The relationship between a client and a therapist can be tough to characterize, as sharing personal and intimate feelings is key to successful treatment. However, when a therapist becomes attracted to a client, this can damage the quality of care.
In this guide, we’ve taken a look at signs a therapist is attracted to a client, and some methods of how to proceed.
Countertransference And Attraction
Countertransference describes when a therapist transfers personal emotions and thoughts onto a client. In some cases, these feelings can be romantic and/or sexual. Countertransference is often a reaction to transference, when a client projects their own feelings onto the therapist.
Romantic or sexual countertransference can affect the level of care provided by the therapist. It’s essential to recognize signs of countertransference, to reestablish boundaries.
Signs That A Therapist Is Attracted To A Client
Below are some signs that can potentially indicate a therapist is attracted to a client.
Changes In Behavior
Small changes in behavior can often be the first sign that a therapist is attracted to a client. At this point, the therapist might not be fully aware of the attraction, leading them to act on emotions they would otherwise keep in check.
The therapist might seem more flirtatious, and even seductive. You might find the session dwells on personal conversations, instead of focusing on treatment. Changes in body language might not be immediately obvious, but they can indicate a shift in the relationship.
Finally, clothing changes are also a common indicator. If you’re a therapist who suspects a colleague is attracted to a client, you might notice they put more effort into their appearance on some days, while dressing normally on others.
Changing The Session
One of the clear, and most obvious, signs that the relationship between therapist and client is becoming blurred is when the therapist makes changes to a session. They might start making the session longer, or reducing the fee for one client only.
The indicators can be easy to spot from the outside, especially as the changing rules will be constrained to a single client.
Oversharing Personal Information
While a session can, at times, benefit from a therapist sharing details from their life, sharing too much or too personal information can disrupt treatment instead.
Sharing personal and intimate information can be a sign that a therapist is feeling attracted to a client, and diverts the focus of care.
Prioritizing A Client
When a therapist sees a client as the most interesting person to talk to, it can be a sign that romantic feelings are developing—especially if these emotions are present in a session.
From an outside perspective, this behavior might not necessarily be an indication of attraction. After all, it’s not uncommon to have some patients you particularly look forward to seeing. However, this should never affect the level of care given.
If this prioritization is blurring the boundaries in a session, it can become a problem.
What To Do If You Think Your Therapist Is Attracted To You?
If you feel your therapist is attracted to you, then it’s important to discuss this feeling with your therapist. Communication can help reestablish boundaries, and also indicate when it’s time to switch therapists.
It can be uncomfortable to bring these emotions up, but it’s necessary to ensure you can have a healthy experience with therapy. If your therapist is attracted to you, then this discussion is essential for the continuing relationship.
If you’ve misread the situation, then your therapist can adjust their interactions to avoid confusing emotions. And while it might seem awkward at first, this misunderstanding can be an excellent starting point for exploring other relationships in your life.
What To Do If You’re Experiencing Attraction To A Client?
It’s common for a therapist to feel some degree of friendship and even attraction toward a client. You spend a lot of time with every client, learning about their lives and sharing personal information.
However, while experiencing attraction is relatively common, acting on this attraction is unethical. It’s important to maintain boundaries with your clients, and keep the relationship professional.
Acknowledge the emotions you have towards a client. By recognizing your attraction, you can assess your behavior, and plan to move forward without damaging the client/therapist relationship. Consider, as well, the actions of the client.
Do you think they have encouraged this attraction? You need to reinforce boundaries, both within yourself, and in the sessions.
Make sure you’re dedicating time to your own personal life. A stressful home life and personal issues can lead you to retreat into work, complicating your emotional response to a client. Take time to care for yourself and your own personal relationships.
As mentioned, attraction to a client is common among therapists. Speak to a trusted colleague about these emotions, so an outside perspective can guide your choices. They can also help you assess the actions of the client.
Finally, you may need to refer the client to another therapist. Client care should always be the priority, and if you feel your attraction will affect the relationship, then they need to be referred. A referral isn’t a failure on your part, and it’s often the best way to deal with a complex attraction.
What To Do If You Think A Colleague Is Attracted To A Client?
It can be difficult to assess the appropriateness of a client/therapist relationship from the outside. A therapist might seem particularly enthusiastic about a client outside sessions, without allowing that emotion to affect the relationship.
But if you do suspect a colleague has romantic or sexual feelings towards a client, speak to them about it. Explain that you’ve noticed a difference in their behavior, and you’re worried it’s affecting their professional conduct.
Avoid making the conversation into a confrontation. Your colleague might be genuinely unaware of how their behavior is perceived. Your insight might help them deal with the situation, without interrupting client care.
The intimacy of conversation between a client and therapist can sometimes lead to a blurring of the relationship. While it isn’t unusual for a therapist to be attracted to a client, it’s important to maintain boundaries, and ensure that countertransference doesn’t affect the quality of care.