My Therapist Cries during Our Sessions; Is This Normal?
Dear Tears for Fears,
I appreciate your comment about therapists who cry, and I understand that it makes you uncomfortable. From the outside, I can’t know the exact cause of your therapist’s tears, but there are several possibilities.
Had your therapist been sobbing uncontrollably, the issues you shared may well have triggered something personal within her—a sign that she could benefit from doing her own therapy and is probably not fit to help you. Most experienced therapists who have done their own therapy have become comfortable with painful places most would rather avoid and, as a result, are well equipped to embody a state of compassion and to not feel overwhelmed or triggered by the issues they treat. These therapists are particularly adept at guiding people through the therapeutic process. But therapists who haven’t addressed certain personal wounds or issues in their own therapy are usually limited in helping people with similar wounds or issues.
That said, tears are more often a sign of empathy—a normal, healthy, and sincere human process of relating emotionally to the experience of another. Receiving empathy can help us feel safe and understood, strengthening the bond of trust between therapist and person in therapy. Sometimes one of the explicit goals of therapy is for people to become comfortable with vulnerable feelings. And often, a therapist transparently displaying empathy for a person helps that person foster self-compassion. I say “often” because for some, and perhaps for you, the experience instead feels uncomfortable. So, therapists cry when a person’s experiences reflect their own.
One thing is clear: your therapist’s emotions make you feel uncomfortable. So before stopping therapy, perhaps you can take this opportunity to explore why you feel this way. Are you uncomfortable with vulnerability? Is it difficult for you to receive empathy? Do you expect therapists to be superhuman and detached? Could this be an excuse to avoid therapy because it’s difficult to explore your wounds?
I highly encourage you to talk with your therapist about how her crying made you uncomfortable. Finding a therapist who is less triggering may feel easier, but it could be less productive if it avoids a deeper issue. Of course, if your therapist starts crying when you tell her this, then yeah, don’t feel bad about finding another.
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Evander HJuly 2nd, 2012 at 6:17 PM
I had a therapist one time that had a similar issue. It really worked out to be an empathy issue. He and yes I said he was breaking down on my issues with my father. He had conquered similar problems earlier in life and was very very empathetic with my situation. We conquered this much as any couple would conquer the issue by talking about it and working through the problems. I would say talk to your therapist about the issue when your not in the situation.
Jill SNovember 5th, 2012 at 5:59 PM
I wonder if what a therapist did to me was right. I had been seeing her for over 3 years. She was told by me that I had DID. She allowed email contact sometimes multiple times a day, she called me without me calling her first, and made special exceptions to therapy. She said this was all due to the fact that she thought this is what I needed. I confessed recently that I don’t have DID and that my problems were borderline personality. She cried and said, “that really hurt”.
I want to add that I believe that my progress has had a down slide after all I have been through with this t. Can anyone tell me if her crying was appropriate or any of the other things I mentioned was?
MADDIEBOctober 9th, 2019 at 6:22 AM
How did YOU end up diagnosing yourself and then correcting the diagnosis? What I mean here is… How is it that you get into a situation with a therapist where they simply take what you say at face value? In my opinion, what is odd is that throughout your communications, she never once identified red flags in your behavior, or generally hints as to you not having DID. If the case is that you were faking DID, and manipulating her this whole time, then its sad to say but that is her job, and she shouldn’t be so easily manipulated, as she will face many like you in her career. She should not have let her guards down and become attached, but it seems she has.
AnonymousDecember 25th, 2012 at 4:41 AM
If a therapist can’t remain professional, then find a different therapist. The moment they cross that line they cease being a therapist and become a sympathizer, which isn’t what you’re paying for and won’t help you at all.
AliceResearcherFebruary 6th, 2014 at 2:49 AM
My name is Alice Watson. I am an undergraduate student at the University of East London, and I am conducting a dissertation research project into the client’s experience of therapist’s tears. This project has gained aproval from the School of Psychology ethics committee.
I am interested in this experience and would be very keen to interview any one who has had this experience as a client. For those who are not based in London, interviews can be conducted via Skype.
For more information on the study and to express interest in participating, please contact me.
Susan RMay 1st, 2014 at 6:43 PM
Are you still looking for people to interview?
MargoJuly 14th, 2017 at 11:31 AM
I am beginning a literature research over summer on therapist’s tears as part of my training as a person-centred counsellor. I’ve just completed my second year. I have yet to find anything from a person-centred approach to this topic, which is interesting given its a humanistic approach and tears are as human as you can get. I have found articles from psychotherapists and would be really interested to read your unpulisblished dissertation on the effect it has on clients and what you, yourself discovered in the process. I would be really grateful if you could email this. This topic is so interesting yet its one that isn’t covered to my knowledge in training counsellors/therapists. In the conversations I have had with many counsellors both experienced & still in training, have openly talked about the ‘welling up moment’ it seems to happen alot more than I first thought but is never really discussed. Having these conversations has helped me in my own counselling moments to accept tears if they do come not as a weakness but something that has touched me on a deep level. This highlights that tears are a spontantous response to what has been communicated by another human being & depending on the context & relationship can be beneficial, though I have also read it can equally not be for many. I look forward to hearing from you.
Jess EMarch 22nd, 2014 at 8:26 PM
My therapist teared up often when we were working through my grief over a sudden and traumatic death. It didn’t stop her from abandoning me as a client/patient. Thats nice that they are human and have feelings too but crying creates an expectation of a deeper level of empathy which in itself calls for extra caution in matters such as terminating a client. Or one would at least hope.
TinaNovember 8th, 2014 at 4:34 AM
Therapists are human & if I’m not mistaken most get into the field to figure out some of their issues or because the are catering individuals (sometimes with a codependent nature). I had a therapist a long time ago get a bit weepy & sympathize with my pain & it was such a relief compared to the detached clinical observer of my tears. I’m not bothered by a few tears on my behalf at all. I feel more vulnerable when I’m crying my eyes out & you’re just watching me.
RameshDecember 18th, 2014 at 10:48 AM
I thought you expressed things beautifully in your reply to the client asking about her therapist crying.
John S.September 9th, 2018 at 4:09 PM
It is very unprofessional and unskilled to cry as a therapist. There are so many things wrong with it that there is too much to list.
karen m.February 12th, 2019 at 5:36 AM
I enjoyed this discussion
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