Relationships

When Therapists and Patients Fall in Love

Freud wrote “Analysis is, in essence, a cure through love.” What did he mean?

Posted Nov 04, 2016

After such cozy and intimate attention, many people are left wondering: “Are my therapist and I falling in love?”

Love in the Therapy Office

Hollywood filmmakers and writers of romantic novels seem to cherish scandalous stories in which therapists break professional boundaries and fall madly in love with their patients. Perhaps, since traditional therapists can seem somewhat scholarly and detached, it’s fun to image them dropping their guard and acting with breathless, unrestrained passion.

All that makes for thrilling erotic fantasies; even Shakespeare enjoyed a good forbidden love story. However, in real life therapists are forbidden from engaging in sexually inappropriate behaviors with their patients. I recently spoke with Lisa Grover, founder of Surviving Therapy Abuse and an outspoken advocate for people who have been abused by their therapist. On the website, Lisa bravely shares her own experience of sexual abuse by her former therapist. Lisa is also a volunteer with TELL, an online support group. If you've had a similar experience, visit TELL's website, TherapyAbuse.org for resources, help, and support.

Romantic Love vs. Loving Acceptance

When Freud wrote, “Psychoanalysis is, in essence, a cure through love” he didn’t mean therapists should have affairs with their patients, although many of his colleagues did, causing him to issue strict rules regarding professional boundaries. What Freud implied was, due to its enormous healing powers, love plays a central role in therapist/patient alliance.

For example, many people report conflicts in their relationships with their parents. Often, these conflicts originate from a lack of loving acceptance from their parents or caretakers. These primitive, unsatisfying experiences leave people feeling incomplete. Such gaps in loving acceptance can remain with them throughout their lives, resulting in problematic relationships and difficulties with intimacy. For example:

  • A woman who didn’t feel loved by her parents may have trouble trusting or being intimate with others.
  • A man who felt neglected by his father may have difficulty maintaining loving friendships with men.
  • A youth who feels rejected by his family may also find romantic relationships unfulfilling.

People who grew up feeling unloved struggle mightily with giving or accepting love. They also find it difficult to love themselves.

In such cases, the love and understanding they receive from their therapist can fulfill those unmet needs. Such loving acceptance also translates into feelings of being understood, valued, and cared for; feelings they yearned for but were denied.

Therapists and Their Feelings

In addition to love, therapists are bombarded with all kinds of feelings, such as hate, yearning, rage, or despair. Learning to manage such dynamic and often erratic emotions is essential. But before therapists can help their patients, they have to help themselves.

Experienced therapists spend years in their own therapy, two or three times a week, in addition to group therapy, supervision, and post-Masters training programs. They are taught to scrutinize their personal history, analyze and dissect life events, and pour over the intricacies of their own relationships. In the process, they become skilled at experiencing, investigating, and analyzing their feelings, and enhancing their sensitivity. In my training seminars for therapists, I always ask therapists to reflect on their personal experience of love and acceptance.

Ongoing personal analysis is essential for therapists. It’s impossible to be an effective therapist without stepping into the patient role. An unceasing commitment to personal growth and self-understanding provides therapists with the ability to offer the authentic, curative and nurturing relationships so many people need to heal.

Beyond the Session  

Like an attentive parent, therapists offer acceptance and understanding, while modeling a respectful, loving rapport. Masterful therapists don't encourage dependency; rather, they inspire people to seek more rewarding relationships outside of their sessions and achieve greater intimacy and emotional well-being in all areas of their life.

For information about clinical training, visit eangrover.com