HY DO MOST individuals go into
psychotherapy? Well, there can be many specific reasons, but there often
is one basic, underlying reason: something was lacking in their childhood
family life, and this lack continues to cause problems even in the
A Remedy for
Now, one very
common lack in contemporary families is the failure
to treat children with unconditional nurturing guidance and protection. So
instead of learning true love in their families, childrenthrough all
sorts of family manipulation and game-playing, if not outright
abuseare essentially taught to
fear love. And the pain of all this
loneliness, guilt, and
fear will live on in the
unconscious, in a sort of timeless emotional imprisonment,
even as the child grows through childhood and adolescence to
from psychological pain, you will seek out psychotherapy.
Through healthy and honest interactions with a
psychotherapist, you can learn to think and act in new, emotionally honest
ways, different from the psychological defenses created
in childhood, and current problems and symptoms
can be remedied.
In this profound
interaction with the psychotherapist, however, a new problem can
As you begin
to encounter genuine concern for your well-being, the whole experience of
psychotherapy can feel overwhelming and intoxicating. Once having felt ignored
and misunderstood, and now feeling noticed and understoodand not
rejectedyou can start to feel
special. Moreover, you can begin to
believe that the psychotherapist is special as well.
When this happens,
everything can take on a feeling of erotic love.
You see quote
marks around the word love in the last sentence because erotic feelings
are really feelings of desire, not love. I want to know more about the
psychotherapists personal life. I want to know what he or she likes.
I want to be with him or her outside the psychotherapy sessions. I want to
believe that he or she feels an attraction to me. And so on. Thats
desire. Its desire because it is based in what I want,
not in what you or someone else needs.
Think for a moment
about the whole purpose of family life and wonder what any infant needs.
Well, an infant, born into the world completely helpless, needs protection
and guidance in order to grow and develop its own abilities, so that, in
maturity, he or she can go out into the world to do good for others. That
protection and guidancewhich is an aspect of
true loveisnt meant to make you
feel happy; its meant to help you develop your unique talents
and grow into a productive member of the whole human family.
Now, true love
does have a function in psychotherapy. Love can be defined as willing
the good of another, and this is precisely what the psychotherapist
is ethically bound to do for all clients. The psychotherapist wills the
good of all clients by ensuring that all actions within the psychotherapy
serve the clients need to overcome the
symptoms that prevent the client from living
a useful and meaningful life.
as it may be to admit it, erotic love is based on infantile needs
to be received, accepted, and satisfied. When someone feels intensely received,
accepted, and satisfied, then he or she is in love. But sooner
or later that intensity will be broken. The break doesnt even have
to be the result of malicious neglect; it can simply be the result of a need
to attend to other obligations in the world, and, in the person feeling
neglected, intense jealousy
can flare up.
why lovers, friends, and blog readers, with all their personal
needs and desires, cannot function psychotherapeutically. And it explains
philosophicallyabove and beyond any laws or professional ethicswhy
psychotherapists cannot be friends or lovers to their clients.
If they try, it will lead to psychological disaster, for without the third
person of the unconscious in the consulting room
the psychotherapy will degenerate into emotional chaos.
the Erotic Transference
love within the psychotherapytechnically called an erotic
transferenceis not necessarily a bad thing, though. That is, its
not a bad thing if it can be understood as one essential step toward learning
Just as any child
who receives gifts from others must first go through a phase of development
characterized by a hoarding or clinging
mentalityMine! Mine!before learning to share with others,
so you, in feeling the enthralling acceptance of your psychotherapist, will
at first want to hoard that feeling and claim it as your own personal possession.
But that feeling cant stop there, and your psychotherapists job
is to make sure it doesnt stop there. The child part of you really desires
love, not the person who gives the love, and your psychotherapist
has to help you understand that.
psychotherapists are not very competent in dealing with subtle
psychodynamic issues. In fact, many psychotherapists
feel uncomfortable with a clients erotic transference. Why? Because
many psychotherapists are unconsciously caught up in their own erotic
transference with the world around them. And so these incompetent
psychotherapists can make a mess of the whole process. Instead of just admitting,
Sure, youre an interesting and attractive person. But thats
not what this work is all about. So lets get on with the real work,
they try to hide behind a forced façade of neutrality that only leaves
the client exasperated and confused. And if the client tries to speak about
his or her feelings, an incompetent psychotherapist will shy away from really
exploring the depth and vast unconscious extent of
those feelings. Or an incompetent psychotherapist will, for his or her personal
satisfaction, fan the flames of the clients desire. Yet
none of this is psychotherapyits just more of the same manipulation
and game playing that has brought the client into treatment in the first
So remember why
someone goes into psychotherapy: to experience a sense of genuine recognition
so as to overcome the lack that disturbs current social functioning. Once
all the manipulation, game-playing,
and dishonesty that characterize your interpersonal relationships are dissolved
through the integrity and honesty of the therapeutic relationship, then you
can enter into an honest life of true love for
The Real Task
Your task in
psychotherapy, then, after you experience that intoxicating feeling of
unconditional recognition, is to recognize in the transference
desire to hoard that feeling. At this point it will be important to talk
openly within the psychotherapy about those desires and explore their deepest
unconscious significance. Talk about how good it feels
to experience recognition and understanding. And talk about how painful it
felt to have been unrecognized and criticized as a child.
have a competent psychotherapist, resist the temptation to
terminate the treatment so as to run from the
embarrassment of honest communication. Work through the awkwardness of it
all until your desires for the psychotherapist are seen for what they are:
an intoxicating attempt to hoard feelings of recognition and
understood the profound difference between desire and love,
and having worked through the unconscious illusions (i.e., psychological
defenses) behind your intense desire for one person, you can proceed
to offer genuine love to everyone.
When you are
working to overcome the transference, keep in mind this important
You are not in
love with your psychotherapist; you are obsessed with the idea
that another person can give you what has been missing in your life because
of what your parentsespecially your fatherfailed to give you
in your childhood.
For a discussion
of some real-life complications of transference, see
Questions and Answers about the
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