“I am so embarrassed to share this with you, but I have developed these romantic feelings towards you. I feel like I’m falling in love with you.”
I was seated on the couch across from my therapist of two years. My face was bright red from embarrassment. I was sure she was going to say there was something wrong with me and that she would need to refer me to someone else. Instead, she kindly told me that these feelings are OK and I shouldn’t be ashamed of them. In fact, she said, they are quite common, and I wasn’t the first person to have them.
When I was growing up in the Midwest, therapy was a foreign concept to me. Mental health in general was a foreign concept to me. I was stressed out as a child, but my parents just thought I was a high achiever and perfectionist. I would spend days in bed in high school, but this was attributed to me just being tired. I didn’t even know what anxiety and depression were.
A few years after moving to LA, I began to have panic attacks on a weekly basis. I also found myself crying at every little thing. I couldn’t even get through a day without tears streaming down my face. This went on for months. I’d find myself sitting in my bed at night trying to hold in the sobs, so that my roommate wouldn’t hear.
But after a major breakdown at work one day, I decided to take the afternoon off and go see my primary care doctor. She asked me quite a few questions about how I was feeling before diagnosing me with clinical depression and generalized anxiety disorder. She prescribed me Zoloft and encouraged me to find a therapist. I wanted nothing more than to feel better, so I went home and started calling therapists who took my insurance.
I found my current therapist after a couple of tries. I picked her because she looked like a warm, caring person in her photo and was really nice on the phone. I warmed up to her pretty quickly, feeling comfortable sharing things that I had never talked about with anyone else. I typically saw her once a week, but there were appointments here and there that I would have to miss due to work or social events. It was never a big deal.
But there was a major shift in my feelings about five months in. I had just returned to Los Angeles from a two-week vacation visiting family in Wisconsin. Normally on the plane rides back, I am a weeping mess in the window seat. But this time, I wasn’t that sad to be going back to LA. Instead, I was so excited to see my therapist the next day since I hadn’t talked to her in a few weeks.
During one of our sessions, she asked me what my ideal woman looked like. I immediately thought, ‘Someone who looks just like you.’
After that, I no longer canceled sessions. Nothing was as important as therapy. I loved seeing her and spending time with her. It frustrated me that I didn’t know much about her life outside of sessions and that we couldn’t talk between sessions. And this caused my feelings to become even more intense. I craved constant contact. I built up this image in my head that she was perfect. She was compassionate, calm, funny and interesting. Who wouldn’t want a friend like that?
In the fall of that year — about 10 months after I started therapy — I came out as queer. She was the one who helped me come to terms with my identity and feel proud of who I was as a person. I never would have come out if it hadn’t been for her.
Our sessions began to revolve around dating and love. During one of our sessions, she asked me what my ideal woman looked like. I immediately thought, “Someone who looks just like you.” Feelings of shame followed. So I lied and said I wasn’t sure and didn’t really have a type. I could tell she didn’t believe me.
I had an erotic dream about her that night — one of many I would have over the course of the next few weeks. It completely freaked me out. I woke up at 3 a.m. in a panic and Googled, “I love my therapist.”
I sat up for hours reading articles about this phenomenon called transference, which refers to a person bringing their past experiences into their dynamic with the therapist. But these feelings felt so real! I felt like I was totally in love with her. I had to have her. I convinced myself that she was the only one who could make me happy.
I read stories of other clients who had similar feelings for their own therapists. Many of the articles and stories ended with the suggestion that you should bring this up with your therapist. I rolled my eyes. There was no way I was going to talk to her about this. I wanted to puke at just the thought of it. I also couldn’t fathom the idea that she might refer me to someone else. I couldn’t imagine life without her, so I kept these feelings locked away inside me.
It was only after a conversation with two close friends who work in the mental health field that I decided it was time to tell her. It was impeding on my progress, and I found that I was censoring myself in sessions because I wanted her to like me back. I wrote all of my feelings down in a notebook and rehearsed what I was going to say. I counted down the hours until Tuesday evening at 5:15 p.m. It felt like an eternity.
I sat in her waiting room. My heart felt like it was going to leap right out of my chest. My hands felt clammy. She called me in, and I went to my usual spot on the couch. Only this time, I couldn’t speak. No words came out. She asked me how I was doing. I merely shook my head. I opened my notebook and held it in my shaking hands.
I told her that over the course of the last few months, I had developed a really strong attachment to her. I shared how therapy sessions with her were the highlight of my week, and I couldn’t wait to see her every Tuesday. I teared up as I told her that I loved her. I ended my confession by saying how worried I was about bringing this up and that I would understand if she said I was a freak and that she couldn’t see me anymore. I finally looked up and met her eyes.
She assured me that she wouldn’t stop seeing me and that these were very normal feelings to have, especially since many of our sessions revolve around the topics of love and sex. She told me that the unique thing about the therapist-client relationship is that we get to have conversations like this and explore what these feelings really mean.
I am learning that I don’t need to be perfect in order to be loved and supported. And that lesson right there is worth every hard conversation.
She said having these feelings toward her maybe meant that I was ready for a relationship, and that I craved intimacy and love. And while I couldn’t have a romantic relationship with her, my emotions showed that I had the capacity to fall in love and find someone who was available. It also showed that our relationship as therapist and client had reached a deeper level and that I felt comfortable being vulnerable and honest with her, which was a good thing.
I wish I could say that the feelings have gone away. While I still feel very attached to her, she has shown me what a healthy relationship looks like. She has shown me what it feels like to have someone care about me — flaws and all. I am learning that I don’t need to be perfect in order to be loved and supported. And that lesson right there is worth every hard conversation.
It can be scary opening up about your feelings, whether they are positive or negative, but I promise it’s worth it. This is really what the heart of therapy is — learning what a healthy relationship looks like and having a space where you can share any feeling or emotion without the fear of judgment or shame. And I’m lucky to have found both.
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