How to Deal with Transference So You're Done Sooner - myShrink

How to Deal with Transference

dealing with transference and neediness at myshrink

You started therapy to solve one problem but now you’re facing an even greater one. Your therapist has taken on a huge role in your life, and you’re not sure this is a good thing. 

One thing's certain, you can’t stop thinking about him - and it’s interfering with your life!

Click here to find out.

Move through transference

. . . with less heartache!

Therapy Bootcamp (imaginal) book cover.

Is transference a defense mechanism?

Yes, in conventional psychotherapy practice, transference is regarded as a defense mechanism that protects you from deeply rooted emotional pain. 

And I would agree with that description.

However, from a neuroscience perspective the brain often operates in less mysterious ways - that is, once you understand  what it's ultimately trying to do.  

From this perspective transference can be interpreted as the brain is seeking to have a particular experience that it needs to complete its development.  

Let me explain.

We know that the brain changes mainly through personal experience. By its very nature, transference also exposes you to an experience - and it's one that you can learn from

Indeed, once a transference is resolved (ie. it no longer has a hold on you), many people report feeling like an adult, instead of feeling child-like in an adult world.

What is transference in therapy?

Transference is a dynamic psychological process whereby you experience your therapist as if he or she were totally 'good', or totally 'bad' (ie. you either idolize your therapist, or you've got a major hate on for the person). 

In other words, you experience your therapist in polar opposite ways - either black and white with no shades of grey.

Transference in relationships

Though the word 'transference' is usually associated with psychotherapy, you can actually develop a transference with anyone. In fact we all experience transferences to some degree in our personal relationships. 

The term 'transference' was adopted in reference to situations where we transfer unmet psychological desires or conflicts onto another person. For example, you might experience your partner’s assertiveness as if he was your dominating father. 

That is, you experience the person as if they were just like that other person, and you react accordingly. You're not "crazy" - you do this in an effort to meet a basic psychological need.

That need could be to get closure on an interpersonal conflict that has been brewing since childhood. Or a transference might arise with respect to a caring health professional who you (subconsciously) feel displays the exact same emotions and attitudes of your mother (or a mother you never had). 

You experience the other person that way because there's a part of you yearning for experience which were lacking in your emotional upbringing. As a result of this experience, the brain will 'fill the gaps' in your developmental history. 

So in this way, transference emerges out of a natural - even healthy - desire to feel whole. Successfully resolving the transference will better equip you to meet your adult needs.

Typical transference examples

Counseling Psychologist

Dr. Susan "Shrinklady" LaCombe

By: Psychologist Dr. Susan LaCombe

Updated: May 20, 2018

Jennie was feeling desperate. She hadn’t bargained on therapy creating more problems than she had when she began. At times it was all she thought about, and she didn't think she could hold it in any longer.

​Her husband of 20 years found her preoccupation with therapy a little confusing - yesterday he remarked offhandedly that he didn’t see the need for her to get dressed up before her appointments.

She knew it wasn’t right to keep him in the dark - she was so embarrassed.​

That wasn’t the tough part though.​

The truth was that she was in love with someone else - someone she couldn’t have. Someone she couldn't stop fantasizing about.​

Her therapist.

And things were getting out of hand.​

Last night she couldn’t sleep and found herself doing something she wasn’t proud of…she Googled him. Now she knows where he lives, that he has a wife and two kids etc. Though she felt like a stalker, she hoped that would be the end of it.​

But knowing about his private life didn’t help - it didn’t dampen her feelings for him one bit. And the thing is, she hasn’t even told him how she feels. She’s afraid he’ll refer her to someone else.​

How to work with transference

Jennie’s not aware that that experiencing feelings of attraction is not unusual in therapy. Called 'transference', it encompasses pretty much any feelings that get stirred up regarding your therapist.

Jennie's also in luck because there's a good chance her therapist will be prepared to work with her on the transference. It didn't used to be the case.

In traditional psychotherapies clients suffering from transference had no idea what was really going on. Unless or until they finally disclosed these feelings to their therapist (or a trusted friend) they were effectively on their own.

And even if they chose to bring the subject up in therapy, they often had a hard time getting a straight answer.

You see, the profession harboured a cold, highly analytical "left brain" bias**. The equal importance of the right brain and nervous system had not yet been added to the profession's theoretical toolbox, let alone therapists' clinical training.

Indeed, typical psychoanalytical approaches advised the therapist to say as little as possible about transference (to avoid pulling the client out of the process).

In fact, psychoanalysts were discouraged from saying anything at all, because their was to heighten the transference. This was to make it easier for both the therapist and client to see it.

The crucial limitation to this approach was its insistence on intellectual analysis of the transference. The client was  supposed to logically "think through" the experience and see the transference for what it was.

Making himself or herself emotionally available was the farthest thing from the therapist's mind, and the idea to be in resonance with the client's nervous system was a development still years in the future.

As you can imagine, this left clients helplessly drowning in  early undefended child-like states with no guidance how to save themselves.

The solution back then was simple...see your therapist more often...maybe twice a week for starters, sometimes for years on end.

Now I believe that in most cases this vulnerability was not taken advantage of. However, you can imagine how frightening the client’s dependency could be.

This is why classic psychoanalysts were required to undergo their own personal therapy as part of their training.

And while I personally don't agree with these methods (I've used other solutions for transference), they were right that facing and processing your transference paid huge therapeutic benefits.

Yet for years transference has been shrouded in mystery.  Only recently has the subject been openly discussed and recognized by the wider mental health community as a normal, instrumental part of therapy.

In fact, the Internet has been godsend in this regard. Folks in therapy can now connect with others going through the same process. Even so, most of those going into therapy have no idea that transference can strike without warning.

Is transference a good thing?

Absolutely. I'd call it the best kept secret of therapy!  Transference can completely transform how you feel about yourself because it's often rooted in our earliest, often pre-verbal, emotional development.

It enables the client to access an area of the brain that's impervious to talk therapy.

However, successful resolution of a transference requires some key conditions being met, the most important being the interactive skills of an attuned therapist. 

What kinds of changes can you expect? Well, transference is triggered by the emotional drive to belong and feel whole, and that can cover a lot of ground.

This is why resolving the transference can benefit you tremendously if you feel less worthy than others, less emotionally capable, or less entitled to have what you want or need.

Imagine how your life would change if you could experience the world as confidently as you see others experiencing it!​

How neuroscience explains transference.

Everyone you come in contact with can influence how you see yourself and how you experience the world. It's not just that the person you met left an impression on you, whether good or bad. Rather, I mean that person changed your brain - albeit in a minor way.

And it's a cumulative process. How you experience someone new is unconsciously influenced by how you experienced everyone you met before. (So you might want to be choosey about your friends :-).

Every person you meet triggers different emotional memories which can determine how you experience yourself, and everyone else from then on.


I am a part of all that I have met.

Tennyson

Transference to some degree operates in all our relationships. That not only includes your family but your friends as well.

And because transference is deeply rooted in your unconscious, in your early emotional experiences in particular, those memories will guide your moment-to-moment thoughts, feelings and behaviors today.

Find it hard to believe?

Well, recall your earliest friendships. Would you experience a childhood friend the same way if you were to meet him or her for the first time today?​

In fact, would you even become friends today? What about meeting an old love? Would the attraction still be there after all the experiences you've had in the intervening years?

How you experience someone is unique to you. For example, there's a professional colleague whom I regard as a father figure, even though we’re the same age. I look up to him, and if I were honest with myself, I’m a little in awe.

But that’s not how my friend sees him. She finds him pompous!

So we all see each other based on our unique histories. In effect, we transfer the feelings, memories and sensations associated with our past significant relationships onto others in the present, in our own unique way.

Of course, those who cared for us early on - typically our parents - have the deepest impact shaping how we experience others.

Why transference shows up in therapy

So, transference happens when you unconsciously 'transfer' the feelings, memories and desires you experienced in your early important relationships onto your therapist.

​Therapy heightens this unconscious propensity for transferring your feelings into the therapeutic relationship. It's intensified because therapy happens privately, within strict personal boundaries (and where the conversation is typically one way), there are no distractions to dilute how you experience your therapist. It can feel as though they’re caused by the therapist.

"He’s such a softie..even with his big belly..
I want him to hold me so badly."​

"I don’t understand what's happening. I’m not into women and now I’m attracted to my therapist who’s female.
It doesn’t make sense."

These feelings can take many forms apart from a romantic or erotic attraction (eg. you might feel as dependent as a child looking forward to seeing your Mom).

That’s how Robert feels towards his therapist. He loves being in therapy. It’s like going back to a home he never had. Her office even has a smell that he can detect just walking down the hall towards her door.

​He yearns to be hugged by her but he’s afraid she’ll think it odd if he asks. The hardest time is the end of a session, knowing it’s a whole week before he'll see her again. The waiting can be unbearable.

Tanya is far from feeling attracted. In fact, she’s considering leaving therapy altogether…for many reasons. For one, she finds him cold and distant. For another he doesn’t always answers her questions, and he then asks why she wants to know. And she hates when he writes his notes when she’s talking.

The worst is that she distrusts his sincerity when he says he cares about her well-being. She had no idea that she would develop such a strong reaction. You see, she’s done enough research to know that not all therapists understand transference (or can handle it). She wonders whether her feelings are coming from transference or whether this guy’s just not emotionally open. It’s so hard to tell.

Ironically, it’s become a problem in itself, in addition to the issues she came to therapy for. Tanya has an inkling it’s related to feelings for her father, whom she found overbearing. But if she terminates her therapy she’ll probably never find out.

Indeed, for many folks it’s only after they successfully resolve their transference feelings and experience themselves in new ways that they really grasp the power of it.

So Tanya’s wondering how “working through transference” will help her when her therapist shares so little emotionally. To complicate the situation, she also knows that not everyone gets through their transference successfully.​

Brain facts for working through transference.

If you’re in therapy you already know that the relationship you have with your therapist is not typical of ‘normal’ relationships. The focus of conversation is all about you.

Good therapists rarely say anything about themselves that isn’t in the service of helping you, the client.

For many, therapy might be the first time in their lives they’ve gotten so much personal attention. It often triggers early memories (good and bad) of being cared for as an infant, when someone had to feed, clothe and bathe you.


Brain image like a light bulb.

Brain Fact: Every function evolved with a purpose.

It may not be apparent, but there’s always an underlying agenda. In particular, whatever strengthens you emotionally will help ensure you find your place and survive as a valued member of your social group.

What does it have to do with transference? Well, for one, you can trust that transference has a purpose. (It's not your brain run amuck :))

Brain image like a light bulb.

Brain Fact: All memories are interconnected.

For example, it’s easier to remember who you hung out with in high school when you can picture what you did together back then. The names are all inside you, but they're easier to connect when you can 'see' what they look like.

The reason more connections are advantageous is because greater complexity leads to greater creativity, which maximizes our ability to adapt, and ultimately to survive.

It's also why one seemingly innocent event potentially triggers anxiety - it's tapping into an earlier, not so pleasant memory.

Brain image like a light bulb.

Brain Fact: The sense of “you” and your self-image arises out of the thousands of experiences you've had since birth.

The most potent of these experiences were those that occurred when your infant brain and nervous system were still developing.

Brain image like a light bulb.

Brain Fact: Emotional memories are different from other memories because they persist
              (ie. they don't fade away).

That means the emotional memories laid down early in infancy and childhood are first to shape how you feel about yourself. They’re called implicit memories (as opposed to explicit memories, like remembering what you ate for dinner last night).

When implicit memories are triggered, it’s like hearing a piece of music and being filled with a soothing feeling but not remembering where or when you heard it before. You experience it happening right now and you feel all the comfort, safety and security you did back then.

Brain image like a light bulb.

Brain Fact: It doesn’t matter how far back emotional memories go, they can be triggered in circumstances similar to those when they were first laid down 
(eg. being cared for by a good therapist is like being cared for as a                      child).

Although you may not remember that it was the same music your mother played when you were a child, but your nervous system does.

So Tanya's memory of the father who ignored her is still intact, and it's behind how she experiences her therapist. If she could take a step back, she might see that’s the same way she experiences other guys - especially those who are emotionally distant.

Brain image like a light bulb.

Brain Fact: The brain's inborn drive for growth and wholeness will unconsciously pressure you to seek out experiences that complete you.

That means, if any stages of your emotional development gets skipped over for some reason, there still remains a subtle urge to complete what didn’t happen. Tying up those loose emotional ends could be the primary benefit. That’s the task that needs to be worked through with your transference.

In other words, as your relationship with your therapist evolves, familiar feelings related to previous connections with others (even other therapists!) are triggered. You begin to experience your therapist - in the present - in much the same way you had experienced a significant person from your past.

Again, transference happens when you unconsciously transfer the feelings, memories and desires you experienced in your early important relationships onto your therapist.

So why would I experience my colleague as a warm father figure when my friend finds him pompous? One clue is that my biological father wasn’t in my life very long, and a stepfather who came along later was emotionally unavailable.

From an emotional development point of view it stands to reason that inside I feel incomplete - I yearn to have a 'make-up' experience that would help me feel whole.​

How to deal with transference

Therapy Bootcamp Offer for help dealing with transference

Basically, transference provides an opportunity for these early events to be re-experienced, not just endlessly talked about in therapy.

Transference brings these buried memories to life, where you can work through the underlying unmet needs or developmental gaps. It’s also why Jennie, Robert and Tanya could benefit by broaching how they feel with their therapist.

Therapy can easily get stalled for a long time when ‘the elephant in the room’ isn’t brought into the work.

And yes, doing this will be risky for each of them, and not just because they'll feel embarrassed. The greater risk is in how their therapists react.

Some therapists disregard transference, seeing it as an irrelevant but unavoidable by-product of therapy, more of a nuisance.

In other words, even if you disclose your true feelings, your therapist may not think anything of it and continue working as though it didn't exist. He or she may simply not understand the potential transference holds for deep personal change.

Other therapists may feel uncomfortable if their skill set is not up to handling your disclosure. Some may even refer you to another therapist.

But even if he’s never dealt with transference in his practice, your therapist can simply do what others have done in similar situations: get supervision from a therapist who knows how to handle these situations.

Most clients are willing to work with therapists when an authentic connection has been made, even when a therapist openly acknowledges limited experience in an area.

(What client wouldn’t be thrilled to work with a therapist who values an authentic, attuned connection?)

Transference in psychoanalysis

Transference was traditionally associated with psychoanalysis where the therapist would intentionally attempt to intensify it so it could be better observed and analyzed. 

For example, the analyst might be uncommunicative or emotionally distant - which tends to make most people feel uncomfortable. That discomfort in turn, tends to bring out our earliest unmet needs. This is particularly so where the "rules" of engagement are not spelled out.

It was believed that by resolving the “transference” the individual would no longer suffer from neurotic tendencies and eventually attain happiness.

Like other therapeutic approaches it was believed that transformative change happens through what could be called ‘left brain’ talk therapy.

In other words, if you talk enough about a subject, that it will lead to change.

My personal opinion on transference

However, even if you're able to allow the underlying emotions to be released by talking about them, there's unlikely to be any fundamental change if certain brain-wise conditions aren't met. (Otherwise, talking to a trusted friend would have similar results as therapy.)

Here's the problem.

Conventional therapy takes one of two approaches to change both of which I believe have serious limitations and a higher risk for emotional harm.

One involves the therapist presenting as a blank screen upon which you the client verbally project a picture of your emotional state (this is the psychoanalytic approach described above).

It is assumed that you will change as a result of any insight into your issues acquired. 

The second approach assumes that changing your thoughts will change your emotions.

​For clients working through intense transference feelings, these approaches are tantamount to sending children out into a winter storm without jackets. They end up re-experiencing pretty much what got them to therapy in the first place: insufficient attuned care.

If they cannot see themselves in the non-judgmental eyes of a therapist, there is nothing for the brain to learn from, no protection to help them navigate the "cold".

These approaches leave out what research in emotional development and neuroscience have confirmed over and over, that personal change in therapy depends upon your experience in therapy.

A therapist who is empathic, attuned and vitally engaged with you provides that life-changing experience in spades.

So the work of resolving the transference happens by chance in a hit or miss fashion…and takes much longer than need be, often years longer.

Given what we know now about how therapy changes the brain, that should not be happening.

So let me be clear about this. Can transference be resolved if your therapist practices Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)? Yes, as long your therapist goes beyond the standard technical aspects of the model. However, being emotionally available, being present with clients, and focusing on moment to moment interactions are not taught as part of that model.

Even so, there are always a few heartfelt CBT practitioners who manage to help their clients in deep and meaningful ways 🙂

Can your therapist help you resolve your transference if he or she is psychoanalytically trained? Yes, but only to the degree that your therapist departs from the traditional ‘blank slate’ model (ie. this model discourages the therapist from saying too much, does not emphasize emotional availability, and prefers analysis over present moment experience).

​And yes, there’s some heartfelt psychoanalytically-trained practitioners who just can’t help themselves and manage to help their clients in deep and meaningful ways 😉

Can transference be resolved if your therapist is ‘body-based’? Yes, and probably faster than the average therapist could do.

You see, the body-based approach is the clinical application of the best of brain science for one very important reason:

"Brain-wise, body-based therapy reaches areas of the brain that 'talk therapy' never can."

(especially pre-verbal developmental patterns).

The basic tenets of body-based work, includes attachment, emotional containment, moment to moment interactions, and presence. Each ensures that any transference reactions will be recognized, examined, and worked through in your therapy.

It’s also the best treatment model for anxiety because body based therapists know more than anyone that their ability to regulate clients’ high states of emotion is based on their own nervous system capacity to modulate sometimes overwhelming emotional energies.

Body based therapists also have numerous tools ("self-regulating techniques") that enable clients to manage overwhelming emotions on their own.

In particular, these body-based techniques help their clients to resolve and move beyond transference to fully developing their self-regulation skills.

On the other hand, even a body-based practitioner can take much longer than others when their nervous system can't contain and regulate a client’s emotional states.​

How to get over transference

Here's two tips that'll help you to move through your transference faster.

One is to understand that recognizing transference is only the first step in working with it.

In order to get the most out of your therapy and to ultimately change you at your core, the brain needs to "experience" feelings associated with your transference in the present moment.

Just discussing your feelings in the abstract, disconnected from your emotional reactions in the here and now, will do very little to resolve the transference.

Secondly, you need a new “healing” experience to override old patterns in the brain. Emotional unloading isn't sufficient.

These "healing" experiences generally emerge organically through the interactions with your therapist.

The not-so-good news is that these pivotal moments tend to occur at random. This needlessly prolongs your time in therapy.

Fortunately, we've learned from body-based clinical practice that there are some fairly simple concrete steps you can take to hone in on the transference and deliver the kind of experience your brain needs to move on.

In other words, you can actually be much more purposeful about moving through your transference. For one, these "pivotal moments" can be recalled repeatedly, automatically triggering the good feelings you had back then. This practice in essence "fills" you up on the inside by creating new neuropathways in the brain.

With persistence you can promote any change you want by replacing outdated or non-existent connections.

That's right, it fills in the gaps!

Pat yourself on the back if you're in therapy!

It's the most efficient and effective personal change agent I know. That's because within the safety and confidentiality of the therapeutic relationship, you can experience the powerful emotions of transference and use them to make incredible personal changes (and only two people in the world know anything about it! 🙂 )

Final musings

I can't confirm that a lot has changed in therapeutic circles since we first starting working with transference ie. in terms of how health professionals deal with transference today. However neuroscience has a few things to say about the process from which we can take some lessons. It needn’t be the scary process many people describe. 

Indeed, if approached with these insights in mind, transference need not be prolonged. In fact, in my view it’s best to take advantage of this time and get all that you can out of it.

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Shrinklady

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Related Topic

External Resources

Transference among people online

Feeling attached and ashamed

** It's not to say that the therapists during this era weren't caring individuals, it's just that the theories at the time promoted value in "analysis". In truth, I imagine the field attracted those folks who were good at analysis - whether they were also "caring" seemed to be less important. It wasn't until decades later that we had the science to back up the idea that the therapist's emotional availability was playing a key role.

Readers Comments

Therapy Guru Avatar

Debra, Traverse City, USA

Became dependent on my therapist so quickly

I find transference frightening! I don't know how I can become so dependent on a therapist, so quickly! I count the days, even hours until I can see him and talk about my issues...it scares me!

Dr. Susan LaCombe Psychoshrink

Shrinklady

You're absolutely right Debra . . . transference can be very scary. It's good to hear you have that an awareness of it. I think that's half the work.

The kinda cool part about it too is that if this is happening with your therapist, you can be almost assured that the same dynamic is playing a role in your life . . . even in ways you might not imagine at this point . . .what I mean is, won't it be great when it's no longer interfering with your life.

That's certainly been my experience. I've been quite surprised--and pleased--with the changes I've made. I could never have predicted them based on the work I did.

So, I wish the same success for you.

All the best,

Shrinklady


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Jack

Love and hate my therapist

Transference is a hard thing to deal with in therapy. I'm a man and I'm having a bad transference with my T currently. I feel like I Love her and I've told her and faced it all my feelings as honestly as I can, but it still hurts.

My transference goes back and forth between positive (love) and very negative(hate) with her. I also have trouble surrending to it and just working it through because I feel my T. has all the power and I'm the one who is very vulnerable.

Dr. Susan LaCombe Psychoshrink

Shrinklady

Please know you're not alone Jack. Having conflicting feelings is not unusual in regards to transference.

It’s good that you brought your feelings out in the open. . . . a good beginning. The healing part comes - as you correctly identified - in working through the feelings - both negative and positive that emerge in your session.

On a practical level it requires you to be present to the feelings and at the same time to experience a positive interaction with your therapist. I understand from what you’re saying that this is turning out to be a difficult task given the feelings of vulnerability that are arising and where you feel your therapist has all the power.

Can I suggest that these feelings are not unfamiliar to you Jack? You see, as you may know, what's projected onto our therapist - in the absence of truly knowing our therapist - are unmet needs from our early life.

You can imagine then how it wouldn’t be unusual for you to experience these conflicting feelings if for example in the case when you felt natural love towards your caretaker (ie. your Mom) and when the same caretaker was the source of pain (eg. through her own dissociative trauma).

For the infant who’s totally dependent on the caretaker for most of his needs, it can create enormous conflicted “push pull” feelings. It’s this conflict that I believe is emerging in your transference and that is triggering the feelings of helplessness.

The feeling that your therapist has all the power relates to not having a measure of control over feelings. This is something that you develop when you harness the power of the nervous system. As I have attempted to explain elsewhere - with practice - you can grow this capacity.

Hope this gives you some ideas to work with,

Shrinklady


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suz. boston, usa

Feel humiliated with my transference 

I am experiencing transference for the first time and am finding it incredibly painful and difficult. The thought of talking about it with my therapist brings up huge feelings of humiliation and seems impossible.

I never had a "real" mom, just a neglectful abusive one, and long for the nurturance and care she represents to me. I know it can't happen that way, but it causes so many huge feelings to come up in me. It's helpful to have these feelings labeled.

Dr. Susan LaCombe Psychoshrink

Shrinklady

Thanks Suz for comments and for sharing your experience. Transference is incredibly powerful energy, I know. On the positive, that these feelings have surfaced represent a huge potential for healing and growth. I hope at some point you find it within yourself to open up to the nurturance available to you in the relationship with your therapist.

In regards to the feelings of shame that have arisen . . .
In a healthy relationship between Mom and infant, there’s lots of instances where you would learn to get to know your feelings and for them to be validated. When this is absent - as seems to be the case based on your description - you as the infant would have no option but to interpret that you’ve done something wrong - hence the shameful feelings. (Recall too that the infant experiences her world as if she is causing these things to happen.)

If it’s any inspiration for you to continue . . .

When heart-felt feelings arose in me during my own therapy, just as you described, they were tied with a deep shame. I couldn't look at my therapist. It was gut wrenchingly difficult to tease them apart.

What I've learned though, is that the more I open my heart (and move through the pain), my connections with others take on more meaning. My life becomes richer.

It helped me to know that I needn't go fast. I could take baby steps.

I wish you similar progress on your very special journey,

Shrinklady


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Hannah (Manitoba, Canada

Feel like a stalker

I have a similar situation to that of Dale's. I am a lesbian as well, but I am married to my partner of 11 years and very much in love with her. I have been very concerned with my feelings that I have had towards my Psychiatrist (also female, but much older).

I have serious issues with talking to people about my personal 'stuff' so seeing a Dr. was a difficult choice to make for me. My first 10 sessions were very very quiet on my part. But yet after my 4th session I realized that I had significant sexual feelings towards her and started to research her on the net, finding out such personal things as her home address (which I have driven by).

I feel like a stalker and my partner is also becoming concerned with how interested I am in the Dr's life! I'm afraid to tell her (Dr.) how I feel because like everyone else, the thought of the rejection is horrifying. By the way, she has diagnosed me with an Anxiety Disorder with Panic Attacks.

I really noticed that I had deep feelings for her when she had suggested that our sessions end until I felt I was able to participate in the Talk Therapy she was offering me. I freaked and started to cry (the first time I showed any emotion in an appointment). I told her that we couldn't end the sessions because I wasn't ready and I didn't think that I could handle not coming, then explained how stressed I was when our appointments were cancelled over Christmas.

She decided to continue the sessions as I had made a breakthrough at that point. I should have said something at that point but didn't understand the feelings myself, let alone have to explain them to her.

I googled 'being in Love with your therapist' and came upon the word 'transference', I've now realized, after reading your site and others, that I am normal (so to speak). I think that because I had a very poor connection with my mother as a child/young adult (before she died) that I am possibly confusing sexual feelings with that of wishing she were my mother because of the compassion she shows, and her ability to make me feel like she cares.

Anyway, thanks for having such a great site, it's motivated me to talk to her about transference, if I can manage to get it out of me.

Dr. Susan LaCombe Psychoshrink

Shrinklady

Hannah, thanks for sharing your story with us. As you may have read elsewhere, transference is often a good sign that it feels safe enough to let your emotions out. There just might be enough connection in the relationship that the therapist is likely able to acknowledge and to help you work through these feelings. So I'm glad to hear you are on this journey of healing.

If you haven't already brought up the subject (it's been some time since you posted) I'd encourage you to do so – it can be a real door opener for you and a healing moment and more for your therapy.

You mentioned that "I should have said something" in reference to your breakthrough. You know, you can always pick this up at any time during your sessions and make it your right time.

For example, you can take a moment and recall that session with her. Tell her you've given it some thought and you realize now what you didn't realize then, that you've become attracted to her. Even if you've already raised the subject of transference with her, remember that earlier sessions and your interactions with your therapist always make for good therapy material.

Another observation: I felt it was unfair and unfortunate for your therapist to threaten abandonment because you weren't saying enough. When I read your post I was reminded of my own experience many years ago with a psychiatrist. I would sit there, session upon session, saying little. She was kind enough towards me, but now I know that being "nice" isn't the stuff that makes for good therapy.

Good therapists help clients learn to regulate their emotional states and that requires the hard work of being emotionally attuned and engaged in the present moment and throughout the session.

From neuroscience, we've learned that it is essential for our emotional brain to have safety. Yet my therapist then did little to foster the sense of safety I needed, other than to gently ask me questions. We never talked about the need to reduce my fears or find ways to help me feel safe in the sessions.

It's my belief that the therapists who get results teach folks to “ground" themselves through the body and/or to resource themselves by recallling pleasant experiences (i.e. using body psychotherapy techniques such as belly breathing and focusing). They make the task of grounding an explicit, concrete part of the therapeutic work.

The therapist's job is to meet the client where ever he or she is at. If a client isn't able to embrace the therapy approach - particularly when the presenting problem is around self-expression - then the working through might entail what blocks her from sensing into the energy of her words. (For instance in your case, what happens when you think about speaking. What shows up in your body? What are the sensations?)

You see, therapy isn't about getting it right before we arrive at the front door. It shouldn't be a sink or swim experience. Ideally, the therapist is there to help you take your small steps and to show you the way to your best life ever!

If you find these thoughts worthwhile, you might think about opening up a dialogue for further discussion with your therapist – I suspect it just might lead to a new line of therapeutic encounters.

All the best,

Shrinklady


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Attachment Girl, The Psych Cafe

I struggle with feeling dependent on my therapist.

I'm another one struggling with an intense transference relationship, but am grateful that my therapist and I have been really open about it. While keeping very safe boundaries in place, he has been open to hearing about all my feelings and working it through. All that said, it can be incredibly painful and frustrating

I know one thing that I have struggled with the most is feeling like I am so dependent on my therapist. There is a book that has really helped me understand what is going on in the relationship and the way in which it is healing that I would like to recommend for anyone dealing with this. the book is The General Theory of Love by Thomas Lewis.

It discusses our need for attachment and limbic resonance in order to regulate our nervous systems. Its a great companion to a lot of the information available on this web site. And its really well written, I found it very accessible for a layman.

Dr. Susan LaCombe Psychoshrink

Shrinklady

Thanks Attachment Girl for sharing this and your book suggestion. I took a boo at the book and as I was skimming through, thought it looked pretty good. In fact, I will put it forward as a selection for my study group.

I stumbled upon a quote from the book..."When an emotional chord is struck, it stirs to life memories of the same feeling." (pg. 130) It seemed like a good match for transference.

The quote made me think about boundaries and I'm so glad you referred to them. In my view, good boundaries are essential for the full working through of transference reactions.

Not every one might appreciate the idea around boundaries in the context of understanding transference, so let me briefly add this. When a therapist recognizes that the client's anger is coming from another place he or she does not take it personally...and is able to see it for what it is...while maintaining a solid connection. This is how boundaries are maintained and the healing occurs.

In other words, the brain is having a new experience.

You had mentioned struggling with feelings related to the dependency on your therapist. I can understand that, in a word, you've done this before (in infancy) and it didn't quite work out...so it makes it all the more scary today.

As you have probably read, if we don't have a chance as an infant to feel secure and safe with our caregiver then in therapy we will revisit our yearning to feel dependent upon our therapist.

In other words, "leaning on" our therapist is how we heal.

As you proceed in therapy, hopefully you will discover that it is through this process you become more fully who you are. And, just like an infant, when you get enough of your needs met, you will flourish!

All the best on your journey,

P.S. the "leaning on" phrase came from a book recommended to me by Dr. Carole, called Lean on Me by Marion Solomon. (the same Solomon who co-wrote Parenting from the Inside Out.)

I received a reply from Attachment Girl and here's what she said:

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Attachment Girl, The Psych Cafe

Shrinklady, Thanks so much, that all made a lot of sense. And thank you so much for the book recommendation. I read Parenting from the Inside Out which my therapist recommended when I asked for a book on attachment and it had an incredible impact on me. I will definitely be reading this one.

I hope your study group enjoys A General Theory of Love. My therapist actually read it after I had told him about it and we've discussed it extensively as it has really resonated with the work we're doing. Although, he did say he was very bummed out while reading it because there was another book he didn't get to write. : )

Thank you so much for being such a help on my journey.


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Diane, Livingston, USA

Why aren’t my feelings for my therapist real?

I'm sure I'm experiencing transference and cannot stand it. I walk into the office all ready to talk about my feelings and as soon as I sit down I shut down and feel like I'm 10 years old.

I hate her and love her at the same time and can't stand that I wasn't warned that this crap can happen. I blame her for not warning me about transference and really wish I had never met her at times. I started out in marriage counseling which went well and it's 3 years later and I can't leave. I've tried--said goodbye--decided I was done, but something draws me back to her.

By the way I am a woman and I do not have sexual desires for my therapist when I say I love her, it's a love for this person that always listens and is always there for me. Reality is she's not tough. She can't answer the phone whenever I call and when I need to talk I can't. I hate that I have to wait for and appointment. It would also be sooooo much easier to discuss all of this with her on the phone and she won't do that. I want to quit , but can't. I'm stuck. I hope you can help.

Dr. Susan LaCombe Psychoshrink

Shrinklady

Diane re-posted and added these comments. I thought I'd include them as she's posed some good questions.

Shrinklady

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Diane

After re-reading what I wrote, I thought I'd add a few more lines. Why does everything I say about her or my feelings have to relate to something else? I feel like my feelings are not real because we are always looking for a reason for them and they are suppossedly not really towards her but something else.

Why can't I just like and not like my therapist? Also, how am I suppossed to trust her when she doesn't open up to me? I know I would be more comfortable talking if she allowed me to trust her with something. I hate the one-sidedness of the whole thing. I have googled her and found out information, but that's not good enough. I actually became very angry by what I found.

Sometimes I really don't even know why I'm seeing her, but like I said, I'm drawn toward the whole thing. I go into the office or call her expecting one thing and leave or hang up disappointed. I have also talked to her about crying in the office. I have said that I won't cry because I'd feel foolish sitting there while she stares at me crying.

The other thing is now that I told her that how can I cry if I feel it coming on? I'll really feel like a fool after telling her I'm not going to. I'd feel like I was giving in. As you can see there's alot going on and I'm really am stuck. I've thought about trying a new therapist, but really don't want to start all over again. Help

Dr. Susan LaCombe Psychoshrink

Shrinklady

Hi Diane, I felt there was so much in your post that I asked my friend, Dr. Carole to add her thoughts to the topic. What we were really struck with is your deep yearning for a felt connection with your therapist, which is so healthy. And, yes we do hear the agony that you are going through.

Your description of what is happening for you in therapy seems most descriptive of transference. You are allowing yourself to access other parts of yourself. As you might already know, we can't get better without that.

In your situation, it also seems that you can rely on your therapist's consistent physical presence. You can count on her being there when you arrive for your appointments. And, despite what it feels like, from our perspectives, there is also adequate connection in your relationship with your therapist. Otherwise, it is unlikely the transference would have surfaced at all. With that noted, it seems like the felt connection is not sufficient.

What we wondered is if you were being attuned to? It seems to us that your therapist is staying too far away which is keeping you feeling quite desperate and despairing . . . probably the same feelings you felt as an infant and the source of the transference.

She seems to reveal so little of herself. Without feeling her presence it must be incredibly scary for you. It likely feels as if you are hanging out there without the sure footing that a caring attuned mother would give her infant.

You need to feel that at some point she is joining with you . . . that she experiences your yearning for connection. It's that feeling of being "tuned into" that provides the kind of emotional safety that helps us heal. She is holding firm boundaries but what seems to be absent is the processing of your relationship as you work together. In other words, she is not making the relationship between the two of you part of the therapy.

You mentioned how your therapist keeps referencing your feelings to "something else". In actual fact, any feeling we have can link up with our past. That goes for any one of us, for any feeling. That's just the way we're wired.

However, while these past-present hook-ups need to be made and it sounds like you're getting a sense of how your past is playing a role in the dynamic, what seems to be missing is looking at what's happening between the two of you in the present moment.

It's a tricky balance. You need to know that your therapist is tough enough to handle what you throw at her but also that she is being impacted by it to some degree. You need to feel her humanness. She needs to match your energy so you can bounce up against something. It kinda reminds me of what a parent might do when a teenager is acting out--meeting their energy with firm boundaries and love.

We were also struck by your struggle with crying while your therapist looks on. Both Dr. Carole and I have had clients express a similar "push-pull" with tears. How a therapist responds can potentially support a healing moment. However, if the bid for connection goes unmet, it can quickly turn into another, "once again I'm alone in my tears".

When Dr. Carole has a sense that her client may be feeling stared at, it is through her attunement that she senses what's most appropriate. For example, some clients will say they don't want to cry while agonizing through spilled tears. In some cases, the depth of a client's tears are such that she will ask if it's okay to sit beside her.

Dr. Carole finds that this helps her client move through the emotion more easily. Because, after all tears are a natural way of expressing deep emotion. We want to honour them, not tuck them away.

One of the things you may have noticed on the site Diane, is my emphasis on neuroscience and child development. Insights from these sources are helping us to see that "we are more human than otherwise" and that our need for connection is a requirement for mind body growth. We feel that your desire to have your therapist "trust you with something" comes from a healthy part of you. You see, as we feel trustworthy, our sense of trust in ourselves expands, and with that, so does life.

We've done our best to address the dynamics described in your post. It's never possible however to objectively know from the outside the nuances inside a therapeutic relationship. Our wish is that we have been helpful and that our musings will assist you in deepening your relationship with your therapist.

All the best on your journey,

Shrinklady and Dr. Carole


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Just Me, Michigan, USA

Would it hurt if my therapist said those things?

I have been in therapy for just over two years and I began to notice transference feelings for my therapist after the first 4 months. It started as sexual attraction which threw me for a loop because I am a happily married hetero-sexual female and my therapist is also female.

I became distraught in thinking that something is terribly wrong with me, that if I confessed my horrible feelings for her that she would find me disgusting and terminate my therapy (abondon me). I spent many painstaking hours researching this phenomenon until I finally found the courage to confront my therapist. (The book "In Session" by Deborah Lott was invaluable for me)

I was relieved to find out this was normal and that she did not find me disgusting and absolutely would never abandon me. She has remained a stable force in my life and two years later after working through multiple traumas I am ever more attached to her maternally. I still have a physical attraction, but most of my feelings are clearly my little girl-self desiring her to mother and nurture me.

I confessed to her recently that sometimes I wish that she was my mother (although impossible because she is only 10-12 years older than me.) While I am still greatly uncomfortable with my childish longings and feelings for her I know that expressing myself is always healing. But I still find it frightening. I still feel that there is something wrong with me and that she will finally get so frustrated with me and give up saying "Oh THAT again." And I know better!

Sometimes I find myself crying because I miss her so much between sessions and because she cannot be my mother. Then I feel so foolish for having these thoughts even though I intellectually get why I do. I even feel obsessed with wanting to know more about her even though she is not rigid about sharing some info about herself. She keeps good boundaries and yet is very authentic and genuine. I feel lucky to have her as my therapist but I am still struggling with my overwhelming attachment to her and still afraid to fully expose myself.

Reading your site and Robin Shapiros website gives me a feeling that I am not alone and that letting it all out is exactly what I need to do. It feels so BIG inside of me, but I am still afraid to let it all out and I am not always certain what all of it really is. Sometimes I wish she would just say "I know you're feeling something so just spill it." But she is ever patient waiting for me to work up the nerve to do so on my own.

She has told me that she desires for me to be able to finally express my needs and yet I resist. Partly because I know she can't really meet my needs. She cannot magically become my mother, she cannot hold me and let me cry like a child in her arms, she cannot love me the way I want her to love me. I want her to tell me that i am important and lovable to her, and that she thinks I am intelligent, but she seems more inclined for me to adopt those beliefs on my own.

Would it hurt for her to say those things to me?

In regards to my wanting to know more about her I find myself seeking info on the Internet about her desiring to find the slightest tid-bit then feeling guilty if I learn something she may not want for me to know. This is all so hard to express let alone deal with. I hope that I make some sense. I can't really tell myself. Thank you

Dr. Susan LaCombe Psychoshrink

Shrinklady

Hello Just Me, I was really moved by your story. It sounds as if you're on the right track...slowly, ever so gently, opening up and tapping into your unmet needs. I'm impressed how hard you are working to understand what's going on for you.

You may already be aware that the tears for your therapist are no doubt stemming from earlier losses. Your therapist has helped you to access these yearnings. And, now she can help you heal through the feelings that are attached to her.

It is perfectly natural for you to be thinking of her after your sessions and to have a desire to be with her. Missing your therapist is predictable. She is giving you what you didn't get in your early years . . . unconditional love. Your mind will take you there whenever you need to be supported. I would encourage you to receive the memory of her as you need to. Try not to hold back or judge your thoughts and feelings. This is your body mind trying to heal.

Eventually, that little girl will have enough love so she can grow up.

Clients have told me that the most pivotal times in therapy were when I shared with them how I felt about them. These honest heartfelt moments helped them to deeply heal.

As I say the words they need, I encourage them to receive it as much as possible. They have told me that they remember these times for when they are feeling down and lonely. (We do the same thing when we think of a friend during difficult times.)

In the abscence of hearing the words you need from your therapist, I suggest that you imagine her saying those things and then take a long moment to receive it and really take it in.

Allow the image of her love and her words to wash over you. I think the more you allow yourself this comfort, the less compelled you will feel to seek out information about her and the greater your healing.

All the best,

Shrinklady

I received this wonderful update from Just Me after posting my reply.

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Just Me

Thank you Shrinklady! Your words are very kind and soothing. This has been a long hard journey at times, but the change/metamorphosis has been so healing. I receive so many comments from people about something being different about me. (For the better.) It has been a lot of hard work and it is so worth it. I have worked through multiple traumas and my T says that my attachment is my BIG trauma. But I am gaining exposure and she has been wonderful about it.

I like how you related that you say the words your clients need to hear. My T has dropped some hints, but it seems as though she wants me to pick it up by experiencing and not just hearing, but I long to hear it. I really do. Maybe I should tell her that. Its Funny how you suggested that I imagine her saying the words I need to hear, I do that all the time. But I think I can do that effectively because I also do get a sense that there is a love or affection there on her part.

I want to tell you that I really appreciate how you take the time to reflect on and to respond to so many posts despite your busy schedule as a Therapist. Hearing a Therapist’s side of the relationship is touching. I hope you can continue to be available.

Much heartfelt thanks!

Just Me


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Shaz, London

Transference is not cool and should never be encouraged

I have suffered extreme transference and don't find it cool at all. It has left me with feelings of rejection and abandonment and I will never get over the intense pain I felt. It has taken me two years to get to some sort of normal and I still get waves of deep sadness. I have spoken to many, many sad hurt people who suffer this and some,including myself, have been suicidal. I believe, until you know enough about the damage that can be done, it should not be encouraged at all. The last thing I would describe as is cool.

Dr. Susan LaCombe Psychoshrink

Shrinklady

I stand corrected Shaz. What you experienced is definitely not cool. The reality is that much can be gained in therapy without working with transference or encouraging it to develop. Without sounding self-serving, I wrote a whole program that took over three years to develop for just that purpose. You can get beyond it whether you’re still in therapy or not.

I also agree that transference need not be encouraged. I personally don’t ascribe to those therapies that purposely try to induce it (where the therapist says very little or is barely available emotionally to the client etc.). What’s worse is that I’ve heard from folks who’ve been in this situation and they’ve described having been left to their own resources to get through it. Like nothing is explained to them and no tools to speed up the process are provided.

In this latter instance in my view, the therapist’s role tends to perpetuate the same dynamics that the client experienced at the hands of an ill-suited caretaker.

Transference though is a reality in all relationships to some degree albeit it can be quite small in some regards. So whether the therapist encourages it or not, it’s bound to occur in some instances.

What I hope to make known is that neuroscience offers us a hope and the tools to get through much faster and much easier than was previously thought.

I hope that one day you will feel you’re beyond it and that your life is the richer for it.

Best regards,

Shrinklady


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Carol. Omaha, USA

Can my CBT therapist help me resolve my transference?

My therapist of 3 1/2 years recently told me I was getting close to being ready to terminate therapy. I originally went to him as part of a compulsive gambling treatment program (I was also abusing prescription drugs at the time) I have truly turned my life around to a miraculous degree--I have not practiced my addictions since about 6 weeks into treatment.

However, my gut reaction to my therapist's pronouncement was to feel extreme fear of abandonment. He has been very like my own father to me throughout my process of reclaiming my life. (My dad died in 1991)

Anyway, my question is this: Must the therapist be psychodynamically oriented for me to resolve my transference? My therapist is very CBT focused and does not express very much emotion. I read something you wrote about a therapist needing to be emotionally responsive enough in the therapeutic relationship for the transference to resolve. Am I out of luck if this man chooses to remain somewhat emotionally unavailable.

Dr. Susan LaCombe Psychoshrink

Shrinklady

Yes, Carol, that's right. In order to heal we need some of the same conditions that were present when we first developed our emotional template. We need our therapist to be emotinally available to us. In this way we feel some of the same type of feelings that we had as infants. This helps us to reconfigure neuropathways and old emotional patterns.

When your therapist has been with you over a period of time, this helps to heal that part of you that didn't get consistent care. This care, in effect, helps heal old wounds. It seems that this might be the case with your therapist as he's been there with you for 3 1/2 years.

What's also necessary for healing is a therapist that is sufficiently present and attuned. This describes a therapist that appreciates the importance of relationship and being emotionally available. He or she works to be there for you. For instance, he might pull back and/or challenge you as he senses you're readiness for the next step. You feel he really "gets" you.

What troubles me Carol in your description of your therapist are the words, "this man". They appear to reflect a lack of felt connection (and maybe healthy anger at suddenly feeling dropped).

Let me propose a hypothesis. We all choose a therapist based on our history. We either choose the familiar or the scary (albeit not too scary) "expansive-for-us" therapist. In the former, the "familiar" feels comfortable. So, for example, if a lack of connection is all we know, then it feels "just right"--at least initially.

Carol, it is very possible this is how you initially came to your therapist. You chose what you knew. However with your growth over the years, you are now recognizing a need for more connection. Sometimes we don't know how we've grown until it is brought to our attention. And, your recent experience with your therapist may have been one of those times. That is, how you feel about connection with another may have become more apparent to you when he suggested terminating your therapeutic relationship.

However, crappy this proclamation by your therapist feels, it is all well and good as an indicator of your emotional growth.

It is true that some treatment approaches are not sensitive to relational dynamics. This doesn't necessarily mean that the therapist isn't. If you are up for the task of bringing your feelings into the therapy, he may respond in kind.

Let me give you an idea of the kind of optimal reflections a therapist that's concerned about the therapeutic relationship might make. So, he might say for instance, "You know, I think you're doing really well. And I have noticed all these changes during our work together (such as x, y and z) and I'm so excited about how far you've come. Given this, I have an inkling that we may be heading into a home stretch. What do you think and how do you even feel that I am bringing this up to you today?"

These of course are just a sample of ideas but hopefully they give you an idea of what's possible. It strikes me that a therapist that is able to work with a client for 3 1/2 years might have the kind of qualities that makes it easy for clients to continue i.e. he has some of the emotionally available traits I'm referring to. (Clients tend to leave therapists sooner who aren't good at relationship building.)

I think he might also be able to apply his treatment model to your issue and help you work this out. But it'd be good to tell him how you felt when he mentioned termination (hate that word...sounds like there's no hope and the image of Arnold Schwartzanager doesn't help) and ask him if he felt he could help you work it out. Based on his response, you can decide if he is up to the task.

Carol, it's not unusual that one therapist is good for only a part of our journey. In fact, my therapist today would not have been a good fit for me years ago. So in your case, if you feel he is not making the kind of effort to connect with you especially over this issue, you may need to seek out someone who can take you to the next level.

I wish you well on your journey,

Shrinklady and Dr. Carole (we all need helpers )


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Erin

Being emotionally vulnerable scares me

Hmm... someone mentioned the word transference to me and I googled it. It freaked me out a bit. I am a strongly independent and stubborn person, and the thought that I could become so emotionally vulnerable to someone else TERRIFIES me. Yet I have done just that. Only it isn't with my therapist, it is with my occupational therapist that I see for something else (though my mental health is very intertwined in what brought me to see her in the first place).

I think in just knowing about transference, I can take a step back (hopefully) and realize that this is transference. While I don't have sexual feelings for her, I think about her often and look forward to therapy every week. If something gets in the way of that I get very upset about it. Also, I enjoy the therapy very much, and find it very calming and pleasant, so I think I associate that with her as well.

She is leaving for maternity leave any time now, and we will be planning towards discharge upon her return. I became very upset about this (I knew about it months ago), and even suicidal. I know that she is NOT my therapist, and that once my OT goals have been reached it is time for me to part my ways with her.

But I feel like I am losing a VERY important support in my life, especially because I have moved, and am seeing a new therapist. I have not developed a lot of trust with my new therapist yet, and I don't feel totally open to talk to her about what exactly is going with my occupational therapist. Hearing about this has actually given me a lot of hope, in that this is relatively normal. I do know that her leave and transitioning out of therapy will be very hard, but now I think I understand why it terrified me so much.

Dr. Susan LaCombe Psychoshrink

Shrinklady

Yes, that's right Erin, transference can happen with anyone as you have discovered. The feelings that surface through transference are useful for helping us to see more of ourselves. You see, it's really not about the person per se but what comes up for us in relationship with the person. It wakes us up to what we're yearning for even if we're not conscious of it.

In your case, it appears that she is helping you to feel what's it's like to be in someone's presence and feeling safe and calm. What a gift!

You will always have the memory of your OT and I would encourage you to use that in times when you need to. For instance, you can call upon the kindness you felt from her when feeling stressed.

I would also encourage you to talk to your therapist about your feelings for your OT. She will be able to help you navigate the upcoming transitions.

Keep in mind that one of the things that may be preventing you from forming a closer relationship with your current therapist is the closeness you feel with your OT.

All the best on your journey,

Shrinklady


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Audrey

Constantly worried about being close to anyone

I have issues with people walking out of my life. I am constantly worried about being close to anyone. However, I notice that i have a serious attraction to my therapist. I feel like I need to stop going to her because I feel like she will realize this and stop seeing me. I find it hard to open up to her like i sholud because of my feelings for her.

What is your advice to this problem. ps I am thinking of telling her how i am feeling. Is this a good idea?

Dr. Susan LaCombe Psychoshrink

Shrinklady

Hi Audrey, should you tell her? Yes, that's what therapy is all about.

It's been some time since I'm responding to your question Audrey so you may have already taken this step. And I believe you already answered this question for yourself in your post. You mentioned that you have a hard time being close to someone. Yet, here you are...deep into the beginnings of a new level of closeness with another human being and your fear of abandonment is coming up. Good.

We need the feelings to be present in order to change them. This is what therapy offers, a new experience from which the brain can learn from.

Try to remember that your fears arise from experience - experiences you likely had as an infant. What we've learned through neuroscience is that what develops in relationship, must be healed in relationship.

So, it is natural that you would be fearful of becoming close and then abandoned. Good therapy offers a chance for us to tease these crossed wires apart so that one day, feeling emotionally close is synonymous with trust and safety.

All the best on your journey Audrey,

Shrinklady


Q & A’s covered in the Transference eCourse

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TJ (USA)

I’m afraid my therapist will leave me

Oh my god............it helps so much to hear other people feeling the same! I have been in therapy for close to 12 years (twice a week), following one year in therapy where a therapist had me admitted to the hospital and had the hospital tell me that she was terminating with me. Soon after discharged I overdosed and was in the ICU for five days.

After years of being ambivalent about attaching myself to this therapist, I am terrified that she will leave me some day. I have told her that she is going to find me dead in her house when she retires......this is no joke and I am scared to death! When she goes away my symptoms are so bad and the only way I can deal with it is to overdoes on my medications and stay in bed for weeks until she returns. I just don't see a good way for a termination to happen. I only think of the pain that I will be left with and it isn't something that I will be able to manage! I just know I will die.

I keep telling her that I need a plan in place, in the event that something happens to her, and she still hasn't developed a plan for me. I think therapy just doesn't work for everyone and in some cases it makes people worse.........it provides you with one of the best relationships then takes it away. I can't even stand the thought of the pain...............I just know I will die! And I want her to know that pain.......not physically hurting her, I just want to die in front of her and have her see my pain. TJ (so distraught at the thought)


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Tania, London, UK

My therapist acted on her feelings

I once had a really good therapist / alternative practitioner - After seeing her twice a week for six months, she terminated the sessions saying that she could no longer be my therapist/healer because of the way she felt about me. - I of course had real feelings of attatchment and love, but knew about transference and therefore had ignored those feelings.

She on the otherhand chose to act on hers and invited me to have a sexual relationship with her...... 10 years on we are no longer together - the relationship was short-lived on her part - but I am left unable to achieve resolution and have been left with acutely painful feelings of rejection, sadness, low self-esteem, and anger at what now feels like un-requited love.

What am I to do?


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Dale, New Jersey, USA

I think about my therapist sexually

I have been in therapy for 4 months now and i am having transference issues. i am a female with a female therapist. i think about her sexually as well as being a friend after termination, neither of which will happen i am sure. i can never wait until the next session and is all i ever think about. i am really worried about termination and i feel i won't be able to deal with it without going crazy.

we have not discussed transference issues yet. i refuse to bring it up. i am hoping she will ask me, and even then i might not say anything about it. i am also a gay female and i dont want to scare her in any way.

Also, is counter-transference as common as transference?? I feel so dependent i cant stand it.. Thank you..


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Caroline, South Carolina, USA

How do I tell if my therapist is genuine?

How do you know as a client whether the interaction you have with your therapist is genuine or just the reaction of a very well trained practitioner?


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Woodensoul

I don’t trust my therapist

Sometimes I think I am just addicted to therapy and can not get out of it. I have been through some wretched experiences lately. I wish I could get help but I really do not know where to go for help.

I do not trust my current therapist. She has done a couple of things that I was shocked by. I am trying to sort out whether these things were called for on her part or not. I feel she uses my words against me. Uses the information I give her to set up traps.

Is it me being uncooperative or is it her being a bad therapist or something in between? I guess I'd have to devulge more here to really get any answers. But I am new here. I am glad I found this site though. Helps me know I am not alone however I get the feeling that therapy and transference is a bit like drug addiction. I live in Minneapolis (I know how boring)


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Female

Is it okay to fantasize about my therapist?

Is it okay for me to fantasize sexually about my therapist? Will this prove detrimental to the therapeutic process?

I am doing my best to resist it, but I also don't want to make too much of it. I sorta feel like it's only natural and normal to fantasize about persons I find sexually attractive, and I am trying to undo my conflation of sex and shame.

On the other hand, I am afraid that if I do, I will someday have to admit it to her. I definitely do not want to discuss a sexual attraction. I am considering opening up about the transference that is precipitating this, but I do not feel it would be necessary or beneficial to mention this part.

What is your take?

P.S. We are mainly focusing on CBT, not standard talk therapy.


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Dorothy (CA, USA)

My fantasies are getting out of control.

I need to get over my obsession with him and am hoping I can. I still think we would be great for each other. We grew up in the same area and he is about 10-12 years older than me. I have always been attracted to older, intelligent men. I do have a boyfriend that I have been with for over 25 years but he is not smart enough for me. We do have a satisfying sex life but I love the shrink for his smart intellect, sense of humor and caring abilities. I am definitly,"shrink-rapt"!!

I want to get over him and am hoping to find some relief from websites like this. At least I know I am not alone. A lot of people are experiencing what I am. I just wish he would reach out to me now that we are no longer patients of his. Is this still taboo? We are not patients anymore and it has been over a year since my son and I have seen him. I would love to invite him to a casual lunch but don't have the guts to ask. I am afraid of rejection.

Why is it viewed as "breaking boundaries" if two people could possibly connect and could both have more meaningful lives? I am pretty sure he lives alone, I heard that from a reliable source at our behavioral health facility. This receptionist just kept on talking about him to me when I asked questions about him, probably not the right thing for her to do either. She seemed to be fanning the flames.

I do have one thought in the back of my mind, however, and I must finish with it. He may be a homosexual. I am not sure but maybe he is in the closet. I can't imagine someone like him being all alone. I wish I could know that and then maybe I could get over him.

I really am stuck here with these feelings, please give me some advice so I can move on with my life. Thank you, ShrinkLady!


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Tina (Reno, NV, USA)

How do I bring transference up?

I have recognized that I am experiencing transference with my counselor. I still have issues of fear of talking about things because of always having bad repercussion from my child hood.

She is a great counselor and I want to work through this but I do not know how to bring it up and talk to her about it.

Can you give me some advise on that?


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Lost and Curious (Illinois, USA)

Can I heal from transference on my own?

I'm really confused with this whole transference issue. I recognize that I'm having very strong transference feelings for my therapist right now... and I also recognize that I've done this in the past with other people as well -- where I feel an overwhelming attachment for no logical reason.

It is very painful for me because I feel sooo dependent. I'm finding any excuse I can to have a reason to contact him between sessions... and find that just a simple phone call or e-mail from him can literally turn my day around. But when I don't have any contact, each day between sessions seems to last forever. This is not a healthy way to live!

I also recognize that I seem to have all the major pre-disposing factors to this: Early childhood neglect, mom died when I was six, neglectful / abusive family dynamics after that.

Here's my question though... is there any way to work through these feelings and achieve healing on one's own?!? Two reasons I ask -- one is that I'd be mortified to bring up the intensity of the feelings with my therapist... I know where they stem from, and I know I'm not 'in love' with him, etc... but I'd be really embarassed to talk about this and I don't know how he'd react. I'm also quite worried that he'd take steps to eliminate any extra contact with me so as not to make the problem 'worse'...but in so doing it would remove the little bit of comfort I get from that extra contact!

The other reason is that my husband is really getting unhappy with the amount of money spent on therapy and does not want me to continue if at all possible. He won't absolutely prevent me... but he does not see the value for the money, and feels that normal, relatively healthy people (which I do consider myself to be) do not need this. I can see his point... and I almost see it as an addiction... I'm willing to pay almost anything in order to have time with my therapist... because of these transference feelings... so how do I get out of this loop?!??!? I recognize the source... I feel the pain... how do you go from feeling to healing?


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Kats, Ontario, Canada

I’m obsessing over my therapist

I have been in therapy for approx. 6 months now, and am having huge issues with transference. So much so that I am starting to pull away from my therapist.

I was making great progress, until my feelings for her just got too be too much. I was thinking of her all the time, wanting to be with her, having sexual feeling. I do realize that this is all part of transference, but I am very vulnerable right now, and am having a hard time separating my feelings and the realization of transference.

I should bring this up to her and explain how I am feeling, but I do not want to scare her away. We do work well together, and she has been there for me through some really rough times. Any advice would be appreciated.


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Kel (Texas, USA)

My email contact was suddenly dropped

Reading these comments has been so helpful in helping me realize what has been transpiring between my therapist and me the last 7 months. I went initially to see her to be hypnotized to stop smoking - however, I continued going to see her for therapy and began interactive hypnotherapy. Covering issues and fears of abandonment. (I was adopted) and a heterosexual female.

She's 12 years older than me. Several times a week for the past 6 months I would email her and she would respond with such kind, caring, positive ideas. I would come home from work and sit at the computer waiting for her to respond - and she always did usually within 12 hours. Sometimes she would respond from her Blackberry. I was beginning to feel sexual feelings for her which completed freaked me out! I was aware, and expressed this to her several times that she had qualities that I wish my Mother had. That she always makes me feel so secure and safe.

Just this last Tuesday, we had an ice storm and I became worried about her. I emailed her to let me know that she was okay, and the response I got was devastating. She asked me not to email her any longer between sessions. Keep my questions for our therapy appointments just like she does with all her other clients. That she loves her clients and working with them - including me, but that she only has so much energy and time, and would kill herself if she tries to meet everybody's needs and not her own. The tone of the email was 180 degrees from what she has written before.

We have an appointment in two days - as it's driving me crazy what I did that made her not want to interact with me anymore between sessions. We both are educated and were very complimentary towards either other. I understand now it is transference. This is very different for me as I just recently let the 'guard' down and allowed myself to feel feelings and emotions. I'm not sure how to handle this situation as I feel such a loss now.

Thank you for website!

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