I’ve Developed Feelings for Our Couples Therapist. Should I See Him Alone?

Hi. My husband and I are currently in couples/family therapy. The problem is that I developed strong transference for the therapist. I truly adore him; sometimes I feel sexually attracted to him, and sometimes I feel uncomfortable of what he may think of me. I want to see him, but I also dread going to our sessions. I feel guilty because of my feelings (like I'm betraying my husband emotionally), but I can't stop thinking about the therapist and yearning to see him. A while ago, he did give me the option to come to sessions alone, due to my personal problems, but I didn't want my husband to be angry or jealous, so I said we'd continue coming together. Now I regret declining his offer, but I don't know how to bring it up or if it would perhaps be a bad idea. I'm confused. I wish I knew what the therapist thinks of me, and if I should try therapy alone with him or with a different therapist. Thanks so much for your help! —Yearning
Dear Yearning,

First of all, I’d like to reassure you that transference is often a natural part of therapy. It is understandable that you would develop feelings for someone who is supportive, encouraging, and warm, particularly if the other key relationships in your life are not as satisfying for you as they once may have been. In and of itself, transference isn’t a negative thing—in fact, it can provide a valuable opportunity to gain useful insights and can be used effectively in your sessions.

Where it can get problematic is if it blocks the work, if it brings feelings of shame and guilt that go unresolved, or if it is bound in secrecy. Secret keeping can seriously undermine couples counseling. Your instincts to continue to include your husband in your counseling sessions are spot-on. Ideally, you, your therapist, and your husband would be able to talk about and work through these very natural feelings of transference together. Bringing these feelings out in the open might reduce their intensity and your discomfort. If you don’t feel ready for that, I would suggest talking with another therapist to give yourself an opportunity to explore in greater detail what your transference has brought up for you. Given the complexity of your feelings for your current therapist, I think that it would likely be better to do any individual work with a different therapist.

Even when transference is not part of the situation, it can be very difficult for the same therapist to do couples work and individual work. When I work with couples, if either person wants to do individual work, we set clear boundaries and expectations before working together. I let them know that they must be willing to share with their partner anything they bring to me in an individual session. I cannot hold individual secrets while working with a couple—it sets up an unbalanced dynamic and undermines the process. If they are not ready to share with their partner, I refer either the individual or the couple to another practitioner.

You mentioned that you wish you knew what your therapist thinks of you. It’s actually a good sign that you don’t. When appropriate therapeutic boundaries are established, therapy is not a two-way street. It’s not a give-and-take relationship in the sense that friendships or romantic partnerships are. It is a very one-sided relationship—you share your thoughts and feelings, share who you truly are, but the therapist remains more of a neutral figure. You shouldn’t really know his personal opinions, his life story, or how he feels. You might get glimmers of the person he is, but you shouldn’t know him the way people in his personal life do. When those boundaries are established and secure, transference doesn’t pose a real threat. It’s when those boundaries are blurry that it can become unhealthy.

Best of luck!
Erika

Erika Myers
Erika Myers, MS, MEd, LPC, NCC is a licensed psychotherapist and former educator specializing in working with families in transition (often due to separation or divorce) as well as individuals seeking support with relationship issues, parenting, depression, anxiety, grief/loss/bereavement, and managing major life changes. Although her theoretical orientation is eclectic, she most frequently uses a person-centered, strengths-based approach and cognitive behavioral therapy in her practice.
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  • quinn

    quinn

    May 18th, 2013 at 5:25 AM

    I knew that this kind of thing happened, but I don’t know that I would be bale to work through those feelings enough to go to that therapist again.

    I guess that a big part of me would feel like it wasn’t safe for me to do that especially if I am going to this person already in a weakened and vulnerable position. I understand that a good therapist is going to know that this sometimes happens and could help me work through it, but I would personally be too mortified and I think that for me the better choice would be to find someone different with whom i could work.

  • Henry

    Henry

    May 19th, 2013 at 12:05 AM

    as a doctor myself I would never want to get into any kind of relationship with a client of mine.there is just too many things going in professionally to think of anything like that with a client.and it could lead to legal problems.so no thank you to that!

  • bree y

    bree y

    May 20th, 2013 at 4:38 AM

    Might be a pretty dangerous scenario to put yourself in.
    Not that the doctor would succomb
    But it might just be best all around to find someone else

  • elizabeth

    elizabeth

    May 20th, 2013 at 11:56 PM

    you’re not only going to destroy the work being done to help your relationship but are also going to bring in a whole new set of problems. dont do it. plain and simple.

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