Why Do People Fall for Their Therapists?

Just because “transference” is the clinical term, does not mean that the clients experiencing it will view it that way.

What if my feelings for my therapist are more than “transference"? originally appeared on Quora, the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world. You can follow Quora on Twitter, Facebook, and Google Plus.

“It’s a recession when your neighbor loses his job; it’s a depression when you lose yours.” - Harry Truman

Somehow, when we experience something painful firsthand like a recession, or in this case, deep love for your therapist, it can feel as if our feelings must be far more intense than what other people experience, and therefore it couldn’t be something as mild sounding as “transference”.

However, just because “transference” is the clinical term that therapists use to describe this phenomenon, does not mean that the clients experiencing it, would view it that way. They usually experience these feelings to be real, powerful, and not something that dissipates simply because they understand what transference is and how it manifests in therapeutic relationships. Additionally, while some people may be reassured by hearing about how common this phenomenon is, while other people may find this emotionally minimizing.

Having romantic love feelings for your therapists is an important feeling to bring up and discuss with your therapist, especially when they feel intense, real, and distracting. Of course, it is unethical for a therapist to have a romantic relationship with a client, but it is still an important issue to discuss and address in therapy.

Why do people fall in love with their therapist?

* Therapists are often warm, accepting, caring audiences, and for some people this may be the first time they have had this experience from another adult.

* While they do not know many personal details about their therapist, they have filled in the gaps in their knowledge with imagining their therapist to have all of these wonderful personal qualities in interpersonal relationships, simply because they are a good therapist, they always seem to say the right things in session with you, and forget that you are paying your therapist for their time, and their complete focus on you. During this time, they may also be saying brilliant, insightful, and supportive things to you whenever you are together, (potentially leading a client to imagine that their therapist is like this all of the time, even when they aren’t working).

* They know on some level that their therapist is an unobtainable love interest, which may make them feel safer pining for someone who will not actually want a romantic relationship or expect anything from them in return. This is especially common with clients who may have issues with emotional intimacy, idealizing the unobtainable, interpersonal boundaries, and control dynamics in relationships.

* It’s easier to love someone when we don’t know all their flaws. Clients often mistakenly equate not knowing their therapist’s emotional flaws , to being the same as their therapist not having emotional flaws, or even, “being perfect.”

* In therapy, the focus of the client, (and their therapist), is almost completely one-sided, and focused on the client, the client’s feelings, thoughts, experiences, wants, and dreams. However, “real” relationships are actually two-sided, and require give and take, rather than the other person only focusing on you and your feelings all of the time. It is easy to fall in love with someone who spends all of your time together completely attending to your feelings, without asking anything in return. This is very different than a romantic relationship, which is ideally based on balancing two peoples needs, not just your own.

The point is...

It is easy to feel that because there is a common clinical term, “transference”, for the feelings one can develop towards their therapist, that somehow this would diminish the intensity of the feelings, or that the feelings wouldn’t feel real in the moment. On the contrary, the client almost always experiences these feelings as feeling very real and intense, and often does not agree with the label “transference”. Regardless, these are important feelings to address with your therapist, as well as the underlying emotional reasons for it, the role it may be serving in your life, and how it affects the therapeutic relationship. Remember, just because a phenomenon is common, or has a label, does not mean it is completely different when you are the one experiencing it.

This question originally appeared on Quora. More questions on Quora:

* Mental Health: How often is alcohol used to self medicate social anxiety?

* Psychotherapy: What is the best way to tell your therapist that you don't think you need therapy anymore?

* Psychology: How do you treat someone with NPD?

Photo Credit: McMillan Digital Art/Getty Images