If you've ever seen a therapist, you know the kinds of emotions that a single session can bring up. You may be working through anger, sadness, joy, or a combination of the three at any given appointment. But there is one feeling – which might follow you from session to session – that's harder to shake, whether you've been in therapy for a week or for a year: intense attraction for your therapist.
Feelings of love or admiration for your counsellor or psychologist might strike you as inappropriate or even scary, but you should know they're actually pretty common. "This isn't a new concept at all," says Geoffrey Steinberg, PsyD. "The technical term is erotic transference. It isn't wrong or bad. In fact, it can be very beneficial." Erotic transference refers only to when a client has feelings for their therapist — not the other way around. And it's something that anyone licensed to provide therapy is trained to deal with.
There are a ton of reasons why these feelings of attraction might spring up, and they don't always have to do with lust or love. "You develop a kind of emotional intimacy that might not be paralleled in other parts of your life," says Dee Dee Goldpaugh, LCSW. "When you're in therapy, you're interacting with a caring person who can project themselves to be almost perfect, because your relationship is one-sided. They're dealing with all of your emotions, but you aren't dealing with any of their shit." It's an idealised relationship — and one that a lot of people can cling to.
"A person may not be used to feeling so seen and understood and cared for and listened to," Dr. Steinberg says. "So you might be confusing those feelings with something more erotic." The interesting thing about erotic transference is that it can happen regardless of gender or sexual identity. So a straight, cisgendered woman can find herself being attracted to her female therapist, which can be incredibly confusing. "But it's a totally normal response to an emotionally intense experience," Goldpaugh says.
You may be feeling like this is something to keep from your therapist, but both Goldpaugh and Dr. Steinberg say it's important to bring up these feelings. "It's important to state that ethically, [therapists] have a responsibility not to sleep with our clients," Dr. Steinberg says. "So it's okay to have these feelings and to know it's safe, because nothing is ever going to happen [romantically with your therapist]." He or she will know exactly how to acknowledge your feelings and help further your therapy. "It's their responsibility to use it to their benefit," Goldpaugh says.
There are many benefits to gain from therapy, but the first step in achieving them is being completely honest with your therapist — even when it comes to this. "There's no reason to be embarrassed, because this isn't shocking or unfamiliar," Dr. Steinberg says. "All it says is something is afoot emotionally, and that's exactly what you're in therapy to deal with."