Developing romantic feelings for your therapist is common, and it’s called transference. Here’s why it happens and how to handle it.
Have you ever thought to yourself “I love my therapist”? If so, try not to feel ashamed, embarrassed, or awkward about it.
Falling in love with your therapist happens more often than you might think, and it can be attributed to a concept called transference.
Transference is when you redirect your feelings or thoughts for one individual onto another.
According to Iris Waichler, MSW, LCSW, transference can occur within the client-therapist dynamic when a client brings strong feelings and emotional needs relating to one relationship into their current therapeutic relationship. It can also happen when aspects of a person’s previous relationship are placed onto their current mental health professional.
On the other hand, countertransference is when the therapist experiences transference with their client. Put simply, the therapist falls in love with the client.
Transference can be a conscious or unconscious act.
It can also happen within other types of relationships, including:
- other authority figures
Transference can also happen with other emotions, like anger, attachment, or fear.
Waichler explains, “The therapeutic relationship between patient and therapist is an intimate one.” Strong feelings and emotions are involved in therapy so it’s not surprising many people develop romantic feelings for their therapist.
You can fall in love with your therapist for several different reasons, says Waichler, who lists possible explanations below:
- You look at your therapist in unrealistic ways (e.g., you perceive them to be perfect and idealize them).
- You discuss strong emotions from a previous relationship, and/or your therapist may remind you of a past romantic partner. You mistakenly attach these romantic feelings to your therapist.
- You feel comfortable and safe in a successful therapeutic environment and might mistake this for passion or love.
- Therapists are often viewed by patients as authority figures — people who can help alleviate emotional pain and trauma. Feelings of gratitude can be perceived as love.
- You may not have experienced a healthy intimate relationship. It might feel safe to have feelings for your therapist because they won’t be returned (in an ethical, professional relationship).
- You have unmet needs in your relationships, and your sessions might often discuss issues relating to love and/or sex. In this case, transference can occur.
- You’re able to share your most intimate thoughts and feelings and not be judged or ridiculed by your therapist. It might seem natural for you to “fall in love” with someone who offers this unconditional attention, safe environment, and comfort.
So you have a crush on your therapist but you don’t know what to do about it. What’s the best course of action? Here’s some suggests about what to do and what not to do.
Accept your feelings
“Many patients try to deny or ignore these feelings by judging themselves in negative ways,” says Waichler. But this approach isn’t exactly helpful. She explains that suppressing feelings doesn’t make them go away — instead, they can actually become stronger.
Your first step is to try to acknowledge and accept your feelings for your therapist. From there, you can figure out how to move forward.
Talk to your therapist
No matter how awkward it might seem, Waichler recommends letting your therapist know you’re having these feelings.
“The therapist must know this so they can use them in therapy to understand why they’ve occurred and give insights on how to manage them,” she explains. “It can be a profound way for patients to understand more about themselves and intimate relationships.”
Don’t know how to talk to your therapist about transference?
Waichler suggests trying this conversation starter:
“There’s something that I’ve become aware of and, honestly, it’s awkward or difficult to discuss with you. But I think it’s very important that I share this with you so you can help me to know what to do about it.”
Explore these feelings
“Be willing to explore this issue in the safety of a client/therapist relationship,” says Waichler.
She says that romantic feelings for your therapist may be the result of unfulfilled needs in romantic relationships that occur outside of therapy. But there are many other possible reasons (as listed above).
It can be helpful to discuss this experience with your therapist to get to the root of it in a safe, non-judgmental environment and resolve it accordingly.
“Don’t sabotage your therapy sessions by avoiding transparency or honesty,” adds Waichler. “It will only compromise the success of your therapy and delay a successful mental health outcome.”
You might judge yourself harshly if you think this situation is uncommon. “Patients need to understand this dynamic does occur in therapeutic relationships, and it’s not unusual, shameful, embarrassing, or abnormal,” says Waichler.
So try to be gentle with yourself as you explore these feelings.
Friendly reminder: Just because you feel like you’re in love with your therapist, it doesn’t mean that your therapist feels the same way toward you.
Waichler warns not to have unrealistic expectations that your feelings will automatically be returned. “Understand therapists are bound by an ethical code that prohibits an inappropriate client/therapist relationship,” she adds.
Finding a new therapist might sound appealing after telling your current therapist that you’re falling for them. But this isn’t always the best solution.
“The therapist and client must feel confident that once these feelings are openly addressed and discussed that they won’t compromise the therapist/client relationship and they can move forward with meeting the mutually agreed-upon treatment goals for therapy,” says Waichler.
If you’re falling in love with your therapist, try not to panic. This is a common experience called transference.
Discovering and healing the root of why you’re experiencing transference can help you achieve healthier relationships, including the one you have with your therapist. So instead of judging yourself or finding a new mental health professional, consider accepting your feelings and sharing them in the safe space of your next therapy session.