Do therapists like, fall in love with their clients? Why don’t they tell them?


By David Joel Miller.

Unconditional Positive regard or dual relationship?

Couple in love

Falling in love.
Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

Do counselors fall in love with clients? Do they like them and if so why don’t they tell them?

The role of emotions, feelings between the counselor and the client are complicated. Learning to juggle all those factors and keep the relationship between therapist and client in bounds is something every professional has to work at.

Here are the factors in play.

1. Unconditional positive regard

This is one of those “core conditions” that counselors are taught they need to exhibit for their clients. This can be summarized as – yes I accept you the way you are, feel you have worth as a person and have a belief in your ability to grow.

In short, the counselor is supposed to like the client as a person.  What we do not always like are the things this client is doing.

If a counselor finds themselves disliking this client, judging them or wishing they did not have to see them, those feelings are likely to get in the way of therapy. So we strive to always see the best in our clients.

2. The need to be genuine.

It does not help the client much if the therapist lies to you. If we find a particular client annoying we sometimes have to address that.

We might need to let the client know, gently if we can, that this thing they do or say, we find ourselves getting annoyed when they do that – do other people get annoyed with you when you do that? This truth-telling has to be done in a supportive way but sometimes the client needs to hear the things we see that they may be blind to.

3. Is this about the client or the counselor?

Psychoanalytically trained therapist talk a lot about transference, the times that the client relates to their therapist just like they used to relate to someone else in their life.

I am an old guy it a gray beard. Clients have told me this reminds them of their dad or grandfather. We then talk about how was their relationship with that person and how does that affect the way they relate to others in their life now.

Sometimes I see a client and they remind me of someone I went to school with. I have to ask myself, did I like that person? Does the way this client reminds me of that person from my past affect the way I treat this client. We counselors might call this countertransference, seeing the client through the counselor’s past experiences.

4. Counseling is a novel relationship.

In the therapy room, we have this close, emotionally intimate experience. We try to help the client experience emotions they may not have experienced before or have not had for a long time.

The office is a sort of laboratory to try out new ways of being and relating to people and feelings. But the relationship needs to stay in the room not get carried out into the community. We keep it confidential so we can’t become best friends and hang out at the client’s house.

5. Counselors need to avoid dual or multiple relationships.

I wrote in another post about the dangers of trying to have two relationships with a client. It can be tempting, here she is, crying and feeling really bad and looking really cute or sexy. But if the counselor lets themselves move over into that developing a romantic or friendship relationship there is a risk of messing up the therapeutic relationship.

Every year a certain number of counselors get into romantic or other dual relationship with clients. Mostly these end up badly.

The client comes in for therapy because of an emotional or mental problem. It is a short hop from trying to help the client to becoming a predator when counselors forget their need to be a helper and get into a relationship where they are getting one of their romantic needs met.

So yes, counselors do often like their clients and sometimes some feel like they are falling in love with the client. Professionals should not talk about their feelings except to be helpful to the client and they should not act on those feelings by creating a second “dual relationship” with clients.”

The counseling relationship is a special one and the focus needs to stay on the client and their needs. The counselor needs to get their needs met at another time and place.

Thanks to the reader who asked about this for suggesting a topic for this blog post.

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Want to sign up for my mailing list?

Get the latest updates on my books, due out later this year by signing up for my newsletter. Newsletter subscribers will also be notified about live training opportunities and free or discounted books. Sign up here – Newsletter. I promise not to share your email or to send you spam and you can unsubscribe at any time.

For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse and Co-occurring disorders see the about the author page. For information about my other writing work beyond this blog check out my Google+ page or the Facebook author’s page, up under David Joel Miller. Posts to the “books, trainings, and classes” category will tell you about those activities. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com. A list of books I have read and can recommend is over at Recommended Books

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6 thoughts on “Do therapists like, fall in love with their clients? Why don’t they tell them?

  1. And, by the way, if a licensed therapist has sex with a client, it’s a felony. At least in California. That’s about as dual as a relationship can get– except that it completely destroys the therapeutic relationship as well as pretty much destroys chances for a decent future therapeutic relationship with another therapist. In a previous setting we had a couple of clients who were victims of therapist sexual abuse, and it was incredibly hard for them. We couldn’t get them to file, either.

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