Advice from Claire: What to Do When You’re Crushing on Your Therapist
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Do you have a crush on your therapist? Claire gives you some insights into why this may be happening and gives you a tip on what to do about it. Plus, she answers a question from a listener whose family disapproves of the guy she loves.
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Claire Bidwell-Smith 00:01
Do you have a crush on your therapist? Relax, it’s more common than you think. I’m Claire Bidwell-Smith. And that’s what we’re talking about today on NEW DAY. I’ll tell you a secret. I had a crush on my first therapist. And the experience taught me a lot about how to handle boundaries in my work today as a therapist myself. I was only 25. And my father had just died. My mom had been gone for seven years, and I was basically a hot mess. I’d never been in therapy before and had a lot of stuff to process. I was also broke. So, the best I could afford was to go to a clinic where psychology grad students were training to become therapists. And I was assigned to this guy who was only a few years older than me. He also looked like Christian Bale. Yeah. After I got over my initial shock over his hotness, I actually really settled into therapy, and it was amazing. I was way overdue to work on my shit. This guy, let’s call him Christian, was actually a pretty decent therapist. And I really poured out all the details and trauma over what it had been like to watch both of my parents die of cancer. Christian was kind and empathic, and I felt like he really listened to me. And I also felt like even when I told him the worst and hardest parts of my story, he didn’t judge me. I felt really safe with him and genuinely cared about. But the more we work together, the more attached I became to Christian. I started thinking about him all the time, and even fantasizing about what it would be like to be with him in a romantic way. This is super embarrassing. But I even started dressing up a little for our sessions. I finally confessed my feelings to Christian one day and I could tell he was startled. He put it together. And he explained that what I was experiencing was called transference. What is transference you ask? Well, the definition of transference describes a situation where the feelings desires and expectations of one person are redirected and applied to another person. Most commonly transference refers to a therapeutic setting where a person in therapy may apply certain feelings or emotions towards a therapist. The concept of transference was first described by good old Sigmund Freud in his 1895 books, studies on hysteria, where he noted the deep, intense and often unconscious feelings that sometimes developed within the therapeutic relationships he established with those he was treating. In my case, it wasn’t so unconscious. I was a young grieving 20 something who felt really alone in the world. And my therapist was a hot, compassionate guy who seemed to understand everything about me. Anyway, I’m going to cut this story short and just tell you that it didn’t end well. Nothing sexual ever happened between us. But Christian did end up extending our relationship into a friendship beyond the walls of the therapy room, in a way that was unethical, and certainly not helpful to my own healing.
Claire Bidwell-Smith 02:42
See, the thing about transference is that it can actually be really useful in therapy. I was alone in the world and desperately wanting someone to come along and take care of me and love me, all of which I transferred on to Christian. If he had worked with me on exploring those needs, and also kept appropriate boundaries, we could have worked together towards a proper termination process that would have taught me the reparative lesson of being able to say goodbye to someone without losing them in a traumatic way. But regardless of how that whole thing played out, not to mention the repair work I had to do with a much older female therapist. The experience with Christian taught me so many valuable lessons about the client therapist relationship, and just why it’s so important to maintain boundaries and explore the transference in a helpful way. Alright, so moving on to your crush on your therapist. Maybe you find yourself thinking about them a lot outside of therapy, or even fantasizing about having a romantic relationship. Maybe you just want to fuck them. Maybe you keep obsessing on any little detail, you can find out about them. Whatever it is, I want to start by telling you that it’s really normal and very common to feel these things. I mean, if you think about it, it’s easy to understand why you might have developed these feelings. Your therapist may embody many, if not all the qualities that you desired an ideal mate. Therapists are accepting, attentive, kind and non-judgmental, and for at least an hour a week, they’re fully engaged with you. The problem with this situation is that you’re falling for an image you have at the therapist, not for who they actually are. You likely know very little about your therapist and you’ve used your imagination to fill in the rest. You’ve created a fantasy of sorts of your unmet needs, and have imagined that the therapist is that person. The next thing to know is that having a crush on your therapist isn’t a reason to end therapy, as long as you work to understand your feelings and have no intention of acting on them. The goal is for the therapist to work through these feelings with you, to gain more insight into your underlying wants, needs, motivations and fears.
Claire Bidwell-Smith 04:36
This understanding can ultimately help you reach recovery and health. For example, a therapist might point out that falling in love with unavailable people is a reoccurring pattern in your life, and then help you work towards transforming that issue. Or maybe you’ve never experienced the kind of warmth and acceptance that comes with the therapist client relationship. Your therapist can help you understand why you find these feelings so intoxicating. And that’s when you’re likely to experience personal growth. Okay, so I know what you’re thinking, should you seriously tell your therapist that you’re crushing on them? The answer is yes. revealing your feelings can actually become a significant turning point in your relationship. In most cases, this deepens the therapeutic work, it allows you to process things on a deeper level. Obviously, it’s going to take some courage and trust for you to share this with your therapist. But taking that kind of risk in therapy is really necessary for growth. But now you’re wondering, OMG, how is your therapist going to respond? Well, there’s a number of ways. First, it’s likely that they’ve been in this very situation with other clients. In fact, I can’t think of one therapist who hasn’t had a client or several develop this kind of transference. It’s so common that we get training in school and clinical practice for how to handle this situation. Well, maybe Christian Bale didn’t, but whatever. Ideally, your therapist will respond by being able to help you recognize what’s going on beneath the crash. Most of the time, we’re able to work with you in this scenario to generate really meaningful transformation. Of course, if your therapist isn’t comfortable continuing to work together, they may refer you to someone else. But more often than not, therapists really view transference as an opportunity to do some deeper work. So don’t be afraid to tell them what’s going on. Now look, obviously, if your therapist responds by reciprocating romantic feelings, then well, happily ever after. I’m kidding, you should actually run for the hills seriously, this is highly unethical and inappropriate. And no matter how great you think your therapist is, this is not going to end well. That’s because this is what’s called a dual relationship when people are in two very different types of relationships at the same time. For example, it’s unethical for a therapist to treat a close friend or relative. It’s also unethical for a therapist to have a sexual relationship with a client. I mean, maybe you don’t even have a crush on your therapist so much as you’d like to be friends with them, like real friends out in the world. And while there are no official rules, or ethical guidelines from either the American Psychological Association, or American Psychiatric Association, regarding friendships with former clients, it’s highly discouraged. And here’s why. First, you can’t become friends with your therapist until after therapy concludes. And even then there’s this murky gray area that presents a bunch of challenges. Mainly the idea that the transference aspects of the relationships and the power imbalance formed in therapy never fully disappear. Not to mention, what if you decide you want to return to therapy again, in the future, if you decide to recommend therapy, and you’ve become friends with your former therapist, you’re definitely going to have to seek out a new one for future treatment. Okay, I know this was long, but there was a lot to say.
Claire Bidwell-Smith 07:36
I’ll conclude by telling you that this scenario has arisen multiple times in the years since I’ve been a therapist. Honestly, it can be intense and awkward. But pushing through that part seriously lends itself to some really amazing work and true transformation for the client. I actually find myself really grateful for my experience with that first therapist, it really taught me how delicate the client therapist relationship is, how important it is to treat clients with utmost integrity and respect. And that having the chance to repair some of the fucked up ways we attach to other people can be some of the most healing work we can do in our lives. So, get out there and tell your shrink, you’ve got the hots for them.
Claire Bidwell-Smith 08:17
Today’s listener question really got me thinking, I love spending time thinking about how best to answer these questions from you. So, if you have something to ask me, I hope you do. You can shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or fill out the form at bit.ly/newdayask. That’s how Christine and Seattle got in touch. She wrote, I’m in the relationship, I think is my forever relationship. The problem is that my family doesn’t like him. I’m very close with my family. And I’ve always had this vision of calling them to tell them I’m engaged and to have them all react with joy. I know that would not be their reaction. If I get engaged to the person I’m currently dating, how much weight should I give their disapproval? I can imagine a lifetime with him. But I can’t imagine a lifetime of tension between him and my family. Hi, Christine, thank you so much for writing. This is a tough one. I mean, really tough. I’m so glad to hear that you found your forever relationship. But it’s really troubling that your family isn’t on board and may never be, that’s gonna be really hard and sad and confusing. It sounds like it’s this time in your life when you’re really happy and excited about the future. But you have this dark cloud on the horizon, too. I have a lot of thoughts. The first one is that I think you should do your best not to assume that you know how things are going to play out. For instance, just because they’re disapproving now doesn’t mean that they’re always going to be there’s a version where they get their shit together when you get engaged and they realize how serious things are and they don’t want to lose you either. Or maybe they still don’t come around after the engagement but maybe they do down the road. Or maybe there’s some things you can do before the engagement to get things in a better place. And I’ll get to these in a minute. I have to say though, I’m left wondering why your family isn’t into this guy. You didn’t mention the reason and there could be so many. Maybe they’re not into his politics or race or cultural background and in those are heavy, hard things, but also not insurmountable. Or maybe there’s something you’re leaving out, because even though you love this guy, there’s something that your family disapproves of, that really isn’t great. Let’s stick with this one for just a minute. Because it’s important. Let’s say your guy has a rude personality or anger issues or financial problems, or they just don’t love the way he treats you. Those are the kinds of things that can sometimes be easy to dismiss in the beginning throes of a romance, they’re the ones that like, really might rear their heads later on in your relationship, but that you’re kind of blinded to right now. So it might be worth listening to your family, and really pondering if there’s some stuff here that you might need to consider before actually moving forward with him. If I were you, I would try to put my family to the side and get really honest with myself about whatever it is they don’t like.
Claire Bidwell-Smith 10:53
Sometimes, we hide truths from ourselves, especially in the beginning of relationships. I’d also check in with my most trusted friends, do they like them? Are they giving you the green light? Or do they share the same concerns as your family? Whatever the answers are here, it doesn’t mean you have to immediately break up with them. It just means that you should give the relationship more time before you decide on a lifetime commitment. Like try living together. If you’re not, introduce them to more of your friends, travel with him, make sure you meet his friends and family and extended circle. Someone once told me that you should spend four seasons with someone to really get to know them. Get through a whole year if you haven’t. Make sure you’ve been through some like Big ups and downs while you’re together to see how you both respond and how you interact with each other when you’re stressed. Whatever you do, just make sure you being really honest with yourself about all of his traits and any red flags. All right now, if there’s really nothing wrong with this guy, and your family is reacting for their own reasons, again, whether it’s political or cultural, or just overprotectiveness, then it’s time for a family sit down. I would hate to see you have to choose between being close with their family or this guy that you love. But this is going to require a little work. So first, an honest conversation with them, hear them out, make sure they hear you out, address their concerns, as best you can. Ask them to understand how they’re making you feel and how much sadness they’re causing you. Maybe you start by doing this, like by writing them a letter. Or maybe you can sit down with them in person. You could even enlist the help of a family therapist and do a few group sessions to work through these tough conversations. I just think it would be worth it to try one of these things. Lastly, I’m curious how your guy is handling this, no matter the reason for this riff, it’s gotta be hard on him. I’m assuming he also feels like he’s met his forever person. And it can’t feel good to know that her family isn’t into him. So do your best to make sure you’re really an open communication about all the tensions and feelings that this is going to be bringing up for both of you. I would urge you not to hide your own feelings or what’s going on with your family from him even when it’s hard, because hiding this stuff or trying to sweep it under the rug is only going to come back to bite you later. If it’s difficult to talk about. I again recommend doing a few sessions with a couples therapist so you can talk through it a little better and get some support. Christine, thank you so much for writing. Will you do me a favor and follow up? I really want to hear how things turn out for you. I’m hoping it all works out in the best way possible for everyone involved.
Claire Bidwell-Smith 13:21
Okay, everyone, I really hope you come back on Friday from my conversation with Amy Picard. After Amy’s mom died suddenly in 2012, Amy realized she had no idea what to do. She didn’t know her mom had a will let alone who to call about her electricity bill. So she created a company called Good To Go. That helps people make advanced planning decisions. It’s an awesome conversation and you won’t want to miss it. The best way to make sure you catch every episode, you got it. Subscribe to NEW DAY in your favorite podcast app.
NEW DAY is a Lemonada Media Original. The show was produced by Kryssy Pease and Erianna Jiles. Kat Yore is our engineer. Music is by Hannis Brown. New Day is produced in partnership with the well-being trust the Jed foundation and Education Development Center. Thanks for listening.