Erotic Countertransference?

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

I do not know if I should keep seeing my therapist. I’m a lesbian as is my therapist. I’m in a very happy long-term committed relationship, but I have problems having relationships with other women because romantic feelings often arise, and I don’t know how to handle them. This is one of the reasons I’m seeing this therapist–to work this out.

The issue is that she returns my affection. I have been seeing her for a little over a year, and have many symptoms of being in love with her. I asked her how she felt about me, and she honestly told me that she was very attracted to me, that she loves me, but is not in love with me. On the one hand, it is quite helpful to talk with someone who I know is not repulsed by me as a sexual being. It allows me to be more open than I have ever been with a therapist. (My overriding issue is depression/low self-esteem.) We hug each other at the end of sessions, but that is it as far as the physical contact goes. I have been open with my partner about this, and she maintains that it is my decision whether to keep seeing her or not.

We have been very open verbally about our feelings for each other, and have been clear that nothing can be acted upon. It feels really validating to have a woman that I respect and care for be attracted to me–especially when I put no effort into trying to gain her affection. I do not censor myself with her.

Honestly, the relationship has helped me feel better about myself–accepted and even beautiful. I requested that she be more forthcoming about who she is as a person and her own struggles in life and she has obliged to a surprising degree. She doesn’t monopolize sessions this way, but rather honestly answers my questions. I don’t know if I should quit seeing her because there is some danger that boundaries might be crossed or keep seeing her to help me learn how to negotiate having desires without acting on them. The longing can be painful but there’s also a great deal of reward from the help she’s giving me on this and other issues. She’s got nearly 30 years of experience. Could you offer some guidance, please?

A: Your thoughtful and detailed question opens the portal to the dynamics of therapy. It is always difficult to have clear–cut answers and decisions. There are many different therapeutic approaches and avenues of healing that take very different paths, and the ethical guidelines are designed to help manage the parameters that therapists operate within.

The clarity of the boundaries in the relationship as it is being discussed is certainly an important feature of a healthy therapeutic connection. At the core of most successful psychotherapies is the relationship between the therapist and the client. The concern always is the balance and limits of the relationship that need to be respected.

I would recommend three things: First, keep talking about this with your therapist. This will keep the issue on the front burner. Iinclude in your discussion that you have even questioned the degree to which she can maintain the boundary. Talk to her about the fact you are considering ending therapy because of these feelings. A therapist with 30 years of experience is likely to have traveled this road with others and should be able to navigate this with you.

Second, I would consider joining a group not run by your therapist. A dynamic group will allow your relational dynamics to be more fully explored with others under the guidance of another therapist. This will help keep the perspective on your continued growth and well-being.

Finally, keep talking about this and don’t feel like you have to keep your concerns and feelings a secret. Thinking that you cannot talk about this would be something you want to monitor and guard against.

As with any human relationship open communication is essential. I applaud the fact that you have written this letter and want to keep your therapy going in the right direction. This now involves you speaking up and bringing the issue into the therapeutic relationship itself. If you feel the therapist isn’t able to manage this then you may have to move on. But this can also be an opportunity for growth, clarity and individuation.

Wishing you patience and peace,
Dr. Dan
Proof Positive Blog @ PsychCentral

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 12 Jan 2013

APA Reference
Tomasulo, D. (2013). Erotic Countertransference?. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 19, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2013/01/12/erotic-countertransference/