Love Is Good Therapy: The Gift of Being Loved by Your Therapist

Person at beach holds heart-shaped bunch of balloons and rises slightly off groundPeople come to psychotherapy because they want to feel better. A big part of a therapist’s ability to help a person feel better lies in their taking a loving stance toward that person. This stance starts with a therapist’s understanding that it takes courage for another person to come to them and their sense of feeling privileged by the trust that person invests in them. The rest of this article describes the other core ways in which therapy involves love and why this matters.

Faith and Compassion

Having faith in a person’s inherent goodness, as well as compassion for how that person’s life experiences have influenced them, is integral to helping them. This love stems in part from a therapist’s appreciation of the vulnerability inherent in being human. People are vulnerable to being hurt by others. When they are in contact with individuals, families, work environments, or even cultures that are filled with anger, criticism, premature loss, or emotional distance, it is almost inevitable they will start to internalize these experiences and develop corresponding psychological symptoms.

Children are particularly vulnerable to this phenomenon due to their limited power to assert themselves, and they often have no recourse but to accept messages that are hurtful. When people have been hurt, they start to believe negative things about themselves (e.g. “I’m hopeless,” “I’m a failure”) as well as negative things about others (e.g., “People will hurt me if I trust them,” “No one will ever care about me”). Not surprisingly, they also experience feelings such as anxiety, anger, and shame that accompany these beliefs and tend to act reflexively on these emotions. These reflexive actions make it harder to connect with others and reinforce their negative beliefs about themselves and others.

Therapy helps people to break out of these negative cycles by allowing them to have a new kind of experience with their therapist that feels more positive and empowering. When a therapist approaches a person with a basic belief in their goodness, over time a person can feel a therapist’s faith in them and internalize it, which starts to shift what they believe about themselves. A therapist’s compassion for the person they work with also contributes to this change.

An internalized sense of being loved by one’s therapist can vastly change how a person experiences the world.

People are understandably concerned about being judged when they come to therapy. They may be afraid that a therapist is going to try to force them to change, or that a therapist will condemn them for some of the choices they make. Rather than criticizing or blaming a person for how they feel and behave, a compassionate therapist helps a person to understand how they are doing the best they can given what their experiences have taught them. They also help the person to think about new approaches to addressing their challenges that may help them feel better in the long run. This compassion is also internalized and helps people make sense of their lives in ways that are less focused on blaming themselves or others and leave more room for them to take positive steps toward change.

Patience and Humility

Therapy is inherently challenging. It is common in the course of many long-term therapies for there to be moments where a person feels stuck as well as moments where they feel disappointed or angry with their therapist. If a therapist tries to force a person to change before they are ready, or if they handle a person’s disappointment defensively, these impasses can be destructive.

Rather than blaming a person for feeling stuck or disappointed, a therapist coming from a place of love recognizes their own fallibility and tries to take ownership for any contributions they may be making to a person’s discontent. They also try to help that person see the role they may be playing in it. These moments become opportunities to build trust and for the person to gain greater self-understanding, rather than being harmful moments that reenact earlier painful experiences the person has had. Many people have been traumatically shamed and/or abandoned when expressing negative feelings toward others, and it can be a profound experience to have a therapist who does neither of these things and instead tries to patiently help them understand their pain and continues to care for them.

Conclusion

Just as people can be hurt in their relationships, they can also heal in them. Therapy is not just a set of techniques, it is a special type of relationship that is oriented toward helping people to heal from past experiences.

An internalized sense of being loved by one’s therapist can vastly change how a person experiences the world. In addition to symptoms diminishing, other people who once seemed threatening may become sources of connection and the future may seem more hopeful. Generosity and compassion flourish in those who have felt loved, leading them to touch the lives of others. Fittingly, many therapists have been touched by another person’s love in their own therapy and find it to be a deep privilege to be trusted and to pass on the gift.

References:

  1. Harrist, R. S., Quintana, S. M., Strupp, H. H., & Henry, W. P. (1994). Internalization of interpersonal process in time-limited dynamic psychotherapy. Psychotherapy: Theory, Research, Practice, Training, 31(1), 49.
  2. McAdams, D. P., Reynolds, J., Lewis, M., Patten, A. H., & Bowman, P. J. (2001). When bad things turn good and good things turn bad: Sequences of redemption and contamination in life narrative and their relation to psychosocial adaptation in midlife adults and in students. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 27(4), 474-485.
  3. Neff, K. (2003). Self-compassion: An alternative conceptualization of a healthy attitude toward oneself. Self and Identity, 2(2), 85-101.

© Copyright 2018 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Alex Afram, PhD, therapist in Washington, District of Columbia

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Dotty

    Dotty

    January 18th, 2018 at 10:08 AM

    Therapist to therapist, this is a wonderful article!

  • Alex Afram

    Alex Afram

    January 18th, 2018 at 4:58 PM

    Thanks Dotty, I’m so glad you enjoyed it!

  • Mike M, LISW-S

    Mike M, LISW-S

    January 23rd, 2018 at 10:16 AM

    A beautiful and brave proclamation of the heart of psychotherapy. Thank You!

  • Alex A

    Alex A

    January 23rd, 2018 at 3:31 PM

    Thank you for sharing this sentiment about the heart of psychotherapy, it certainly strikes a chord with me!

  • Abdulkadir A

    Abdulkadir A

    January 23rd, 2018 at 11:13 AM

    I appreciate it

  • Alex A

    Alex A

    January 23rd, 2018 at 3:32 PM

    I am glad to hear that Abdulkadir

  • Ranjan Patel, Psy.D.

    Ranjan Patel, Psy.D.

    January 23rd, 2018 at 5:47 PM

    I’m blown away by your beautiful article. Thank-you thank-you for articulating what I’ve long known and felt in my practice as a therapist in CA. As they internalize my love for them, my clients heal profoundly and deeply. In a climate of “propriety,” e.g. emphasis on “boundaries,” clinical detachment, etc… loving clients is stigmatized. Your words are refreshing and pure, they point to the heart of therapy: the therapeutic relationship. Thank-you again :-)!

  • Alex Afram

    Alex Afram

    January 24th, 2018 at 1:16 PM

    I am touched that the article resonated so strongly with you Ranjan and I agree that a focus on clinical propriety and detachment can obscure how people are most directly moved by our work with them.

  • Linda T

    Linda T

    January 24th, 2018 at 10:26 AM

    This is a beautifully written article about a seldom discussed topic. I can attest to the change that can occur when an therapist holds a loving space for healing. As a result, I feel the freedom and compassion to do the same for my patients.

  • Alex Afram

    Alex Afram

    January 24th, 2018 at 1:17 PM

    Thank you for your kind comment Linda. I am glad that you can attest to the change that comes with feeling held in a loving space with a therapist; I can as well.

  • Cort C

    Cort C

    January 24th, 2018 at 10:28 AM

    Very nice article. Eloquently spoken and gets to the heart of how therapy truly heals. Within that loving relationship, the therapist can begin to bring gentle challenges to the clients belief system and help undo their self-judging and self-blaming. Your article also puts me in touch with the honor and privilege of the work we do. Thank you.

  • Alex Afram

    Alex Afram

    January 24th, 2018 at 1:18 PM

    Thank you for your comment Cort. I think you put it perfectly that our work is both an honor and a privilege, even in the moments that are challenging.

  • Becky

    Becky

    January 29th, 2018 at 12:19 PM

    I like the article, and agree with the content with one recommendation. There needs to be a clarification that “love” in therapy never includes “romantic love” or “sexual relations.” People are easily confused.

  • Alex Afram

    Alex Afram

    January 29th, 2018 at 7:45 PM

    Thank you for your comment Becky. I am hoping that people who read the article will understand that I am not using the term love in the romantic or sexual sense of the word but I can understand how someone who just sees the title or skims the article might be confused.

  • Hypnosis

    Hypnosis

    March 7th, 2018 at 1:52 AM

    In my hypnosis manual, I have a couple of paragraphs on this topic. “Love? Love? This is not a scientific or materially quantifiable concept. Perhaps using the terminology, “Unconditional Positive Regard”, as coined by the renowned psychotherapist Carl Rogers, is more acceptable to the more scientifically oriented community, and perhaps this was a reason for him to use such terminology. Also I can quote from the hypnosis section in *02, Wickramasekera, Ed., “Once a “transference” relationship has been established, characterized by “authority” and “love”, a variety of psychological sub-mechanisms are potentiated…” *03, Stephen Gilligan, one of Erickson’s star pupils, has similar things to say. Both make passing references to similar facets of romantic love. Gilligan, creator of his own, “Self Relations Therapy,” uses the word love in the title of *04. And, *05, Hugh Gunnison, quoting from Patterson and Hildare, “Successful Psychotherapy: A Caring Loving Relationship”.. .. “Love – brotherly love, or Agape love – would be a good description of psychotherapy.” (Here, bloody here! B.G.) From “Awakenings” by *06, the world famous neurologist, Oliver Sacks, “One sees that beautiful and ultimate metaphysical truth, which has been stated by poets and physicians and metaphysicians of all ages, by Leibniz and Donne and Dante and Freud; that Eros is the oldest and strongest of the Gods; that Love is the Alpha and Omega of being; and that the work of healing, of rendering whole, is first and last, the business of Love.”.”

    The well-known writer on many of these topics, author of “Healing Words.” *07 Larry Dossey M.D. states, “This study suggests that compassionate, empathic healing intentions can exert measurable physical effects on a recipient, even when the recipient is not even aware when the attempt is being made, and that these effects do not occur when a compassionate, empathic connection is not present. (healing level rapport, beyond hypnotic level rapport, BG). We can summarize this experiment with the old saying, “Love heals.” Finally a big gun, Sandor Ferenczi, colleague of Sigmund Freud, said: “It is the love of the physician that heals the patient”. Subsequently I have found this quote from *08, Sigmund Freud himself, “Psychoanalysis is in essence a cure through love..” So these thinkers run the gamut of the forms of love in therapy, ratifying my blind fumbling progress. Here the psychological and the spiritual, (not religious), overlap, “God is love” or perhaps better still, “Love is God”, the latter making the statement more spiritual and less religious.

    *01. Moss, Aaron, DDS. Section in Hypnodontics, in “Experimental Hypnosis.” Jeffrey Zeig, Ed.
    *02. Wickramasekera, Ian, Ed. “Biofeedback, Behavior Therapy and Hypnosis:”
    *03. Gilligan, Stephen, “The Legacy of Milton H. Erickson.”
    *04. Gilligan, Stephen, “The Courage to Love.”
    *05. Gunnison, Hugh, “Hypnocounseling.”
    *06. Sacks, Oliver, “Awakenings.”
    *07 Dossey, Larry, “Healing Words.”
    *08. Freud, Sigmund, Quoted by Bruno Bettelheim in, “Freud and a Man’s Soul.”

  • Alex A

    Alex A

    March 7th, 2018 at 11:56 AM

    Thank you for this well-researched and thoughtful reply. I am particularly fascinated by the study showing the direct connection between healing intentions and physical effects in the recipient’s body. It’s a nice reminder that therapy is more than just talk and that our significant relationships have physical correlates in our bodies.

  • Hypnosis & Hypnotherapy

    Hypnosis & Hypnotherapy

    March 7th, 2018 at 1:49 PM

    Me too. In Larry Dossy, “Healing Words”, he set up various experiments of people praying for cancer patients, with controls, in a Hospital where he was working. He obtained significant positive results. Therapy overlaps with the numinous non-physical world, (metaphysical) when practiced by a Healer, otherwise known as a Shaman, even when the practitioner is unaware of his role as such, as I was initially. Healing as a vocation, a calling, rather than merely a career. I delve into this in my Hypnosis manual as mentioned previously. Best wishes, Brian AKA Hypnohotshot.

  • Steph A.

    Steph A.

    March 17th, 2018 at 12:49 PM

    This is a vital aspect of thereupetic relationships. For the client to feel that they are loved and valued by the therapist, this can relieve consequences of inner turmoil between sessions, such as self harm. This is particularly important for those who are emotionally deprived and thus did not develop healthy attachments to care givers as children.

  • Alex A

    Alex A

    March 19th, 2018 at 12:02 PM

    Thank you for your comment Steph–I agree that feeling valued and loved by a therapist is particularly crucial for those who did not have that type of experience with caregivers growing up.

  • Colette D.

    Colette D.

    August 8th, 2018 at 1:35 AM

    Thank you so much for affirming this aspect of therapy.
    Without my therapist believing in this way of working I would not have healed so effectively. If it is therapeutically indicated, it is need recognition.

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