Do therapists like their clients?

By Daniel J. Tomasulo, PhD, TEP, MFA, MAPP

I looked through as many of the questions as I could and didn’t find anything that answers this directly. This might be a silly question, but I’ll ask anyway: do therapists like their clients?

I’m 22, and have been seeing my psychologist for about a month. This is my first time in therapy. It‚s NOT that I want him to be my friend ˆ I know that‚s not possible/ethical. But I‚m just curious. My social skills are quite poor; I can never tell if I‚m annoying or boring someone, if they really like me or are just humoring me. I can’t help but wonder if my therapist sits there during our sessions thinking, “she‚s so irritating, but I‚m getting $120 an hour.” I know you can’t answer for my therapist specifically.

A: Thank you for asking this question. It isn’t silly at all, and I think it deserves a response. I wish it were just an easy yes or no or maybe answer, but it is a very complex endeavor to explain and relate. I will take a crack at it and hope it helps.

Not everyone evokes the same feelings in the therapist because the nature of being human is that we have socio-dynamic energy (our chemistry or vibe) and the strength of attraction to people differs from positive to neutral to negative. Therapists have this too, and the combination of these natural interactions is part of being alive. We like some people more than others. Not to acknowledge this as a therapist can actually be problematic. A therapist’s emotional reaction to a client can be a helpful tool in working with someone. A skilled therapist will know how to use these feelings to help the client.

But there are other feelings that are transferences and counter-transferences that take place between therapists and their clients. The dynamic energy between the client and therapist may be distorted based on past interactions with other people. If a therapist is working with someone who reminds him of his sister he may react to the client in a way that is similar. Hopefully the therapist recognizes this reaction and can work around it. In turn, the client might see the therapist in a way similar to someone in their life. The difficulty is to know what is natural and what is a transference for BOTH therapist and client.

For a therapist to reveal that he or she likes you is tricky business because it may not be welcome information to the client. If a client’s history is one of being betrayed by someone who says he likes her, then hurts or abuses her in some way, then the therapist may be doing more harm than good. Alternately, it may be fostering a type of dependence on the relationship that can be difficult down the road. That is why most therapists keep their own feelings and reactions in check so as not to upset the delicate balance and safety required of therapy.

All that being said, most seasoned therapists work with clients he or she feels they can work with and feel good about. Sure there are rough patches, as there would be in any intense human relationship, but if the therapist were systematically dreading seeing the client or repeatedly frustrated by the sessions, then he or she must either figure out what needs to change. Sometimes the therapist isn’t the right person for the client. Therapists who succeed in their practice know that it will be overwhelming to continue working with someone that you feel you can’t work with. When this happens the therapist will need to address it with the client and help make alternate arrangements for therapy. Money is part of the process, certainly, but it has very limited value to the therapist if he or she isn’t feeling productive in the sessions.

I would bring your concern to your therapist. I know this is difficult, but this is at the very core of your therapy from what you said.

Talk to your therapist about your concerns. This can be an excellent opportunity for your growth.

Wishing you patience and peace,
Dr. Dan

Photo

 

 

Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 25 Oct 2010

APA Reference
Tomasulo, D. (2010). Do therapists like their clients?. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 24, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2010/10/25/do-therapists-like-their-clients/