Erotic Transference or Is My Therapist Hitting on Me?
I cannot tell whether my therapist is being supportive or whether he is encouraging an erotic transference. He has said things to me like "It can never happen, but its extremely rare for me to meet people who think like I do (referring to me)." and "I don't think I'm the only guy out there that would give anything to be with a girl like you." Both of these comments were said in a whisper with an intense facial expression and I could not tell whether it was calculated to be seductive or he was simply insuring that the comment “hit home”. On top of that he has made it clear that he thinks I am attractive (but stops short of saying that this necessarily means he is drawn to me).
That "do anything to date a girl like you" comment was made in the context of a conversation where I was talking about dating and having trouble meeting the right guy who is also into me, but also in that conversation my therapist went on to tell me that men my age (30) are looking for women who are in their early- mid twenties and that I should consider divorced men over 40 (guess which category he falls into). He's also told me that I should be looking for a shy, quiet guy and guess what two words he frequently uses to describe himself? He talks a lot about the things we have in common, enough to give me an impression of a man who has a great deal in common with me, but why is that necessary for treatment????
He blushes a lot, and he has flashes of bashful body language when we get even close to the transference topic. The few times I've tried to talk about it with him he got defensive like repeating that he’s not thinking about me outside of therapy when that had nothing to do with what I was trying to talk about.
I've heard of transference focused therapy, but that type of therapy usually encourages a transference by being a blank slate not by talking about all the things you have in common with your client and how she should consider dating someone like you. He says that his form of therapy is ego-supportive and I will say that he has done a good job of that. But he knows that I'm suffering from a really powerful transference and it just seems mean and not supportive at all.
But the thing is my treatment has been going really well aside from the mega transference problem. My life is looking ridiculously better than it did when I started six months ago. Could all this just be resistance? I want to quit so bad because I feel like he's playing with me but I don't want to derail a treatment that's helping me get my life on track. It feels like being drawn and quartered.
Do you have any experience with this form of therapy? Am I full of myself in thinking these comments are manipulative at best, and sexually charged at worst? Or is this the type of therapy I signed up for? I don’t want to quit if this all has to do with my issues.
I think you've given ample reasons to question the intentions of your therapist. Transference happens in all therapy relationships (when you develop feelings - both positive and negative - towards your therapist as they begin to remind you of significant people in your own life -- parents, lovers, siblings...). This is a valuable part of therapy when the therapist uses this to help you become more aware of your own unconscious needs, desires and feelings.
What is not talked about as much however, is that the therapist also develops some transference - called Counter-Transference - towards their clients. This is a human thing. Some clients may frustrate you, some may feel like friends, some elicit the desire to go out of your way to take care of them... and sometimes you may be attracted to a client. This need not interfere with the therapy. There are all different schools of thought when it comes to working with transference/counter-transference in the therapy relationship. Some therapists are more tightly guarded about their own emotional attachments, and also would never reveal any personal things about their private life. Others (more Existential-Humanistic in approach), may be much more "authentic" and honest in order to foster a genuine trust and openness in the client.
In your therapist's case, if your observations of him are accurate, it sounds obvious that he is attracted to you (unless your perceptions are really distorted). You can't fault a therapist for blushing or having feelings, but a therapist should not get defensive when you confront him. His statements to you sound pretty bold, and very leading. And I personally wouldn't ever tell a client what type, or what age of guy they should date. That may just be my style, but I think most therapists would agree with me on this.
One of the ways a therapist works with his Counter-Transference is to use it as important information. If your client is boring you for instance, your could say, (kindly), "I'm sorry, but I'm having a hard time being present with you today. Do you have a sense of why I might be feeling disconnected with you in this session? Let's see if we can figure this out..." So, client is rambling and disconnected
from their feelings = therapist is bored. Therapist doesn't blame the client, but instead uses his honest feelings (boredom) as an issue to discuss with the client, in order to make the client be more authentic, connected, aware and present. The client may then start to realize that the reason they can't hang onto friends, is because they are disconnected from they are disconnected from their own feelings.
If a therapist is feeling strong sexual attraction to you, and is clear in his boundaries, he should wonder if the client isn't doing something (unconsciously) to elicit those feelings from him. If handled in the right way, that could lead to a very deep, meaningful discussion that would help the client in many ways, and also make the relationship feel stronger, safer, and more secure.
Sometimes clients are seductive or flirtatious with a therapist and don't even realize it. A therapist can lose his professional boundary in this situation if he's not dealing with his own feelings in the best way (like getting consultation or therapy himself).
"Ego-Supportive therapy" is a general term - often referring to more short-term, solution focused therapy that get's less involved in the therapeutic transference. Most forms of therapy are "ego-supportive" in various ways. It's just a questions of what those particular ways are.
Personally, I think you shouldn't let him off the hook so easily. Confront him about what you are seeing, and trust your intuition. If he gets defensive, tries to blame you, or avoids the whole discussion, he's no longer being a therapist - he's being a guy whose being confronted by a woman he's attracted to, and being inappropriate with. A therapist can easily abuse the relationship simply by the authority and position he holds with a vulnerable client. No therapist should be "encouraging an erotic transference." There is nothing therapeutic or helpful about doing that.
Ben Schwarcz, MFT
Santa Rosa Psychotherapist