A Guide to Psychology and its Practice

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Page Contents: When a psychotherapist seems attracted to a client.                    


My therapist is acting as though he is sexually attracted to me. Should he tell me about his sexual attraction? Should I go to another therapist? Is this normal for a therapist to have these feelings? Is it unethical or does he have lack of training?

Whether you understand it or not, you use one word that is the key to all your other questions: acting.

Let’s make a brief digression for a moment. Most people have heard the term acting out, usually in the context of adolescent behavior. But do you know where the term really originated? It comes from classical psychoanalysis.

In psychoanalysis, clients are required to talk, without censorship, about whatever comes into their minds. As long as this happens, the analysis continues smoothly. But when a client begins to experience something that seems embarrassing, and avoids talking about it, then the analysis gets very complicated. For example, suppose a client started to resent the cost of the treatment but didn’t speak about it to the analyst. What would happen? Well, the client would then start “acting out” the resentment by coming late to sessions or falling behind in payments. Thus, when inner experiences are not spoken aloud within the psychotherapy, they invariably get acted out through behavior.

So when you say that your psychotherapist is acting as though he is sexually attracted to you, there is cause for grave concern.

Of course, any psychotherapist is bound to encounter someone who provokes an erotic attraction. We could even call that “natural.” But a competent psychotherapist should recognize the feelings—and the danger they pose—and take steps to resolve the problem. The psychotherapist might be able to resolve the matter through on-going personal self-analysis. The psychotherapist might require psychotherapy of his or her own; or he or she might need some clinical supervision from an experienced colleague. But whatever the psychotherapist does, it should be “invisible” to the client. And if the psychotherapist’s feelings in this regard are not invisible, then it means that his feelings are not being spoken within the context of his own inner analysis, and that leads to the danger of his acting out his feelings with you.

So what can you do? Given that you can see, through his actions, that your psychotherapist has personal feelings for you, all you can do is take the initiative and ask him about it point-blank. Give him a chance to explain himself. And if he does or says anything the least bit inappropriate, then get up and leave immediately—and find a new psychotherapist.


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Raymond Lloyd Richmond, Ph.D.
San Francisco




A Guide to Psychology and its Practice



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San Francisco


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