I was transferred to another therapist because I fell in love with my current one. This hurts me very much. Is transference (from the client to the therapist) a valid ethical reason to end therapy with a client?
I am answering this as a psychodynamic therapist and my answer is no.
No. No, no, no, no, no! No.
A thousand times no.
In fact, there isn’t a less valid ethical reason to end therapy with client than a client’s transference feelings – or any feeling, for that matter!
Transference (a client’s powerful emotional investment in the relationship with their therapist, involving unconscious attributions to the therapist of the past experiences, good and bad) is at the FOUNDATION of the therapeutic process.
Proclaiming to help a person psychologically while policing, shaming and punishing this person’s psychological states and feelings is not really therapy. It is a harsh ‘correctional experience’ – conducted entirely at the behest of the ‘correctors’. Correctional experiences are the opposite of the transformative experiences. The latter change us while the former prod us into a changed behaviours at the expense of our connection with ourselves.
A therapist is supposed to be the figure who helps us integrate our feelings, whatever they might be – or else to separate our feelings into those we want to foster and those we might want to moderate. If a therapist shies away – or, worse, turns away in disgust or anger – no such integration and no such separation can take place.
If a therapist cannot work with such a straightforward human condition as being an object of someone’s love, what can they work with?!
If a therapist is out of his or her depth to work with a client who feels in love with them, what kind of structural integrity this therapist has in the first place?
What possible therapeutic journey can they facilitate?
How can such therapist help us to metabolise anxiety, fear, dread, anger, envy, hatred – if they are terrified of an expression of love?
Speaking of falling in love in psychotherapy, it is not always transference. There is a transference element in every love relationship, just as in any relationship per se, but sometimes falling in love is just that – falling in love. Exploring the transference element is only necessary and fruitful when our falling in love doesn’t enrich our lives but leads to confusion or suffering.
Falling in love in psychotherapy can be a sign of good energy and liveliness being invested in the relationship with the therapist. It should be taken up by the therapist with good grace and respect – for it is a gift of appreciation and trust from a client’s unconscious psyche to a therapist.
At other times, falling in love is not at all a pleasurable experience. Sometimes our psyche seems to throw us into a vortex of intense, desperate longings resulting in confusion, a sense of rejection, further desperation, anger and pain. In such cases, our therapy should be the place where these feelings can be made sense of – especially if these feelings are directed at the therapist!
A therapist whose head and whose heart are in the right places will gradually help us understand and moderate our feelings – and to treat them as we would valuable investments, with care, self-respect and healthy self-protectiveness. If a therapist is either anxious or avoidant of any part of our psychical world, we stand little chance of integration, healing, growth and psychological strength.
I have no way of knowing if you being in love with your therapist would have been an enriching or a frustrating experience which you would need to work through – because unfortunately your therapist had completely failed you at pursuing the journey of getting to understand yourself at a deeper level. But I do hope that you will believe that you did deserve a thousand times better – and I hope that you can find better!