I am seeing a therapist whose main orientation is psychodynamic and CBT. I have seen her off and on for 5 years for Bipolar I disorder. I have developed some transference over the past year and it is getting in the way of my normal daily functioning. I am obsessively thinking of my next session with her and how, and if I should tell her about my intense feelings for her. I find myself fantasizing about her hugging me and I dream of her being my mom. I get jealous when she talks about her own daughter as if I wish I was her. Intellectually I realize that my feelings for her can be a "normal" transference. I am yearning for more of her- she is supportive, kind natured, reliable and loving. This of course is what I missed as a child, coming from dysfunctional mentally unavailable parents. All though I recognize this from endless research, I just can't push myself to trust that if I do tell her how I am feeling, she will be supportive. I fear the loss of our relationship because a former therapist did just that, not because of this issue but because of her own unclear boundaries that she set for me. Cynthia, how do I get unstuck from this emotional trap that I have put myself in?
I'm so glad you asked this, because I think it happens pretty frequently, and can be very uncomfortable and confusing and thrilling and frustrating and scary. I understand that you were burned before in a similar situation, and don't want to risk something so precious as your relationship with your therapist. Generally, psychodynamically-oriented therapists welcome any discussion about feelings you have about the therapist or therapy. It can be such a rich vein of information and opportunity to resolve stuff left over from childhood.
The fact that she talks about her daughter concerns me a bit, because if she were thinking in terms of doing transference work, especially if she had any idea how you feel, I don't think she would do that. I wouldn't, for the very reason you said, because people working through a transference often need to feel like the only "child" the therapist is caring for. That said, I don't have enough information to know what your therapist is thinking, and you have a great deal to gain by working with these feelings. I think you should risk talking about it in the same way that we all have to figure out who to trust and who not to trust. Test her out with a minimal amount of risk. If she shows signs of being trustworthy, take the next step toward risk, and so on. This may have the dual purpose of finding out if she is safe to tell about these feelings, as well as teaching you how to determine who to trust and not trust, how much and when, in other relationships.
The way I might start would be to ask her in general if she does transferential work, and then if she saw that as part of your work together. If that went well, I might ask how she works with transference. If that went well, I might tell her I thought I had some transference going on with her, but I was scared to talk about it, and see how she handled that. These may not be the right steps or in the right order for you, but it's an example of how it could go.
This could be a great opportunity for you to heal those wounds left by your "dysfunctional mentally unavailable parents." I don't agree that you have put yourself in "this emotional trap;" this is a situation created by your inner wisdom, trying to get you the healing you need because of those wounds.
Please let us know how it goes, if you want to; I'd be very interested.
Hi jan, I could have written your post because it relates to so much of what I have experienced. First of all, let me say that you have come to the right place to ask this question. I have asked Cynthia for advice on things in my therapy many times, and she has always steered me in the right direction.
About a year and a half ago, I was having many of the feelings that you describe. I felt so much love for my therapist. I wanted her to "mother" me. I wanted her to comfort me and hold me and always be there for me. I know how painful it is to always have her in your mind. The constant obsession is too much to deal with sometimes. I couldn't stop thinking about her. What was she doing when she wasn't in session with me? What would she think of the choices I was making? It consumed my thoughts and consumed my life. And it was not only mentally painful, but it became physically painful. I was mortified and embarrassed about the thoughts and feelings I was having. I thought they were ridiculous, inappropriate, disgusting, warped....... In other words, just wrong!
Then I began asking Cynthia what I should do about this. It wasn't so difficult for me to ask her because I was not talking to her face to face. I could hide behind my computer. She told me over and over (I asked her many times) that I should tell my therapist about my feelings. That I would get such relief from sharing these feelings with my therapist. That my therapist would understand. It took me a while to get up the courage to bring it up, but I figured that I was in so much pain anyway that nothing could hurt any more than this did. So I finally told her. I wasn't able to just blurt it out. I could only get out a little bit. I could only tell her that I had "strong feelings," and yearnings and longings. But she knew what I meant. She looked at me with such compassion in her eyes and said, "This is the heart of therapy. Now we can explore so much more." At that moment, I realized that she had known for a long time, what I was feeling. But she was just patiently waiting for me to bring it up. The relief was unbelievable.
I will tell you though, that was not the end of it. Since that time, I have had to let out just little bits at a time. I still have those maternal feelings for her and it was only recently that I was able to tell her that. But I know now that I can say these things to her and she will not reject me. She knows the boundaries that she needs to keep with me, and she is very careful about what she says to me because I can be easily triggered. I am still awfully embarrassed about these feelings, but I am the one creating that. She has never made me feel like I was anything but normal. And Cynthia is right about testing out your therapist first. Take it slowly. I still have more to tell my therapist, but I know it would be too much for me to process if I told her all of it at once.
And just a comment on the "wanting her to hug you." Oh boy, do I understand that! Cynthia suggested that I ask my therapist what her "policy" was on hugs. That way I would not feel rejected if she said that she never gives hugs. It wouldn't be about me. Luckily for me, when I asked that question my therapist said that she didn't have a policy. But for a very long time, all I could get myself to ask for was a handshake. I can now ask for a hug, but it still takes a lot of courage.
I hope this helps you jan. There are many people who really do understand what you are going through.
It means so much to me to read your post you have no idea. I had the session today and I took you and Cynthia's advice. I started slow. I mean really slow. I brought up my Moms recent birthday and how it felt to see her. It makes me sad that she was so unavailable during my childhood. Most of the session was about my parents and them not being there for me.
I rarely talk about this in such detail, but I wanted to have something to say --sort of a diversion to work up to the big bomb. I felt so awkward. At times I was completely silent and starred at the floor. I think she was wondering what was wrong. I finally just blurted out "I wished that I had a different Mom." I continued with, "a normal Mom" and she said something like "whatever normal is". I wanted to say, "one like you" but it didn't get that far.
I thought she would then get the hint but apparently I was wrong. We talked about college and how it was hard for me to focus with all the turmoil, and she said she would love to go back to college to take courses she didn't have time to take...then she mentioned her daughter. I quickly realized she did not understand my earlier attempt of trying to say that I wished she was my Mom. She started talking about her daughters courses in school. It was like a knife in my heart. I wonder if she really really just doesn't put two and two together or if maybe I am just really being too vague? Next session I hope to continue with the discussion. Isn't this common? Why doesn't she seem to "get it". I am frustrated and disappointed.
That was by far the furthest I have ever gotten to the subject. The struggle continues.
Last Edited by on Feb 11, 2010 2:49 PM
Good for you--you did great!! I think the hardest thing to do in therapy is talk about your feelings about the therapist, and you did a great test piece, honoring your need for safety, but pushing the envelope of your fear too.
It's very hard for me to say this, but I wish the response you got had shown more capacity to understand and work with your feelings. In the realm of testing to see if the next risk is wise, I would say she didn't pass the test. I'm surprised a psychoanalytic therapist would talk so much (or at all) about herself, especially at such a vulnerable time for you. It's difficult for me to make sense of why she did that. It's possible she can't handle your feelings for her, and that was why she discouraged your proceeding, whether she did it consciously or unconsciously.
But this is my reaction to what she did, and if I were in your position I would now have a whole additional scary issue to talk about with her--her talking about herself and her life rather than getting what you are trying to express, and what you need from her. Do you feel any reaction to what she said and did? Are you blaming yourself for her response? If you have disappointed or angry feelings about her reaction, those would be hard to express too, and also important. A good therapist would not be defensive if you talked about these feelings, and would empathically keep the focus on what you were experiencing.
If you have the courage, you could try another test, and maybe ask about how she works with clients' feelings about her, before revealing what your feelings actually are. I hope she can come back to focusing on you.
Last Edited by on Feb 12, 2010 5:28 PM