I am struggling with this problem of attachment to my therapist of six years, and was oblivious to what extent until we began considering termination. The biggie for me is losing contact with the one person who has gained my trust, validated my feelings, listened and permitted me to speak without interruption, and not once had that expression of “whatever” and so on…. I never received this from my toxic mother.
The consulting room is an emotional candy store. It is a place where you are the only person in the world and it’s all about you. The therapist has no other mission but to understand you just as you are and help you heal and grow. It is as close as you can come in adult life to the one-way relationship of childhood where you receive but don’t have to give back. In the case of psychotherapy, you do give back, but in a different currency, that allows for all the feeling of being taken care of. One therapist said, “you buy my time, but the rest is free!”
So it is no wonder that patients get attached to their therapist. Is that bad? No. It would only be bad if it caused harm. Anything this powerful can cause harm, but not if it is handled right as it seems to be in our reader’s comment. I think it is the main source of energy to drive the therapy forward. Here’s how it works.
When patients come to therapy, there are really two patients. There is the adult patient who listens dutifully while the therapist drones on on about how understanding will help you make changes and it is hard work and it is really up to the patient to want to change. Meanwhile there is a little kid who knows how things really work. The child in us all knows what he or she needs and is not interested in dull substitutes. She (or he) came in with a list of unfinished business from long ago, all the issues that she was not able to solve at the time. When they couldn’t be solved, what did she do? She saved them up for a time when conditions would be different and now it looks like conditions may just be right.
Why couldn’t she solve the problems back then? Children know that when there are problems, the ones who have the real power to solve them are the parents (or other caregivers). The child’s job is to influence the parent so the parent will take care of the problem. Let’s say a parent is depressed and totally self-preoccupied. The child needs love and attention and can’t get it. The child will invent a whole list of strategies: Give the parent love, be unworthy so the parent will feel less bad, perform brilliantly so the parent will wake up and take notice. What they all have in common is the goal of changing the parent.
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Parts II & III follow.