Can You Love Your Therapist? Can Your Therapist Love You?
In the spirit of Valentine’s Day, I want to write about love: specifically, the love that can develop between a client and a therapist.
You might be wondering, “Really? You can love your therapist? And your therapist can love you? Isn’t that weird?”
Let me start by saying that I am not talking about love in any form that is unlawful or unethical. A therapist and client should never establish a romantic relationship or traditional friendship, and it is rarely appropriate for the therapeutic relationship to exist outside the office or clinic, or beyond the confines of a therapy session (of course, there are some exceptions to this rule including, for example, home-based therapy or social skills training that takes place in the generalized context of the outside world).
And, for the record, should romantic feelings emerge within the therapeutic relationship – either on the part of the therapist or client - there are ways for this to be handled clinically and appropriately that are beyond the scope of this post (this point I cannot stress strongly enough: professional therapy should NEVER include sex).
All that said, as I trust I have now made it clear I don’t mean this in any sort of creepy or inappropriate way: I tend to fall in love with all of my clients. I love their humanity and their willingness to show up and reveal themselves. I have enormous respect for their choice to say and experience things in session they feel are scary or ugly or even beautiful. I intensely and immensely value their vulnerability and their efforts to really look at both what is working and what is not working in their lives. Sessions with clients are sacred to me as they are an opportunity to be in genuine contact with another person in a way that is structured and protected and safe. All of this combines to form in me what I experience as a kind of love. There is a Khalil Gibran quote, “Work is love made visible” that definitely resonates here.
Clients can love their therapists, too. If therapists are doing things right, they are people – sometimes the only people – who regularly provide clients with the opportunity to be seen for who they really are and who hold space for them regardless. Certainly it is understandable to feel strongly and warmly – perhaps even, to feel love - towards someone who plays that role in their lives.
Last summer I ended treatment with the therapist I had seen intermittently for sixteen years. At our final session I gave her the letter I had written in an act of helping myself end the relationship and honoring our work together. I’ll end by sharing some of this letter, proof that the therapeutic bond can be life changing and most definitely an example of love:
It has warmed me always to know I can count on you, return to you, trust that you have kept an outline of my narrative in your mind and heart.
I’m nearly positive I wouldn’t be a therapist were it not for you. Thank you for inspiring me to do this work by not only being your full, wonderful self always, but through the help, support, and guidance you have shown me throughout these sixteen years. Yalom talks often about “the ripple effect” of being alive and impacting others, and your work with me is echoed all the time not only in my personal life but in my work with clients.
I love you so very much, and my heart shines with gratitude for you always.
Happy Valentine’s Day everyone, especially to all you therapists and clients out there💖