Last year I started therapy. I have a very troubled past, I was abused. I never really had any kind of therapy, and I decided to go into it because of some issues that had begun to pop up. I went for about 3 months. I decided to stop, even though I had hardly worked on any issues. The reason is that I began to have these strong feelings for my therapist. I didn't like the feeling. I wished she could've been my mother and was always thinking about her. When I would go into therapy it started to get to the point where I couldn't even talk about how I was feeling for fear of what she might think of me. She was really nice. So I just stopped going. I did have a last session. I decided to take a trip which didn't really need to be taken, that was my excuse. I want to go back but am scared. I still have the same issues and really don't want anybody else. Should I go back to her or look for someone else? It just felt so uncomfortable. I know it's wrong and that's why I stopped. I never told her. I just don't know how to deal with this. I keep thinking if I go somewhere else it could happen again...I'm not sure. Please let me know if this is something that can be worked out or if it's considered inappropriate. Thank You. - Confused
First, I want to congratulate you for your courage in reaching out to a therapist and beginning the healing process that can unfold when you get into counseling. You mention that you’ve never really had any kind of therapy although you were abused in your past. I can’t emphasize enough how important trust is, and I want to especially point out that you hung in with this therapist for 3 whole months…good on you! This is definitely something that can be worked out and worked on and your strong feelings for your therapist are entirely natural, appropriate, and yes, essential.
Essential because therapy is all about the power of relationship. Good therapists should be able to accept you completely and entirely as you are. Carol Rogers called this “unconditional positive regard.” So you really don’t need to worry about what your therapist might think of you. You can learn from your thoughts about her! When clients have feelings like you’re describing, psychotherapists and counselors often refer to them as transference. What’s being transferred? The general idea is that, unconsciously, emotional feelings that you may have had or wished you could have had as a child are transferred from your parents or other caretaker to your therapist. So clients often have feelings for their therapists that are like the ones that children have towards their parents. Sometimes it feels like falling in love. Transference is completely natural and normal, and it can enhance the experience of therapy significantly.
Your experience of positive transference toward your former therapist is very likely a rich and powerful message from your internal world about what you missed in childhood. So it could present a wonderful opportunity for you to learn how to love, nurture, and care for the wounded child that still lives within you. Since healing is an “inside job,” therapy can offer the opportunity find that healing.
Often and for many of us these thoughts might remind us of what we missed when we were growing up. Ideally mothers are warm, reliable, and nurturing. Unfortunately, for many of us our moms weren’t like that or even capable of nurturing. I’m guessing you might have experienced some of this deprivation, creating a huge contradiction for you as you began to spend therapy time with a person who was “really nice.” Red lights – sirens – confusion – yikes!
No wonder you just stopped going. Nothing is wrong—with you or with your therapist. These kinds of feelings can all be part of the healing process, so I strongly encourage you to talk openly and honestly about your feelings, as it sounds like you’ve begun to establish a good connection with this therapist. Any professional and ethical therapist will be able to accept and understand your feelings without taking the transference personally. Also, some people find that they are more comfortable not working face to face, but by telephone. This might be an option that would be preferable for you, at least in the beginning. You are safe in the privacy of your own home—not someone’s office. If you do decide to go to a different therapist, just be very certain that the therapist has experience and expertise working with survivors of abuse.