You share your most intimate secrets with your therapist, who may sometimes be your closest confidant. But what are you supposed to do when one of these secrets has to do with said therapist and your unrelenting admiration for him or her?
What you don’t need to do is quit seeing your therapist or bury your face in your hands during your sessions. Experts say experiencing some kind of attraction toward your counselor is not atypical — and chances are, your therapist has dealt with something similar before.
Recognizing your feelings and working through them with your therapist may actually help you grow. So before you let yourself become overwhelmed with shame or embarrassment for what you’re going through, take a deep breath and read on for some advice on what to do next.
Know that your feelings are normal.
Sure, it can be awkward to realize you’re feeling some kind of way toward your mental health professional, but it’s important you know that the experience is pretty common. “I hear about it often in therapy circles,” Andrea Bonior, a clinical psychologist in the Washington area, told HuffPost. “It’s a topic that therapists do talk about and seem to deal with with some frequency.”
Sean Grover, a psychoanalyst in New York, added that your romantic or tingly feelings for your therapist could be a standard case of something called transference.
“Transference is a psychoanalytic term that basically means you’re transferring feelings from one relationship to another,” Grover said. “These are generally early experiences you project on other people, and they’re often at the root of why people repeat certain patterns [in relationships] and get caught in some kind of dynamic.”
Try to understand why you might be feeling this way.
While you’ll hopefully be able to work this out with the guidance of your therapist, it might be helpful to internally try to understand why you’re having feelings for your doctor. Therapy is “a personal relationship that feels very positive and nurturing,” Bonior said, so “it’s not uncommon for these feelings to develop — even if it’s not a sexual attraction, these feelings of admiration and gratitude might form into a platonic crush.”
“It’s quite natural to develop feelings for someone who provides care for you.”
– Andrea Bonior, clinical psychologist
If your therapist is doing their job, then they’re providing you with a space in which you’re comfortable being vulnerable — maybe that’s a circumstance you associate with feeling loved. And, Bonior said, if you’re feeling alone or insecure, “It’s quite natural to develop feelings for someone who provides care for you.” Therapists may often be a stand-in for other people in your life with whom you didn’t have the relationship you craved, whether that’s a parent figure or otherwise.
Know that these feelings can actually contribute to your healing process.
Grover said that, depending on the training of the therapist, they might use their patient’s emotional experiences as a path for healing when it comes to other areas of your life.
“Let’s say someone felt unloved or unaccepted by their parents — and here comes a therapist later in life who delivers the goods,” Grover said. “[The therapist] mourns when [patients] lose and celebrates when they win … really an ideal parent.”
In this scenario, the patient may use the support of their therapist to help fill the unmet needs in their life.
A feeling may also be illuminating, Bonoir said. You may realize that you fall for someone when they show care for you, perhaps because you’re not used to being cared for. Recognizing this pattern can lead to immense growth.
Every individual will have their own personal history that could help explain the crush that has developed, but starting to think about what needs your therapist is fulfilling may provide insight into why you’re feeling what you’re feeling.
“We want to encourage the freedom of self-expression without fear of consequences,” Grover said. “When there’s no danger of anything happening as a result, [the patient can] become much more liberated and accepting of their feelings. They may be [more prepared] to develop intimate relationships without stumbling into old habits.”
Know that it’s just a feeling.
This is not meant to belittle your feelings — emotions can be strong and overwhelming ― but the whole point of therapy is to take better control over them or learn how to appropriately deal with them. “There are no positive or negative feelings,” Grover said. “They’re just feelings. How you manage them ultimately decides their value.”
Many types of therapy would welcome you to share these kinds of feelings. If you do decide to share this particular feeling with your therapist, know that it’s all part of the process.
Recognize that these feelings will not move toward any kind of romantic relationship.
It’s important to realize that your therapist will not reciprocate your feelings, Bonoir stressed, as doing so “would be completely verboten.”
“As long as you view these feelings as something that you need to sort out rather than something you’re going to act on, then you’re OK,” she added.
“As long as you view these feelings as something that you need to sort out rather than something than something you’re going to act on, then you’re OK.”
Your therapist will be able to help you figure out if your feelings are something you can work through, or if they’re getting in the way of your work together.
“The end goal is to do what’s best for you in terms of helping your progress forward,” she said. “If your sexual attraction impedes that progress, it could very well be that you need to see someone else ― and that’s OK.”
If you decide you need to move on to a new mental health professional, don’t feel daunted by the process. There are ways you can find a new therapist without completely starting over or undoing any progress you’ve already made (this guide offers helpful advice). Remember that ultimately you should be making the best choices for your well-being.