This is a continuing blog series on information about therapists, based on my experiences as a clinician, exposing what it is like to work as a psychologist, and possibly how this can be applied to your own life. Got a question you have always wanted to ask your therapist about themselves? Email firstname.lastname@example.org
I recently received the following question via email: What happens when a therapist falls in love with their client?
This is probably the biggest ethical question that comes up in our training as therapists, and what I remember as the one biggest take away from my ethics class in graduate school: DON'T SLEEP WITH YOUR CLIENTS.
It actually bothers me a lot when therapists are portrayed in movies and TV shows as an occupation that seems to always be sleeping with their clients. Not only does it project inaccuracies about the profession of therapists, but also that this is a normal occurrence. Does it happen? Yes. Does it happen often? No. Is it okay? No. Why?
The biggest reason this is a big no-no as a therapist is because we, whether we like it or not, are a type of authority figure to a client. We are in a position of influence, and we are incredibly skilled in the power of persuasion and social skills. We also know things about you that no one else may know, have a great connection with you personally, and we also understand your feelings and are often times your ally versus what the world may be throwing at you. The conditions can be optimal for love to happen.
I'm not going to lie, I have clients that I genuinely like more than others. The connection with them is stronger, they are more likable, and easy to work with. The reason I find that I have feelings of affection for my clients are they follow my instruction, reflect on their progress, are open with me about their concerns, and they come to their appointments. Basically, they respect me on a human and an expert level, which is really cool and empowering to a therapist when you are that respected. Imagine if everything you said another person thought was so brilliant and insightful! You'd have some feelings of affection for them too, and good feelings about yourself. I can also tell you that my friends and family do not listen to me like my clients do. I'm not in a position of authority with my friends and family. To them, I'm just Candice because that is the relationship I have with them.
As therapists, we can use our superpowers for good, or for bad. This is bad because breaking a professional boundary with a client when they are the most vulnerable, is taking advantage of them, whether you are actually in love with them or not. Other professions get in trouble as well for having intimate relationships with clients, students, or subordinates. Therapists are no different.
If a therapist and client decide they want to pursue any kind of romantic or sexual relationship, there is generally a waiting period suggested in our ethics codes before any relationship can happen, and neither side should have contact with one another. This is to ensure that both parties get some distance from the relationship, get some perspective, and determine whether or not this is different from the therapist-client relationship.
In the America, Psychologists are asked to refrain from resuming the relationship for 3 years. If this criteria is not met, a Psychologist could risk being professionally reprimanded by their professional associations and having their license revoked from the state where they practice. If you, as a therapist, cannot control your impulses enough, cannot ask colleagues for perspective on the situation to help you see the problem, or call your licensing board when you have questions about this area, then you are a risk to the public.
If you are a client of a therapist who has an inappropriate relationship with you, including romantic acts, sexual acts, or anything that you wouldn't normally do with a physician or other medical provider, please contact their state licensing board. It is NOT okay. While you feel this may be true love or genuine feelings, and possibly it is, there is still a shroud over your relationship that puts two unequal people in an incredibly intimate relationship, which could turn toxic and unhealthy very quickly.
Another thing to consider is that you may not be the client this has happened to. Licensing boards are there to protect the public from any therapist who uses their superpowers for bad reasons, and by reporting them you are potentially protecting others as well from psychological damage.
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