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Relationship with Therapist


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I have been going to the same therapist for 2 years. I have bipolar disorder. In my last session I revealed something to her that is very painful from my past. She knew that she was the first and only person to know. At the end of the session, she asked if I needed a hug. We both stood up. She stood between me and the door. And we had a fully embraced hug for about 10 seconds. During the hug she rubbed my back with one of her hands and said she was so glad that I was a part of her life. I am a 44 year old lesbian. She is 60, been married over 30 years, and has two grown children and one grandchild. I do have feelings for her. And that hug along with what she said intensified those feelings. Was this ok for her to do? Are my feelings normal? I have not shared my feelings with her.

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Feelings are awkward, at least for many of us. I think this incident does offer you the opportunity to discuss your feelings with (and for) your therapist.

It is extremely normal to feel some sort of affection for a therapist, and I only use such an awkward phrase because the range of feelings can be anywhere from liking to loving to sexual (as if those are somehow separate.) The process has been called "transference", partly because the early practitioners of psychology were so uncomfortable with the idea that they preferred to sterilize it with words.

Their description was that these were feelings that the client had repressed in their lives being "projected" onto a trusted, available person. Unfortunately, that led to the perception that the feelings were somehow fake, that the client didn't mean them, when obviously, the client feels them intensely. It also rather frequently occurs that the therapist develops complementary feelings, ones that match the client's feelings in some way that resonates with the therapist. In other words, quite often the therapist learns about themselves in the process, too.

I prefer to see transference as the client learning how to have those feelings, or how to have them again if they have buried them. Love (or affection if it's a more comfortable term) doesn't get used up when you give it away. What's difficult is dealing with its tendency to carry one away.

It's good that you're aware that acting out the feelings by, say, starting an affair with your therapist, isn't the appropriate thing to do with them. I hope you do manage to talk to her, and that it helps you sort this out.

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