with a psychiatrist. I would sit there, session upon session, saying little. She was kind enough towards me, but now I know that being "nice" isn't the stuff that makes for good therapy.

Good therapists help clients learn to regulate their emotional states and that requires the hard work of being emotionally attuned and engaged in the present moment and throughout the session.

From neuroscience, we've learned that it is essential for our emotional brain to have safety. Yet my therapist then did little to foster the sense of safety I needed, other than to gently ask me questions. We never talked about the need to reduce my fears or find ways to help me feel safe in the sessions.

It's my belief that the therapists who get results teach folks to "ground" themselves through the body and/or to resource themselves by recallling pleasant experiences (i.e. using body psychotherapy techniques such as belly breathing and focusing). They make the task of grounding an explicit, concrete part of the therapeutic work.

The therapist's job is to meet the client where ever he or she is at. If a client isn't able to embrace the therapy approach - particularly when the presenting problem is around self-expression - then the working through might entail what blocks her from sensing into the energy of her words. (For instance in your case, what happens when you think about speaking. What shows up in your body? What are the sensations?)

You see, therapy isn't about getting it right before we arrive at the front door. It shouldn't be a sink or swim experience. Ideally, the therapist is there to help you take your small steps and to show you the way to your best life ever!

If you find these thoughts worthwhile, you might think about opening up a dialogue for further discussion with your therapist – I suspect it just might lead to a new line of therapeutic encounters.

All the best,

Shrinklady


My fantasies are getting out of control.

I am a 47 year old woman who has a "crush" on my son's psychiatrist. We were in family therapy with him for 1 and a half years and I am perplexed by my extreme feelings for him. He just seems so perfect for us. My son has OCD and the child psychiatrist whom I just adore has been so helpful to me in dealing with my son's problems. I know he is a single man and my sexual fantasies about him are getting out of control.

We no longer see him, which is agonizing to me, due to his departure from our health care network. I think he knew that I had a crush on him and I think he made this worse by telling us so many personal things about himself. He made me feel like we were very special to him. He really went out of his way for us by spending extra time with us while other patients waited in the reception room. He told us so many things about himself that I couldn't help but feel drawn to him.

I think he is lonely. He also seems a little depressed. I would so love to give him an evening of "cheer". At our last appointment, he gave us his personal email and we have been exchanging a few emails. I always initiate them, asking for advice about my son and giving him updates on how he is doing. He always responds and still throws in some personal info about himself. I really like that.

I have also looked him up on the internet and have found out some info about him and feel a little ashamed about it. I know where he lives and have driven past his home. He lives nearby and has a cool home with a swimming pool.

I need to get over my obsession with him and am hoping I can. I still think we would be great for each other. We grew up in the same area and he is about 10-12 years older than me. I have always been attracted to older, intelligent men. I do have a boyfriend that I have been with for over 25 years but he is not smart enough for me. We do have a satisfying sex life but I love the shrink for his smart intellect, sense of humor and caring abilities. I am definitly,"shrink-rapt"!!

I want to get over him and am hoping to find some relief from websites like this. At least I know I am not alone. A lot of people are experiencing what I am. I just wish he would reach out to me now that we are no longer patients of his. Is this still taboo? We are not patients anymore and it has been over a year since my son and I have seen him. I would love to invite him to a casual lunch but don't have the guts to ask. I am afraid of rejection.

Why is it viewed as "breaking boundaries" if two people could possibly connect and could both have more meaningful lives? I am pretty sure he lives alone, I heard that from a reliable source at our behavioral health facility. This receptionist just kept on talking about him to me when I asked questions about him, probably not the right thing for her to do either. She seemed to be fanning the flames.

I do have one thought in the back of my mind, however, and I must finish with it. He may be a homosexual. I am not sure but maybe he is in the closet. I can't imagine someone like him being all alone. I wish I could know that and then maybe I could get over him.

I really am stuck here with these feelings, please give me some advice so I can move on with my life. Thank you, ShrinkLady!

Dorothy (CA, USA)

Hello "Shrink-Rapt"

I can appreciate your confusion. One moment you want to "get rid of this obsession", and the next you wonder "why can't we be together". Yet I think it might help get perspective if you consider for a moment that maybe these things are happening for a reason.

I mention this because your story reminded me of a quote that seems apropos:

"When the student is ready, the teacher appears."

Perhaps he's "teaching" you that a rich relationship is about much more than sex.

You've come to feel a deeper attraction (albeit only one way) through your meetings with him. Here I'll just point out that when our own stuff is triggered it can resurrect our deepest yearnings. Is it possible that he is helping you to tap into your own unmet needs for a mind-body connection with others?

For instance, you might ask yourself why might you be attracted to someone who's "depressed" and "lonely". This rescue fantasy is often based on a childhood history in which the infant earns a sense of attachment at the price of being an emotional caretaker.

And because it's learned so early, it feels as if it is a part of who you are instead of just a learned response to unmet needs.

Parents can inadvertently reinforce this behaviour by validating the child whenever it occurs. Someone who's grown up this way will re-enact the same pattern as adults; they feel this is the only way to feel alive and good about themselves.

But as a therapist, I know that these limitations are not fixed. They were laid down in childhood as a way to adapt to circumstances, and with the right experiences in relationship they can be replaced, even now.

So, my message to you is that you are much more deserving than that. You deserve a rich full life.

Have you considered the possibility that you have not honoured your own needs in terms of finding a partner you can conect with on all levels, emotionally and intellectually? Is it possible that this situation is more about your "not so smart" boyfriend of 25 years than it is about this psychiatrist?

I hope you will heed this "wake-up call" and find a partner who can meet you on all levels. I feel it's time for you to honour your innermost needs.

Warm regards,

Shrinklady

P.S. I want to say a few words about your psychiatrist's tendency to share aspects of his personal life. I felt he was acting as if you were not the client when indeed you are. It may be that he did indeed sense your attraction to him. His disclosures may just have been his way of trying to make you feel better.

But although this might just be his individual style, I feel it inappropriate in the situation. That his receptionist also engages in boundary crossings might mean that he's oblivious to his own. A psychiatrist who really "gets" his own boundaries would normally squelch the inappropriate actions of his staff.


Is it okay to fantasize about my therapist?

Is it okay for me to fantasize sexually about my therapist? Will this prove detrimental to the therapeutic process?

I am doing my best to resist it, but I also don't want to make too much of it. I sorta feel like it's only natural and normal to fantasize about persons I find sexually attractive, and I am trying to undo my conflation of sex and shame.

On the other hand, I am afraid that if I do, I will someday have to admit it to her. I definitely do not want to discuss a sexual attraction. I am considering opening up about the transference that is precipitating this, but I do not feel it would be necessary or beneficial to mention this part.

What is your take?
P.S. We are mainly focusing on CBT, not standard talk therapy.

Female

Yes, I agree with you about fantasizing. It helps discharge energy and it hurts no one. It's a self-soothing technique that many folks engage in, though few will share this aspect of themselves. It could also be a good way to "undo the conflation of shame and sex" as you say.

I doubt very much that it would prove detrimental to your therapy. On the contrary, accessing the warm feelings associated with your connection can be healing.

I'm pleased to hear you're planning to disclose your feelings for her. That’s a step in the right direction. It's pretty hard to get deep fundamental change when something this big is not being acknowledged. Indeed, I suspect that this type of "secrecy" could undermine the other stuff that goes on in your therapy.

As you might have read elsewhere, here and in the Counseling Café, clients can get hurt when a therapist is unprepared to receive transference feelings and is unable to unravel the dynamics. Good therapists, whatever their backgrounds, know how to work with transference.

The task all therapists face in resolving transference is maintaining connection, establishing good boundaries, and holding steady as clients move through feelings of vulnerability and shame.

I don't believe that CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) training in itself prepares therapists to effectively handle transference. But, as long as your therapist scrupulously maintains and works from a solid therapeutic alliance, transference can be worked through. It really depends on whether or not she regards the therapeutic relationship as paramount and I certainly hope that your therapist does.

Nonetheless, many therapists have a range of skills, and CBT is probably only one of many that your therapist has at her disposal. If you're concerned about raising the topic, you might begin by asking her what she knows of transference and if she has had any experience working it through.

When you're ready and when you feel it's safe enough, I hope you give it a go.

All the best in your work,

Shrinklady


Click here to learn how to sort through transference faster.


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So like I was saying, I was pretty out there when I started.