Erotic Transference: When You Hunger for Your Therapist’s Touch

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Is erotic transference merely a sexual fantasy about your therapist? Is it a desire for steamy, big screen sex with him? Might something else be happening?

Erotic transference is about more than these brief descriptions suggest. First, let’s deal with what simple “transference” is. Here is Wikipedia’s take:

One definition of transference is “the inappropriate repetition in the present (moment) of a relationship that was important in a person’s childhood.” Another definition is “the redirection of feelings and desires and especially of those unconsciously retained from childhood toward a new object.”

I prefer to broaden the definition a bit. Let’s assume you meet a new person who reminds you of someone else — someone you knew well at an earlier point in life. The resemblance might not even register. Instinct leads you to make certain assumptions about him and to impute qualities to him similar to those of the man in your past. In effect, you are reaching back into your history and transferring feelings and beliefs to your present understanding of the new individual. Moreover, it is likely you will react to this acquaintance as you responded to the previous one, including whatever hopes or desires you unload from man #1 and redirect to man #2.

An experimental or behavioral psychologist would call this “stimulus generalization.” You are acting and reacting to person #2 in a style somewhat like your behavior toward person #1 because of your perception of similarity between them. They needn’t look alike or act identically. Rather, something about them or the situation triggers unconscious feelings and behaviors.

Think back to Pavlov’s dogs. If a dog learns to salivate to the sound of a bell (because the noise precedes the delivery of food), he will also begin to get his juices flowing when a different bell-like sound is heard. The canine, of course, doesn’t say to himself, “Oh, food is coming!” He simply reacts. Transference is like that.

This type of transference or stimulus generalization needn’t be sexual. That is, it need not generate erotic sensations and preoccupations. You can simply enjoy being around the freshly contacted person because of the underlying unconscious affinity toward him derived from the earlier relationship. Similarly, you can automatically dislike, distrust, or detest him, any of which would constitute “negative” transference.

Still with me? Now let’s apply this to your therapist. Add other sentiments (I’ll talk about only positive ones) to those already mentioned. These might include tremendous respect (even reverence) for your healer, confidence, or gratitude; as well as putting him on a pedestal because he is an authority in a position of power relative to you.

Can you now imagine how affection might enter the equation? This man listens to you, comforts you, and works toward your well-being. The therapist is calm and benign. Your relationship is not (I trust) fraught with lack of consideration, conflicts of interest, and the disregard present in all our lives outside the doctor’s office. The consulting room becomes a place of refuge, hope, and possible growth. Your counselor morphs into a magician of the soul, a person who is hard not to idealize. Should he possess a fine physicality, then the slide is further greased to generate sexual attraction; if he is not handsome, the absence of surface beauty may make no difference at all. Even shrinks unpleasing to the eye can carry the same kind of transferential aura.

Last, add one more ingredient to this witches’ brew: the sexual nature of the human race. Spend enough time with a particular member of whichever gender you prefer and, assuming there is even a small amount of appeal, you might discover the affinity grows. Were it otherwise you and I wouldn’t be here. We were built to mate and create offspring who do the same thing. Those ancient humans who didn’t are not the ancestors of the seven billion of us on the planet today. Nature imbedded this prescription in our DNA.

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Positive transference toward the doc is rather like a trance. Indeed, the first syllables of transference and trance are similar. Think of the honeymoon period of a romantic relationship or the youthful idealization of a parent or professor. Elements of awe are present. Rationality is not the driver.

Transference can also be triggered by unresolved issues with a parent, as the Wikipedia definitions quoted above suggest. A client might perceive the counselor as a love object in all senses. The doctor’s presence in the patient’s life may silently signal the opportunity to win (at last) the perfect love of a parent substitute. Ironically, the shrink is (or should be) as unobtainable as a time machine designed to give you a better childhood than the one you lived.

Rather than altering the past, transference provides the chance to “work through” old feelings about parents or previous lovers within the consulting room. The counselor helps to grieve the original loss and disappointment of the client’s life in the hope of resolving both the unfinished business of the patient’s emotional past and letting the air out of his irrational attachment to the therapist.

What other meanings can a sexual preoccupation with a therapist indicate? I treated patients who tested me — wanted to find out if I would take the amorous and sensual “bait,” in order to discover whether I was really trustworthy. A patient’s attempt to persuade the therapist to violate his professional ethics can also be, in part, a way to avoid underlying treatment issues. Clients will sometimes use their sexuality in the pursuit of power within a relationship which would otherwise leave the doc “in charge.” Still others confuse love and sex, wanting to be held by the doctor as much or more than penetrated by him.

How do you know whether you are experiencing an erotic transference? Dreaming about your therapist from time to time isn’t remarkable, even if sexualized. I’d say there are two practical markers of a strong erotic transference:

  • You are so preoccupied with your therapist as a potential sexual object that you can’t focus on the important treatment issues.
  • You become repeatedly aroused in the session to the point of becoming lubricated (if female) or erect (if male).

Your shrink is unlikely to address the issue unless you take the initiative to do so first. Why? Suggesting you are sexually motivated can be profoundly embarrassing to the patient. It might be taken as a rebuke. Moreover, the therapist isn’t always right. Trust and safety are big issues in treatment. Good counselors avoid fueling the discomfort of what is already a risky business of self-disclosure and “naked” examination of the psyche. Pointing to possible sexual arousal in the patient is often interpreted as erotic interest from the doc.

Should you experience an erotic transference that interferes with your psychotherapy, the question of mentioning it to your therapist arises. If the healer is well-practiced, ethical, and wise, he has heard and accepted such revelations before. He will try his best to treat you with gentleness while, at the same time, informing you that such relationship (if acted upon) would injure both you and himself. Questions of your attraction to him are irrelevant (except as grist for the therapeutic mill) if he is good at his work and maintains the barrier to sexual intimacy that is for your benefit.

Your feelings are not good or bad. The garment of lust misplaced on your therapist’s shoulders, however understandable its arrival there, must be unraveled.

The best counselors might be thought of as guides through a maze. Life is full of mazes. Each of us has our own and all of us feel confused or lost at times. Erotic transference is just another part of the puzzle, another challenge along the path. Not abnormal or bizarre, but the material of life subjected to the alchemy of therapy; from which, we hope, to create sustenance for the journey home.*

*Thanks to Tina at her blog, xrsize12, for suggesting I write about this topic. The images both come from the 1963 movie, Charade, with Carey Grant and Audrey Hepburn. The first of these was downloaded to Wikipedia by BlueStar.

50 thoughts on “Erotic Transference: When You Hunger for Your Therapist’s Touch

  1. Thank you so much for addressing this issue for me, Dr. Stein. The comments regarding “the opportunity to win (at last) the perfect love of a parent substitute” as well as to “confuse love & sex, wanting to be held by the doctor as much or more than penetrated by him” really resonate. I don’t believe in my case it’s about power, avoidance or testing trustworthiness. I’m not certain if it was just a dream or erotic transference. I was preoccupied with some thoughts in the last session, but it may be due to my shame since I was trying to avoid the topic & felt guilty for holding back. I felt deceitful & that’s not like me. Hmmm repeated arousal during session to the point of becoming lubricated (or as you mentioned with Pavlov’s dogs .. juices flowing)? Let me get back to you on that one. A few rare occasions, I guess but I’ve dismissed it & brushed it off. I’ll have to bring awareness to that going forward. He knows I’m happily married to an amazing man & I have immense respect him (which you mentioned was a factor) therefore I respect his boundaries, his professional reputation, his beautiful wife & their marriage. He knows that I would never cheat on my husband & I’m too filled with shame. He has strong boundaries, a caring nature & 20 years experience, so hopefully this isn’t an awkward therapeutic deal breaker for him. Again, I can’t thank you enough.

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    • I’m glad you found it helpful, Tina. Let me respond to one part of what you said: “He knows I’m happily married to an amazing man & I have immense respect him (which you mentioned was a factor) therefore I respect his boundaries, his professional reputation, his beautiful wife & their marriage. He knows that I would never cheat on my husband …”

      We are sexual creatures. That we have sexual feelings toward more than one person is thought by “society” to be shameful, but it is natural. Sexual feelings are, of course, different from an erotic transference with a therapist in matters of intensity and emotional preoccupation. The counselor often has sexual feelings toward clients. All this is manageable until it is unmanageable or until the therapist decides to abrogate the boundaries.

      Glad to hear you have a good marriage. Sounds like your therapist is well grounded, too. All the best!

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      • Perhaps you can speak briefly to a part I find embarrassing & shameful. Even though we’re roughly the same age, I I thought of him as a father like figure. My transference & the manner in which we interact was more father-daughter. For example, he has called me “mija” which means daughter in my Spanish culture & I’ve fantasized about him standing in for my dad & giving me away when my husband & I renew our vows again. Now that I’ve dreamed of kissing him passionately & thought of him in that way , I feel like a sexual deviant freak. Oh, the shame!!!!

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      • drgeraldstein

        As I mentioned, Tina, lust and love get confused pretty easily. Freud led us to recognize what sometimes goes on. You don’t sound like “sexual deviant freak” to me. Our dreams and daydreams can take us places we wouldn’t go on our own two feet.

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  2. Dr. Stein, while I’ve never had to face such a dilemma, I appreciate your openness in discussing such a delicate topic.

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    • Thank you, Rosaliene. Writing about the topic is the easy part, managing it is often a challenge, as you can imagine.

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  3. If transference is not resolved in therapy, then what happens? How do you know the difference between “transference” and love, (not talking erotic or sexual transference or love here) just feelings so deep and so strong that they won’t go away and passage of time doesn’t make them less intense?

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    • This question is one that troubles both patients and therapists alike. As you have posed it, the concern applies to feelings of romantic love (to the extent it can separated from lust) experienced by the client toward the counselor. One could write for a long time about this, but I’ll try to be brief. First, it is important to realize that the patient doesn’t “know” the therapist in the same way he would if he dated or lived with the counselor. However much the doc has revealed about himself, a weekly visit for less than an hour provides only a snapshot of who he is. The patient fills in the blanks. It is important for the patient to recognize this intellectually and to enter into the world of “real” relationships rather than staying in the realm of a contemplative relationship whose object doesn’t fully exist. One hopes that the contact with potential love objects will eventually take the air out of the preoccupation with someone of whom you have only a snapshot, even if it appears to be vivid and whole.

      For some patients who are in love with the therapist, the focus on him or her also is safer than encountering real people. It can therefore be a way of avoiding the complications of real-life love, which is indeed a challenge. I’d also say some patients are simply more prone to idealization and therefore more likely to become “stuck” on the therapist. I’ve not done your subject justice here, but I hope I’ve at least offered a partial answer to your excellent question.

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      • This helps. I’ve wondered why everything seemed to immediately be labeled transference the second feelings appeared. Case in point, it was only after about a year that I started to develop actual feelings for the doc, although I admittedly have that referenced tendency to idealize and did so with him from an early date. That said, in a 16-month period, is it not possible to know more than a snippet of a person and truly have feelings? What if I said, without him ever having truly crossed a line, that something tells me it goes both ways? Then what?

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      • drgeraldstein

        Yes, transference can absolutely go both ways, Di, as I mentioned in one of the comment replies. That’s called countertransference. With respect to specifically sexual feelings, I’ve seen reference to at least one study suggesting the majority of therapists have had sexual feelings about at least one or more clients in the past. After 16 months I’m sure you have some ideas about the therapist; that is, who he is outside the office. My statement has to do with getting a full, well-rounded, and complete vision of who the therapist is. For that, one would have to see him in other situations, many of which would be less controlled. Thanks for your comment.

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  4. Doc, have you or anyone else noted if there is a propensity of this transference for one patient-gender over that of the other?

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    • So what about the same sex therapists then? Wanting to be held by them, does it count as an erotic transference too?

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      • Wanting to be held is not identical to erotic transference. Many patients want physical comfort, although it is a challenge for therapists because it can lead to other things. Most often the desire for a hug or being held is not intended by the patient as a step toward sexuality. That said, it can be a slippery slope. Additionally, there is nothing about a genuinely erotic transference that is limited to one sex or another.

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    • I’ve not seen any data on this, Will. Indeed it should be mentioned that the topic is one that is not easily amenable to controlled research.

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      • I can imagine that it would be rather difficult. I had a situation that I wouldn’t equate to this topic, but it is related. I did experience sexual arousal with a therapist that I was assigned to. She was younger than me, very fit, very pretty and dressed very confidently and a bit revealing. I dealt with arousal issues and was distracted to the point where I asked to be reassigned to another therapist. What I experienced was purely animalistic and physical response rather than emotional connection as your post pertains to.

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      • drgeraldstein

        Sounds like a good decision, Will. You knew what you wanted from the therapist and didn’t let the distraction get in your way.

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  5. It seems like such feelings would make it hard to get what you came for, so I’m sad for people who are already suffering with whatever made them seek counsel having to also deal with this added distraction. I think the therapy ‘relationship’ is a weird one in general, like it’s technically clinical, but you wouldn’t go to your cardiologist or oncologist with your deepest darkest secrets, so the level of trust needed almost necessitates this quasi-somethingextra bond. But what? Therapy isn’t part of our paradigm for relationships, so I feel like it’s easy to let it slip into some other existing construct. I remember this one time he had stirred up a conversation about my dad (who was absent and then died young) while he simultaneously self-disclosed travel plans with his daughter. Both he and my dad and his daughter and I are within a year in age. It surprised me how confusing it suddenly got, and I was definitely guilty of projecting some daddy stuff onto him for a short time. I’m super grateful it never ventured into this ‘erotic’ territory tho. I was so fragile at that time, I don’t think I could have handled the extra layer.

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    • A very knowing comment, A. Super complex, indeed.

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    • Hi. I appreciate your comment and wanted to say that for me, I found the transference to be a nuisance, so I looked into why it bothered me so much (I have been doing meditation/contemplation practices for 25+.years, so I tend to try to get to the truth quickly…unless my subconscious doesn’t allow me to!).

      I found that my transference revealed tremendous insights into patterns/habits and defense mechanisms I carried over from when I was a child. I recognized I had a pattern of getting infatuated with people and I often was attracted to people I couldn’t have. The transference prompted me to find out WHY.

      The timing of the transference was interesting (appeared as soon as I brought up a childhood trauma). I realized the transference was masking some major pain– pain I was not yet ready to experience, I suppose, until the transference with my therapist began.

      My point is, while it was quite embarrassing, it was beneficial to showing me my habitual patterns from childhood. So, it is not all bad!

      Ultimately I realized that I want and need to begin to love and accept myself unconditionally the way my therapist accepts all of me. THEN I can begin to heal.

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      • Indeed, as you suggest in both of your comments, transference is a common consequence of treatment and a vehicle that permits “working through” some of the issues a patient presents. I am sure readers will benefit from the assurance you provide. And, thank you for the book recommendation. All the best.

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  6. Dr, Stein, very interesting essay and made me acknowledge my own father-figure transference toward my physician (an intelligent, successful, sensitive man). Sometimes it works great ’cause it gets me exercising and doing what he suggests. But I did have one occasion when I perceived criticism and it brought back the strong emotions reacting to the unrelenting judgment of my father. I’m going to bring this up with my therapist Tuesday. Thanks for the food for thought! 🙂

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    • You are welcome, Harry. As I’ll bet you know, the complexity of these interactions is increased by the possibility of the therapist’s own “countertransference.” That is, the very same reactive process reaching into the counselor’s own past, so that his emotional response to patients can be influenced by previous relationships in his own history. Nor should it be forgotten that the doc and his client can have relationship problems having nothing to do with transferential issues, but simply who they are and how they are matched and the other events going on in their life outside the session.

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  7. Thank you Gerald for writing about this. It’s what I’m going through in my therapy at the moment. Just in the last two weeks I’ve really started to focus on all my triggers and fears about being in a relationship with someone as it’s something I’ve never really been able to experience in my life. I’ve spent most of my life single and alone because being in a relationship brings up all the trauma and memories of the abuse my father put me through very quickly and I’ve not even been able to get to beginning stages of a relationship because the PTSD kicks in. I can’t stand the loneliness of this anymore so I’m trying to face my fears and also learn how a healthy emotional relationship works. This was one of the main reasons I returned to therapy with a male therapist so I can fix up some of the damage before I put myself out there again.
    But its so tricky and painful because I basically have to let myself ‘fall in love’ with my therapist so I can work through it, but never act on those feelings. It requires so much trust in the therapist to, that he and I can both stay within the boundaries of therapy so no one gets hurt and I can have a chance to understand how it works. My therapist says so that I can be myself in a relationship. Its hard for me to see how it will work out that what I learn in therapy can be translated into my real life. And then there is the fact that I’m left with these very strong and raw feelings that I have toward my therapist and the pain of maintaining my part of the therapuetic boundaries.
    At the moment I feel like I’m trying to achieve the impossible, I can see so many triggers and bad memories ahead. I sometimes think to that I’m asking to much of my therapist to stay with me and work through this.
    It worries me to what feelings this will bring up in him and things like him experiencing vicarious trauma. I know he’s never going to tell me that. But I dont know any other way of giving myself a shot at a happy life with someone and this seems to the safest way to go about it. It feels extremely risky and I cant tell whether it is risky or that its just my fears.
    Anyway thank you so much for this post as it helps me to understand that at least from my therapists point of view that its a normal part of his job. Its given me abit more courage to proceed and have confidence in the work he and I are doing.

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    • You are welcome, Claire. It must have taken much courage to choose a male therapist. There is more than one level of risk, as I understand your comment: 1) The risk coming from the boundaries being violated and 2) that which keeps the boundaries intact but leaves you with painful feelings your counselor cannot reciprocate. Your point is an important one and speaks to the question Brewdun raised, where the love of a therapist, in part, grows out of a life in which few relationships have been kind and the patient enters treatment with long standing loneliness. Once again, if the treatment is successful, then we hope the client will take the best from the human contact with the shrink and successfully pursue intimacy outside the consulting room. Best of luck.

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      • You’ve hit the nail right on the head Gerald. I think to that its important for a client to have some goals set before or at the beginning of therapy, whether they determine that themselves or with the therapist, as to what they want to achieve in their real life and use therapy as a vehicle to get there. It’s important to keep these goals in front of you especially when therapy gets painful and emotional so you have a greater opportunity of success and get ‘the best from the human contact with the shrink’. Im hoping that with the achieving of more intimacy in my life outside sessions it will eventually replace what I have within therapy. I really dont want to be stuck living a fantasy life thats going nowhere it doesnt really provide the strength and courage needed to face the real world. Fortunately I have several sources of support so that i dont put all my eggs in one basket. I just hope that I’m being realistic in what I can achieve with therapy. I suppose though i’ll never know if dont keep moving forward with this. Thanks for your words of encouragement

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  8. I feel like you wrote this for me. I talked to my current therapist yesterday about it and she and I are going to go into deeper detail next week and explore more of the reasons for the feelings involved. Two years later I am still missing my awesome, perfect, therapist on that pedestal who moved away to New Hampshire. In my mind I know it is the connection I miss…in my heart, it is still That Man who was such an important part of my life for 7 years. Your writings always help me understand, help me sort things out, and help me broach important topics to my current therapist. As always, thank you.

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    • You are welcome. I’ve sometimes wondered about the role others play in our lives. In my own there have been a handful of people who, just by being who they were and doing what they did every day, made an enormous impact. It had nothing to do with a special effort on their part toward me. I was not nearly as important to them as they were to me. Timing was significant: their arrival in my life and the state of my development at that moment. I suspect there are, for most of us, people out there who have no idea of the extent of their influence on others. If we have been responsive to a few of the needs of the world, we have played this role as well. I’m not suggesting I have any special knowledge of “That Man.” Your comment simply sent me into a reflection of my own. Thanks for that.

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      • “If we have been responsive to a few of the needs of the world, we have played this role as well.”

        It seems to me YOU are “That Man” to many, including some whom you have never even met in person. Pretty fantastic!

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      • You are very sweet. Thank you!

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    • The fact you didn’t downplay the impact “That Man” had on my life and shared your reflection with me, makes me feel validated (and not so crazy). It’s true that in your retirement – whether you know it or not – you are playing that important role now in so many of our lives – sometimes explaining what seems to be nearly unexplainable. You help us think clearly …without being high on that Pedestal just looking down.

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  9. Dear Dr. Stein,
    How have I not heard of you before?!
    I am a 50+ patient, female, mother, happily married, phd, professional. Eating disorder since my mid 20’s.

    So it is labeled “transference”. And I know that my therapist had his own bout of countertransference, which only confirms that he is human and not an android. We extrapolated the frame to communicating by text outside of sessions for more than two years (out of a total of eight years so far), the text exchanges were very affectionate, both ways, familiar, mundane chats and musings about every day life.

    THEN recently, he ‘had a wake-up call’ as he terms it and is severing that particular link.

    So now what? And what is the difference between transference and ‘real love’, whatever that means. Isn’t real love just another form of transference, only in a different setting? And because it happens “out there”, in real life, and has tangible consequences (offspring, material possessions, domestic life maintenance), then it is termed valid, but other forms are ‘disorders’ or mental delusions… Is any marriage is then a mental delusion, with concrete consequences and social backing. It is imperative to adapt to the global rules for survival.
    There is no doubt in my mind that my husband and children are my highest priority, and my therapist is still essentially a stranger. But an “inner” stranger, an intricate part of my soul, knowing my thoughts better than anyone.
    Assuming back that it was pure transference, and therefore an obstacle to my dealing with the initial reasons I came to therapy, what now? How can I trust anything he may say or do without immediately perceiving the wall of shielding he will be putting up now after ‘waking up’… that would automatically translates into hostility in my mind (another transference?). How do I get past that and actually regain the so called ‘therapy relationship’? Am I capable of unlearning what I know about him and ‘denature’ him back into being simply my analyst?
    I have no intention of starting yet another therapy relationship elsewhere. Done. Tired. Where do I go from here? Patch it up with him or just accept that I will live the rest of my life with body loathing, eating disorders, and other unresolved ancient issues?

    I have voluntarily halted therapy for a few weeks, to catch up my breath so to speak from what felt very much like a heartbreaking rupture. The ironic bit is that my husband and adult son are privy to all this and being quite supportive although not quite sure how to deal with me (add guilt to the mix in my neurons!). I am debating whether I should ever go back to my therapist again. Lost.

    Thank you for reading.

    –Nadia.

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    • drgeraldstein

      There is more here, Nadia, than I can comment on, especially those concerns personal to you and which would require much more knowledge of your life. (I know you understand this). I will, however, respond to a couple of the things you’ve mentioned, starting with this:

      “So now what? And what is the difference between transference and ‘real love’, whatever that means. Isn’t real love just another form of transference, only in a different setting? And because it happens “out there”, in real life, and has tangible consequences (offspring, material possessions, domestic life maintenance), then it is termed valid, but other forms are ‘disorders’ or mental delusions…”

      Yes, transference or stimulus generalization is everywhere and, yes, we find it in our friends, in our children, in our spouses. The difference is, we also see much more of the real life of all those people and are more likely to fill in the blanks of a therapist’s personality than of those people with whom we have more experience, both in quantity and in a variety of situations. The job of separating what we transfer from our life history to any new person is, however, the same. The less we know from experience about someone, the more we are prone to transference.

      “How do I get past that and actually regain the so called ‘therapy relationship’?”

      Working through the transference is part of the task of therapy. We try to peel off the portion of the reaction that is due to the transference and expose that part which is due to the patient’s history, then working on resolving unfinished issues having to do with that history.

      “Where do I go from here?” This one I can’t take on. It does sound, however, as though there is lots of material to discuss with your therapist IF you believe you are up to it and that he is, as well.

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      • Thank you so much for your response.
        I understand I am anonymous to you and you can’t address things more deeply, but your answer already helps tremendously. There is still a lot for me to ponder before I choose a direction, I am still in the ‘raw’ stage of grief from losing that relationship the way it was. The self-destructive tantrum prone child in me says that I should retreat, rely back on myself, let time sediment the feeling into a habitual mild ache, (which also means, unfortunately, cope by sticking with symptoms since that’s what has always worked best). The constructive scientist part of me dictates that I should go back and analyze (i.e.: clean up) all this mess with him. I am teetering on the see saw for now…
        Thank you again for your wonderful generous mind, I will surely continue reading your blog. Your input is most valuable.

        –Nadia

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      • drgeraldstein

        It pleases me that I helped a bit. I’m grateful for your saying so. And thank you for reading. Be well, Nadia.

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      • What a beautiful reply.

        I am SO grateful I found your blog.

        You said:
        “The less we know from experience about someone, the more we are prone to transference.”

        I never thought about it this way, but you’re so right! We have more room to project, I suppose.

        Thank you for this insight, Dr. Stein!

        And Nadia, I wish you all the best.
        I hope you can get some clarity from your therapist so as to resolve your heart ache. Be well. 🙂

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      • I’m glad you found me as well, Sheila, and that you find it valuable. Much appreciated.

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  10. I would like to point out that this article, while informative, only addresses male/female transference. I know you made a quick remark about gender not being a factor in one of your comments, but I think it’s important for everyone reading this to know that many straight women get transference, and even erotic transference, with their female therapists.
    And straight men get transference with male therapists.
    Gay men get transference with male therapists, and lesbians get transference with female therapists (but sexuality doesn’t matter: transference is, as discussed in the article, about past relationships, or lack-there-of).

    There is little data on straight men getting erotic transference, and on lesbians getting erotic transference with male therapists.

    The reason I mention this in the comment section is for the women and men out there who ARE experiencing transference with same sex therapists: it is normal. There’s nothing to be ashamed of. And it’s best to talk about it in therapy because you can learn so much about yourself by discussing this with your therapist. I shared my transference via email and my therapist normalised the situation by explaining transference and counter transference, thereby letting me know it is a normal occurrence, as so gracefully discussed in the above article.

    A book I highly recommend for issues of transference is called IN SESSION.
    It’s out of print, but you can find it used on Amazon.com and AbeBooks.com.

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  11. I’m a bit late finding your comments on “sexual transference,” Dr. Stein. The first time I heard of this was when I was trying to find out what to do if I was in love with my therapist. I had already had a very positive and good transference with my lesbian therapist. She was a bit narcissistic, but she was better than any other I had been with by miles.

    I came to her from the hospital after a suicide attempt due to a short-lived major depression-inflammation and chronic combination. I accepted her as best I could for the first 6 months, understanding that she wanted to help me and cared. Then I began feeling very good about her, very positive.

    Because my husband was in the process of dying in the hospital, my therapist took it upon herself to “put me into a transference” in order to get my mind off my husband’s dying. It put me into an instant sexual transference. She hugged me, said she loved me. Didn’t let go of the hug. Said she LOVED me. I tried to look at her to see what was happening, but she wouldn’t allow me to. So I told her that I loved her as well. Then was went to release me from the hug, but then drew me back in to her.

    This sexual transference lasted for more than 2 months, her being fulling aware of what was happening. I elicited no sympathy from her, more like she just wanted me to “get over it.” I felt very guilty, I’ve never considered myself a lesbian before, but I certainly did before this was all over.

    It was such an intense feeling that ENERGY would well up inside of me and rise from my groin and up through my body as I was sitting at my desk working, or even while sleeping. So very intense, so pleasurable, but so frightening. I had never felt this way before, was this was what love really was like. Sounded fine to me, whatever it was.

    I read everything I could find on erotic transference. I asked her to work with me on the transference in order to learn from it, but she said she knew nothing about that. And, yes, it got to the point where I couldn’t concentrate on myself. I was far too involved with her ups and downs and accidents, etc. She asked me pointblank one day as I came in for my session if I felt this were the case, that I couldn’t concentrate on myself. I said yes. And she said to go find someone else to help me.

    I told her that – if she was going to put someone into a transference on purpose – she should have had the ability to undo that transference.

    I tried to find someone else, but it’s nearly impossible to find a psychotherapist who will take medicare patients. So I spent a couple of horrible months after my husband died.

    I finally broke the sexual transference myself by having sex with a male friend (who knew what was going on) on the second attempt. After that, it was gone. I still think of my therapist, but no longer have sexual or intimate feelings toward her.

    I tried to start me sessions up again with her. She said no, I had left her therapy and she no longer wanted me back. This was horrible to hear with everything else in my life going on, she was afraid of taking me back for therapy when I truly needed it and never helped to find a replacement.

    I hope this isn’t how therapists usually deal with transferences that got out of perspective.

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    • I have never heard a story quite like this one, Marylin. First, let me share my condolences, both on the death of your husband and the therapeutic catastrophe. I have never heard of anyone “putting” a patient into transference; rather, transference is something that simply happens. What you have described goes beyond a routine kind of transference. It was obviously only one part of the therapist’s behavior that left you wounded. I hope, if you do again return to therapy, you find someone with a less “interventionist” approach, to put it kindly. Thank you for the courage to tell your story here.

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  12. I had been seeing a male CBT therapist for about a year for depression & developed transference. I’m a female in my 40’s & lost my Father in an accident when I was 3. I’m happily married & we had strong boundaries, but I developed lubrication during therapy & he terminated me. I got upset (because he knows things about my past nobody knows) and couldn’t believe he was terminating me. I felt like I had put all of this trust in him & he just abandoned me. He referred me to a DBT therapist, but I feel as though I had every right to be upset. I feel like I will never be able to trust another therapist again. I couldn’t help what I felt, I was just being honest (which is what I thought I was supposed to do). Feeling ashamed…

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    • Very sorry to hear this. I can only say that I knew of more than one of my patients who developed sexualized transferences in my treatment of them (some who spontaneously reported lubrication, for what it is worth). This is something to be worked through, not an automatic sign of any wrong on the part of the patient. As you say, you “couldn’t help” what you felt. I hope with the passage of time you will not feel ashamed and be able to trust again. Good luck with this.

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  13. I was raised without an involved father who died when I was 12 years old. I have had transference issues directed towards men in authority throughout my life. While my thoughts can become sexualized, it is more about the attention, guidance, and my desire to be shown affection and protection. I am experiencing this with my male therapist but during our sessions but I do not experience arousal. He occupies my thoughts when I am not with him. I have always had a sense this is related to my lack of having a father in my life. Seeing fathers with their young children causes me to experience a stabbing pain. This article, the comments and your responses are helpful. I have not mentioned this to my therapist because I do not want to ruin our rapport or scare him away. I never considered a female therapists, for some reason I wanted a male. Thank you.

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    • drgeraldstein

      Thank you for adding your thoughts to the conversation, Mary. To the extent that therapists might be scared away, I suspect sexualized transference would be more likely to do that. To the extent that the father issues continue, certainly this is something therapists deal with all the time, and is pretty much within what Freud predicted re: transference. Thus, it is appropriate “grist for the mill.” Take care.

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  14. Thank you for this wonderful piece. It’s funny how I happened on reading it today, as I’ve just come home from a therapy session. Today, I plucked up the courage to tell him that this particular inner child of mine (age 8-10yrs) loved him very much. I said to him that he probably already knew that. His eyes welled up & it was a very powerful moment & connection. I did counter it with the fact that my inner teenager most certainly didn’t love him, or especially like him!
    I love that transference feeling & we talk a lot about it. I absolutely agree with you stating that…..’The doctor’s presence in the patient’s life may silently signal the opportunity to win (at last) the perfect love of a parent substitute’ I absolutely “feel” that.
    I love reading your work & really appreciate you writing it in a way that is easy for us to understand. Thank you again.

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  15. drgeraldstein

    You are very sweet, Joanna. Your kind interest in my writing is one of those things that keep me doing it. Best wishes.

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  16. I’m learning so much from reading this blog and feel less alone in my situation, thank you to all of you for sharing your stories. I was married for 11 years to a complex man with addiction issues and in our last four years together we had seven miscarriages. During this terrible time, he descended into alcohol and drug abuse, communication broke down completely between us, arguments became the norm and I felt totally neglected and unloved; finally I left him 6 months ago in a desperate bid to get him to help himself. Two weeks later I ended up in hospital for unexpected major surgery and my husband refused to bring me in and never came to the hospital to visit me; I was devastated and felt completely abandoned.

    Whilst in hospital, I was looked after by a kind and caring doctor who sat beside me and held my hand, listened to what had happened to me and showed empathy, compassion and caring at a time when I was utterly devastated. It turned out that he had recently gone through a heartbreaking breakup and he confided in me and I comforted him.

    During my recuperation, my thoughts continuously turned to him and were highly sexualised; I wanted to do things to him sexually that I would never have considered with my husband or anyone else, this I guess helped me through a tough time. I found out that he had got a job and was going to be moving abroad for a long time; I was completely devastated about this man I barely knew. To cut a long story short, we ended up contacting each other via social media a few months later and, despite the fact that I knew he was going away, we went on a date together. To make matters more confusing, it was everything that I had fantasized about, we kissed and the sexual chemistry between us was so strong. After we parted that night, we sent each other texts and had a phone conversation of a highly sexual nature. I have never done this with anyone else.

    In the following weeks, it was usually me who initiated contact and his responses, while always kind and caring, became increasingly short and distant. He is moving abroad soon and all I can do is think about him. My husband has since received great therapy and wants to reconcile, and, while I’m so proud of him, I feel NOTHING towards him sexually; it actually turns my stomach. The doctor is constantly on my mind. I am so confused and frightened about the future and don’t know what to do. I am constantly on social media checking on the doctor even though I know how unhealthy this is. I am going to speak to a therapist about this shortly, as it is completely debilitating.

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    • You are hardly alone in this kind of experience, Tanya. I’d only underline one thing you know intellectually, I’m sure: however much you connected, you don’t know him. A therapist sounds like a good idea. The continued preoccupation with his online presence will likely fuel your off-line preoccupation, as well. Whether your marriage is saveable is another matter, but one that is unlikely to be helped by the unattainable fantasy of someone else who is impossible for anyone to compete with.

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