I just have one question for Ask Luci today, but it’s a good one and one that I think a lot of people experience, so let’s get to solvin’ some problems!
I’m finishing undergrad in May and I’m a really anal-retentive overachiever. I’m pretty attractive and fun to be around (I think … awkward), but I work A LOT. I was feeling so overwhelmed at the start of the fall semester that I decided to try my university’s counseling center. I’ve never been clinically depressed or taken any kind of medication; for reals, I think I just have a lot of ~*~feelings~*~ and because I work so much it’s nice to be able to just kind of talk it out with someone. I got along really well with my new counselor, who is this chill 28-year-old guy doing his pre-doctoral psych internship here. We had some kind of emotional sessions back in the fall, but I think it was mostly because of my insane stress level and lack of sleep at the time. For the last few months, we basically have just been hanging out during our sessions. He says he always looks forward to my appointments because I’m not an at-risk patient and it’s a high point in his week to have me on his calendar.
Sooo I noticed about two months ago that we’ve been talking more and more about his life. He told me about his long-distance girlfriend and his family and the bad shit he’s been through, and we talked a lot about his problems with his boss at the counseling center and his worries about his postdoc application. We talked about that for legit the first 15 minutes of today’s (50-minute) session. .. and about how he’s broken up with his girlfriend now because of the distance. I wouldn’t have a problem with talking about this stuff normally, except that I feel like there’s this blatantly sexual undertone to our meetings now and it’s not really counseling anymore. During the last session he took his sweater off and lingered on the temporary shirtlessness part of doing that for an awkwardly long period of time. Just like, letting his abs feel the breeze for a while. Maybe that’s normal? It felt really weird to me. We’ve also been talking about my sex life a lot, which isn’t something we ever did at first.
Essentially my question is: WTF is going on? I really liked him on a platonic level, but obviously the whole him-being-my-only-confidant + recent escalation of our sessions is confusing me and now I don’t know how I feel. On one hand, I now find myself thinking about him all the time and it’s definitely not platonic. Or, I could just be blowing the whole thing out of proportion (I’ve heard that happens sometimes between patients and therapists?). I guess I’d just be interested in your thoughts from a social-worker standpoint. Thanks, Luci!
Thanks for writing! Like I said above, this actually is a pretty common problem. It is definitely something that happens between patients and therapists, so often in fact that they have a name for it. When a patient feels feelings about a therapist it’s called transference, and when a therapist has feelings about a client it’s called countertransference. These aren’t always sexual feelings, it can be that like, your therapist reminds you of your mom, too. But in this case it’s obviously sexual. And even if your therapist isn’t feeling sexual feelings for you, he has definitely moved you out of the realm of patient if he’s talking to you about his personal life. Many therapists mention details about themselves in session, and it varies depending on the therapist and the client and the relationship. I believe that self-disclosure can occasionally be useful, although a third of a session is a long time for a therapist to talk about themselves. The impression I get is that you’re concerned that this is only something in your mind, that he isn’t feeling the same awkwardness, but I guarantee he probably is, if only from seeing your reactions or picking up on your feelings.
This is something he should be addressing in his own supervision, and I hope he is. Either way though, it’s not wrong or weird for you to bring it up next time you see him, or at least sooner rather than later. Oftentimes, part of therapy is discussing what’s going on as part of the patient/therapist relationship. I suggest something along the lines of, “So, I wanted to bring something up I’ve noticed recently. It seems like there’s been some tension or feelings in sessions recently. Like, I’ve noticed that you started talking more about your personal life and things. I was just wondering if you’ve noticed it.” He should be able to respond honestly and appropriately. It doesn’t mean that you need to quit seeing your therapist. Many therapists think that the transference and countertransference is huge part of what makes therapy effective, and sometimes that’s not always comfortable. But it’s your therapist’s job to work out how to maintain boundaries and keep things within the framework of therapy. I can’t emphasize that enough, that it is the therapist’s responsibility, completely, to use their training and discretion when dealing with anything that comes up in therapy, even awkward sexual feelings. So don’t feel like you have to do anything different or try to not feel feelings.
So depending on how it goes with you bringing up the tension in the room, you can totally decide you want to keep seeing this therapist. I believe in seeking therapy as long as you feel like it’s beneficial, and stopping when it’s not. It’s not wrong to think about your therapist during the week, but if you find yourself apprehensive about going in to see him it might be time to consider switching to a different therapist. Also, if for any reason your therapist doesn’t feel like he can appropriately manage any feelings he might be having, he should refer you to a colleague.
I hope this helps! You’re definitely not alone and the best thing to do is get it out in the open. It might be weird … but it can’t be as weird as feeling like you’re checking out your therapist’s abs ;)
That’s it for today! You can submit questions anonymously here or e-mail them to lucifurious at persephonemagazine.com and I’ll keep your identity sooper sekrit.