How to Deal with Transference
Early developmental gaps set the stage
for later transference issues in therapy.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
1. Transference examples.
2. Is transference a good thing?
3. How neuroscience explains transference.
4. Why transference shows up in therapy.
5. Brain facts for moving through transference.
6. How working through transference helps.
7. My personal optinion on transference.
8. How to deal with 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.
By: Psychologist Dr. Susan LaCombe Updated: July 1, 2015.
Jennie was feeling desperate. She hadn’t bargained on therapy creating more problems than she had when she began.
At times it was all she thought about, and she didn't think she could hold it in any longer.
Her husband of 20 years found her preoccupation with therapy a little confusing - yesterday he remarked offhandedly that he didn’t see the need for her to get dressed up before her appointments.
She knew it wasn’t right to keep him in the dark - she was so embarrassed. That wasn’t the tough part though.
The truth was that she was in love with someone else - someone she couldn’t have. Someone she couldn't stop fantasizing about.
It was her therapist.
And things were getting out of hand.
Last night she couldn’t sleep and found herself doing something she wasn’t proud of…she Googled him. Now she knows where he lives, that he has a wife and two kids etc. Though she felt like a stalker, she hoped that would be the end of it.
But knowing about his private life didn’t help - it didn’t dampen her feelings for him one bit. And the thing is, she hasn’t even told him how she feels. She’s afraid he’ll refer her to someone else.
Jennie’s not aware that that feelings of attraction are not an unusual occurrence in therapy. Called transference, it's typically associated with psychotherapy and encompasses pretty much any feelings that get stirred up regarding your therapist.
Jennie's also in luck because there's a good chance her therapist will be prepared to work with her on the transference. In previous days, this wasn't always the case.
In traditional psychotherapies clients suffering from transference had no idea what was really going on. Unless or until they finally disclosed these feelings to their therapist (or a trusted friend) they were effectively on their own.
And even if they chose to bring the subject up in therapy, they often had a hard time getting a straight answer.
You see, the profession habored a cold, highly "left brain" bias. The equal importance of the right brain and nervous system revealed by the latest advances in neuroscience hadn't yet been added to the therapists' mindset, let alone their clinical training.
Indeed, with some psychoanalytical approaches the therapist said little as possible about transference (to avoid pulling the client out of the process.
In fact, psychoanalysts were discouraged from saying too much period, because the goal of psychoanalytic therapy was to heighten the transference). That made it easier for both the therapist and client to see it.
The main problem though was that the focus was on analysis of the transference - clients were encouraged to logically "think through" and see the transference for what it was. The farthest thing from a therapist's mind was to be in resonance with the client's nervous system, making him or herself emotionally available.
Unfortunately, this left clients pretty much drowning in the helplessness of early undefended child-like states without any tools to navigate their way clear.
The solution back then was simple...see your therapist more often...maybe twice a week for starters, for years on end sometimes.
Now hopefully, in most cases this vulnerability was not taken advantage of. However, you can imagine how frightening the client’s dependency could be.
This is why most analysts were required to undergo their own personal therapy as part of their training.
And while I don’t agree with these methods (brain science offers other solutions for transference), they were right that facing and processing your transference paid huge benefits.
So for years transference has been shrouded in mystery and only recently has the subject been openly discussed and recognized by the wider mental health community as a normal part of therapy.
In fact, the Internet has been a godsend - folks in therapy can now connect with others going through the same process. But still, many going into therapy have no idea that transference can strike without warning.
Is transference a good thing?
Absolutely. It's one of the best kept secrets. Transference can completely transform how you feel about yourself because it's often rooted in our earliest, sometimes pre-verbal, emotional development.
It makes accessible an area of the brain that can't be changed with talk therapy alone.
Of course, successful resolution of your transference depends on a few key conditions being met especially the interactive skills of an attuned therapist who's emotionally available.
You might be wondering what kinds of changes can you expect? Well, transference draws its power from our most powerful emotional drives to belong and feel whole, and understandably that can cover a lot of ground.
Just as an example, working out the transference can benefit you tremendously if you feel less worthy than others, less emotionally capable, or you feel less entitled to have what you want or need.
Imagine how your life would change if you could experience the world as confidently as you see others experiencing it!
How neuroscience explains transference
Everyone we meet leaves a mark that influences how we see ourselves and experience the world. Neuroscience confirms that how you experience another person is unconsciously influenced by how you experienced everyone else over the years.
That’s because every person you meet triggers different emotional memories. Those memories shape how you experience yourself, and everyone else.
"I am a part of all that I have met..." Tennyson
Transference actually operates in all our relationships to some degree. It’s rooted in unconscious past emotional experiences that still guide our moment-to-moment thoughts, feelings and behaviors.
Find it hard to believe?
Well, recall your earliest friendships. Would you experience a childhood friend the same way if you were to meet him or her for the first time today?
In fact, would you even become friends today? What about meeting an old love? Would the attraction still be there after all the experiences you've had in the intervening years?
How you experience someone is unique to you. For example, there's a professional colleague whom I regard as a father figure, even though we’re the same age. I look up to him, and if I were honest with myself, I’m a little in awe.
But that’s not how my friend sees him. She finds him pompous!
So we all see each other based on our unique histories. In effect, we transfer the feelings, memories and sensations associated with our past significant relationships onto others in the present, in our own unique way.
Of course, those who cared for us early on - typically our parents - have the deepest impact shaping how we experience others.
How transference shows up in therapy
So, transference happens when you unconsciously 'transfer' the feelings, memories and desires you experienced in your early important relationships onto your therapist.
Therapy heightens this unconscious propensity for transferring your feelings into the therapeutic relationship. It's intensified because therapy happens privately, within strict personal boundaries (and where the conversation is typically one way), there are no distractions to dilute how you experience your therapist. It can feel as though they’re caused by the therapist.
"He’s such a softie..even with his big belly..I want him to hold me so badly."
"I don’t understand what's happening. I’m not into women and now I’m attracted to my therapist who’s female. It doesn’t make sense."
These feelings can take many forms apart from a romantic or erotic attraction (eg. you might feel as dependent as a child looking forward to seeing your Mom).
That’s how Robert feels towards his therapist. He loves being in therapy. It’s like going back to a home he never had. Her office even has a smell that he can detect just walking down the hall towards her door.
He yearns to be hugged by her but he’s afraid she’ll think it odd if he asks. The hardest time is the end of a session, knowing it’s a whole week before he'll see her again. The waiting can be unbearable.
Tanya is far from feeling attracted. In fact, she’s considering leaving therapy altogether…for many reasons. For one, she finds him cold and distant. For another he doesn’t always answers her questions, and he then asks why she wants to know. And she hates when he writes his notes when she’s talking.
The worst is that she distrusts his sincerity when he says he cares about her well-being. She had no idea that she would develop such a strong reaction. You see, she’s done enough research to know that not all therapists understand transference (or can handle it). She wonders whether her feelings are coming from transference or whether this guy’s just not emotionally open. It’s so hard to tell.
Ironically, it’s become a problem in itself, in addition to the issues she came to therapy for. Tanya has an inkling it’s related to feelings for her father, whom she found overbearing. But if she terminates her therapy she’ll probably never find out.
Indeed, for many folks it’s only after they successfully resolve their transference feelings and experience themselves in new ways that they really grasp the power of it.
So Tanya’s wondering how “working through transference” will help her when her therapist shares so little emotionally. To complicate the situation, she also knows that not everyone gets through their transference successfully.
Brain facts for moving through transference
If you’re in therapy you already know that the relationship you have with your therapist is not typical of ‘normal’ relationships. The focus of conversation is all about you.
Good therapists rarely say anything about themselves that isn’t in the service of helping you, the client.
For many, therapy might be the first time in their lives they’ve gotten so much personal attention. It often triggers early memories (good and bad) of being cared for as an infant, when someone had to feed, clothe and bathe you.
Brain rules work together to create transference:
Brain Fact: Every function evolved with a purpose.
It may not be apparent, but there’s always an underlying agenda. In particular, whatever strengthens you emotionally will help ensure you find your place and survive as a valued member of your social group.
What does it have to do with transference? Well, for one, you can trust that transference has a purpose. (It's not your brain run amuck )
Brain Fact: All memories are interconnected.
For example, it’s easier to remember who you hung out with in high school when you can picture what you did together back then. The names are all inside you, but they're easier to connect when you can 'see' what they look like.
The reason more connections are advantageous is because greater complexity leads to greater creativity, which maximizes our ability to adapt, and ultimately to survive.
It's also why one seemingly innocent event potentially triggers anxiety - it's tapping into an earlier, not so pleasant memory.
Brain Fact: The sense of “you” and your self-image arises out of the thousands of experiences you've had since birth.
The most potent of these experiences were those that occurred when your infant brain and nervous system were still developing.
Brain Fact: Emotional memories are different from other memories because they persist (ie. they don't fade away).
Brain Fact: It doesn’t matter how far back emotional memories go, they can be triggered in circumstances similar to those when they were first laid down (eg. being cared for by your therapist can be reminiscent of being cared for as a child).
That means the emotional memories laid down early in infancy and childhood are first to shape how you feel about yourself. They’re called implicit memories (as opposed to explicit memories, like remembering what you ate for dinner last night).
When implicit memories are triggered, it’s like hearing a piece of music and being filled with a soothing feeling but not remembering where or when you heard it before. You experience it happening right now and you feel all the comfort, safety and security you did back then.
Although you may not remember that it was the same music your mother played when you were a child, but your nervous system does.
So Tanya's memory of the father who ignored her is still intact, and it's behind how she experiences her therapist. If she could take a step back, she might see that’s the same way she experiences other guys - especially those who are emotionally distant.
Brain Fact: The brain's inborn drive for growth and wholeness will unconsciously pressure you to seek out experiences that complete you.
That means, if any stages of your emotional development gets skipped over for some reason, there still remains a subtle urge to complete what didn’t happen. Tying up those loose emotional ends could be the primary benefit. That’s the task that needs to be worked through with your transference.
In other words, as your relationship with your therapist evolves, familiar feelings related to previous connections with others (even other therapists!) are triggered. You begin to experience your therapist - in the present - in much the same way you had experienced a significant person from your past.
Again, transference happens when you unconsciously transfer the feelings, memories and desires you experienced in your early important relationships onto your therapist.
So why would I experience my colleague as a warm father figure when my friend finds him pompous? One clue is that my biological father wasn’t in my life very long, and a stepfather who came along later was emotionally unavailable.
From an emotional development point of view it stands to reason that inside I feel incomplete - I yearn to have a 'make-up' experience that would help me feel whole.
How working through transference helps you
Basically, transference provides an opportunity for these early events to be re-experienced, not just endlessly talked about in therapy.
Transference brings these buried memories to life, where you can work through the underlying unmet needs or developmental gaps. It’s also why Jennie, Robert and Tanya could benefit by broaching how they feel with their therapist.
Therapy can easily get stalled for a long time when ‘the elephant in the room’ isn’t brought into the work.
And yes, doing this will be risky for each of them, and not just because they'll feel embarrassed. The greater risk is in how their therapists react.
Some therapists disregard transference, seeing it as an irrelevant but unavoidable by-product of therapy, more of a nuisance.
In other words, even if you disclose your true feelings, your therapist may not think anything of it and continue working as though it didn't exist. He or she may simply not understand the potential transference holds for deep personal change.
Other therapists may feel uncomfortable if their skill set is not up to handling your disclosure. Some may even refer you to another therapist.
But even if he’s never dealt with transference in his practice, your therapist can simply do what others have done in similar situations: get supervision from a therapist who knows how to handle these situations.
Most clients are willing to work with therapists when an authentic connection has been made, even when a therapist openly acknowledges limited experience in an area.
(What client wouldn’t be thrilled to work with a therapist who values an authentic, attuned connection?)
My personal opinion about transference
Most people, indeed many therapists, believe that transformative change happens through what could be called ‘left brain’ talk therapy.
In other words, if you talk enough about a subject, that it will lead to change.
However, even if you're able to allow the underlying emotions to be released by talking about them, there's unlikely to be any fundamental change if certain brain-wise conditions aren't met. (Otherwise, talking to a trusted friend would have similar results as therapy.)
Here's the problem.
Conventional therapy takes one of two approaches to change both of which I believe have serious limitations and a higher risk for emotional harm. One involves the therapist presenting as a blank screen upon which you the client verbally project a picture of your emotional state. It is assumed that you will change as a result of any insight into your issues acquired. The second approach assumes that changing your thoughts will change your emotions.
For clients working through intense transference feelings, these approaches are tantamount to sending children out into a winter storm without jackets. They end up re-experiencing pretty much what got them to therapy in the first place: insufficient attuned care.
If they cannot see themselves in the non-judgmental eyes of a therapist, there is nothing for the brain to learn from, no protection to help them navigate the "cold".
While both have their place, these approaches leave out what research in emotional development and neuroscience have confirmed over and over again, that personal change in therapy depends upon your experience(s) in therapy.
And a therapist who is empathetic, attuned and vitally engaged with you provides that life-changing experience in spades.
So the work of resolving the transference happens by chance in a hit or miss fashion…and takes much longer than need be, often years longer.
Given what we know now about how therapy changes the brain, that should not be happening.
So let me be clear about this. Can transference be resolved if your therapist practices Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)? Yes, as long your therapist goes beyond the standard technical aspects of the model. However, being emotionally available, being present with clients, and focusing on moment to moment interactions are not taught as part of that model.
Even so, there are always a few heartfelt CBT practitioners who manage to help their clients in deep and meaningful ways
Can your therapist help you resolve your transference if he or she is psychoanalytically trained? Yes, but only to the degree that your therapist departs from the traditional ‘blank slate’ model (ie. say little, be emotionally unavailable, and prefer analysis over present moment experience).
And yes, there’s some heartfelt psychoanalytically-trained practitioners who just can’t help themselves and manage to help their clients in deep and meaningful ways
Can transference be resolved if your therapist is ‘body-based’? Yes, and probably faster than the average therapist could do.
You see, the body-based approach is the clinical application of the best of brain science. It reaches areas of the brain that talk therapy never could (especially pre-verbal developmental patterns). Its basic tenets, including attachment, emotional containment, moment to moment interaction, and presence, ensure that any transference reactions will be recognized, examined, and if possible utilized in the therapy.
It’s also the best treatment model for anxiety because body based therapists know more than anyone that their ability to regulate clients’ high states of emotion is based on their own nervous system capacity to modulate sometimes overwhelming emotional energies.
Body based therapists also have numerous tools ("self-regulating techniques") that enable clients to manage overwhelming emotions on their own.
In particular, these body-based techniques help their clients to resolve and move beyond transference to fully developing their self-regulation skills.
On the other hand, even a body-based practitioner can take much longer than others when their nervous system can't contain and regulate a client’s emotional states.
How to deal with transference
Here's two tips that'll help you to move through your transference faster.
One is to understand that recognizing transference is only the first step in working with it.
In order to get the most out of your therapy and to ultimately change you at your core, the brain needs to "experience" feelings associated with your transference in the present moment.
Just discussing your feelings in the abstract, disconnected from your emotional reactions in the here and now, will do very little to resolve the transference.
Secondly, you need a new “healing” experience to override old patterns in the brain. Emotional unloading isn't sufficient.
These "healing" experiences generally emerge organically through the interactions with your therapist.
The not-so-good news is that these pivotal moments tend to occur at random. This needlessly prolongs your time in therapy.
Fortunately, we've learned from body-based clinical practice that there are some fairly simple concrete steps you can take to hone in on the transference and deliver the kind of experience your brain needs to move on.
In other words, you can actually be much more purposeful about moving through your transference. For one, these "pivotal moments" can be recalled repeatedly, automatically triggering the good feelings you had back then. This practice in essence "fills" you up on the inside by creating new neuropathways in the brain.
With persistence you can promote any change you want by replacing outdated or non-existent connections.
That's right, it fills in the gaps!
Pat yourself on the back if you're in therapy!
It's the most efficient and effective personal change agent I know. That's because within the safety and confidentiality of the therapeutic relationship, you can experience the powerful emotions of transference and use them to make incredible personal changes (and only two people in the world know anything about it!
Try Therapy Bootcamp so you can get results like these:
"I had my session with my T. before she goes on vacation...So here I am the next day after my session and I feel mostly fine. No heartache or longing. Old me would still be in tears and not know why...This is HUGE progress for me." Shelley
Therapy Lingo Article?
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)
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,
"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.
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,
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?
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,
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)
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,
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.
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,
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)
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.
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.
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,
Click here to learn how to sort through transference faster.
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