Psycho-Babble Psychology Thread 818078

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Love as the agent of change -- kind of long

Posted by red house on March 15, 2008, at 10:58:21

Hi there -- I haven't posted in quite some time but I've been thinking about some issues in therapy lately and I wanted to see if any of you all have had similar struggles/what your thoughts might be on this topic.

I know that many of us struggle with our feelings of love for our therapist, but have others ever struggled to accept the "love" our therapist has for us? And by this I mean a kind of human-to-human connection type love, a sense of "warm personal attachment," as opposed to any kind of sexual feelings. (I think of this in a way that the therapist, Paul, on _In Session_ (for those of you watching), meant when he talked about Sophie "testing" his love, and he purposefully said that he can't treat someone he doesn't "love." Certainly he meant something different than the "love" he feels for Laura, Monday's patient with whom he's said he's "in love.")

Anyway, I've done some looking back at other posts and many of you were relatively emphatic about not getting "love" from your therapists. But isn't what we get in a sense of kind of therapy love -- that presence, care, empathy, encouragement, and limit-setting that is really a part of any healthy parent-child relationship?

In what is probably a big step for me I am sensing/feeling this kind of "love" from my T, for the first time in our about a year and a half together at twice a week. I've talked about it cagily and she's yet to say what I've been expecting to hear: "There are ways in which this may feel like love for you, that kind of love you were looking for when you were younger, but what's more important is for us to focus on where the need comes from." In other words she's yet to sort of reject the idea that part of what makes the therapy relationship is about love, in a benign, willing the best for the other kind of way. I asked basically if it was alright for me to feel that there was love sometimes, and she said it was, absolutely. But I think that was as much about the fact that all feelings are valid, not that it was necessarily true.

I feel like she's not getting me to look at the limits of that -- like she's letting me believe there's love there without actually acknowledging that that's not the way this works or really how she feels about any patients, a la Paul. I vascillate between believing that what I experience from her is real and knowing for sure that I'm projecting my desire to be loved and really cared for onto her.

I hope this isn't too out there/abstract. Just wondering if anyone has had experience dealing with handling the positive (and non-sexual) feelings you feel from your therapist?

redhouse

 

Re: Love as the agent of change -- kind of long red house

Posted by Annierose on March 15, 2008, at 14:58:11

In reply to Love as the agent of change -- kind of long, posted by red house on March 15, 2008, at 10:58:21

I think I understand what you are trying to say and receive from your therapist.

My therapist has described the therapeutic relationship as a "giant love affair" - from the clients point of view. That being said, I do think she cares a great deal about me or otherwise I do not think she could or want to help me (she has said this as well).

There is a power differential. We are much more invested to their feelings about us than the reverse. I don't think that came out right. In other words, they are a huge part of our emotional life. We are important to them but in a different context.

I think Paul is right when he says he loves his clients. Since you see your therapist twice a week, I gather he/she is psychodynamic therapist. I would think he/she would be willing to explore your relationship with him/her.

You mentioned you asked "cagily". Try being more direct. Yes, it's scary but it's a conversation well worth exploring.

And I think you are exactly right. It is difficult to accept love from another person - whether friend or therapist if the receivee has a difficult time trusting the relationship. So yes, love is the agent of change.

 

Re: Love as the agent of change -- kind of long red house

Posted by sunnydays on March 15, 2008, at 18:43:18

In reply to Love as the agent of change -- kind of long, posted by red house on March 15, 2008, at 10:58:21

My T has told me he loves me, and he has referred many times to the fact that I have trouble believing I am lovable. He doesn't say it very often, but he does say it when I really need to hear it. He makes it clear there are limits, and that it won't go outside the therapy boundaries, but that he does really care about me. It is scary for me to feel that caring from him, and I feel like I often get really scared he's lying when he says that. I often expect he'll one day just get fed up with me being too clingy and tell me he doesn't want to see me anymore. But the first time I told him I loved him (he admitted later he really didn't have a clue what to say, he was surprised because I'm the first one who's admitted that) and we talked more about my love for him for a while (I see him as a father figure) and then finally at the end of the appointment he said, "Well, I wasn't sure whether to say this or not, but finally I just decided to say it because that's how we've been with each other. We've always been honest with each other and it feels like it would be holding back too much if I didn't say this. I do have loving feelings for you, sunnydays, and they're not sexual or anything like that at all, more like a parent or a brother or something."

So yeah, I've had experience with that.

sunnydays

 

Re: Love as the agent of change -- kind of long

Posted by raisinb on March 15, 2008, at 20:23:36

In reply to Re: Love as the agent of change -- kind of long red house, posted by sunnydays on March 15, 2008, at 18:43:18

Freud once described therapy as a "cure through love," and so does Nancy McWilliams, who writes books about psychodynamic therapy.

To tell the truth, I believe that my T loves me and I have for a long time (not in a sexual or intense way, but in a caring sense). I don't have any evidence, and I'm sure she wouldn't say it, and it's very possibly not true, but for some reason I just do.

 

Re: Love as the agent of change -- kind of long

Posted by Daisym on March 16, 2008, at 17:12:53

In reply to Love as the agent of change -- kind of long, posted by red house on March 15, 2008, at 10:58:21

If you haven't read it, try to get a copy of the book, "A General Theory of Love." It talks about all the different ways that love influences who we are and how we live our lives. The authors have lots of research about how curative and necessary love is in relationships - even therapy relationships.

One of the tenets of psychodynamic attachment theory is that the therapy relationship is part real and part "pretend" - and both client and therapist know this and buy into it. If it gets too real - it can feel very scary because therapy is a place where all your fantasies are allowed - and if it is all pretend then it feels artificial and we don't trust any of it. The caring part is usually the most real part of the exchange and caring is rarely one-sided. Romantic love might be one-sided but human-to-human caring, like you indicated, has a give and take quality that feeds on itself. You show caring to someone, they show it back - and so it grows. Your caring, if never reciprocated, would likely turn off or would morph into a type of pathological feeling - an obsession or anger or something less than healthy. That is why the "blank slate" approach of Freud's time - no emotion or response shown by the therapist - has fallen mostly out of favor. It most situations, it doesn't work very well.

I'll also throw in here that there are multiple layers of communication going on all the time with another person. And when you are very tuned in to someone, like in therapy, you can read them pretty well. So what you are feeling is very likely accurate - your therapist does care for you (love by definition). There is no reason for her to squash that perception - how would that help your therapy? There is often a general agreement among therapists to leave "positive" transference alone unless the client wants to talk about it. And to negate it would cause you to question your own experience and how you make sense of it. And those meanings are actually co-created by both of you - you don't come up with this in a vacuum.

I agree with Annie - if you can call it out and talk about it, you might learn a lot about yourself. I know it is scary.

Interesting topic...

 

Re: Love as the agent of change -- kind of long Annierose

Posted by red house on March 17, 2008, at 7:04:15

In reply to Re: Love as the agent of change -- kind of long red house, posted by Annierose on March 15, 2008, at 14:58:11

thank you for sharing your thoughts. i think that's right that therapy is a "giant love affair" from the client's perspective. it is so fundamental and hopeully transformative for us.

my T and i spend a good deal of time working in the therapy relationship, so we've sort of talked about it, but i think i will take your advice and be a little more direct about what i'm feeling/trying to say this week.


> I think I understand what you are trying to say and receive from your therapist.
>
> My therapist has described the therapeutic relationship as a "giant love affair" - from the clients point of view. That being said, I do think she cares a great deal about me or otherwise I do not think she could or want to help me (she has said this as well).
>
> There is a power differential. We are much more invested to their feelings about us than the reverse. I don't think that came out right. In other words, they are a huge part of our emotional life. We are important to them but in a different context.
>
> I think Paul is right when he says he loves his clients. Since you see your therapist twice a week, I gather he/she is psychodynamic therapist. I would think he/she would be willing to explore your relationship with him/her.
>
> You mentioned you asked "cagily". Try being more direct. Yes, it's scary but it's a conversation well worth exploring.
>
> And I think you are exactly right. It is difficult to accept love from another person - whether friend or therapist if the receivee has a difficult time trusting the relationship. So yes, love is the agent of change.
>
>

 

Re: Love as the agent of change -- kind of long sunnydays

Posted by red house on March 17, 2008, at 7:18:58

In reply to Re: Love as the agent of change -- kind of long red house, posted by sunnydays on March 15, 2008, at 18:43:18

i've had similarly feelings, sunnydays, about feeling like my T is lying when she says she cares. like, in my mind, that if she's saying that it's only cause i'm paying her to say nice things to me and it's not genuine. it's her job.

the appointment you describe where you discussed your love for each other sounds really special and important. thank you for sharing; that must feel really good inside of you to try to remember and hold onto that interaction.

 

Re: Love as the agent of change -- kind of long Daisym

Posted by red house on March 17, 2008, at 7:28:09

In reply to Re: Love as the agent of change -- kind of long, posted by Daisym on March 16, 2008, at 17:12:53

Thank you, Daisy, for sharing your thoughts. I will check out that book. I always appreciate the insights you share when I read posts on the board. What you wrote about reciprocal caring kind of feeding off each other I think makes a lot of sense. I think love of any kind is at least a two process where it's about the relationship that's been built, not about a unilateral feeling, which is more about obsession or in the sexual context could be just about lust.

I probably will discuss this more directly with my therapist since it's been on my mind a lot lately, despite being more of a positive transference reaction. We've spent a lot of time on anger so at least this will be a break! :)

 

Re: Love as the agent of change -- kind of long red house

Posted by estrellita on March 19, 2008, at 20:38:43

In reply to Love as the agent of change -- kind of long, posted by red house on March 15, 2008, at 10:58:21

> I know that many of us struggle with our feelings of love for our therapist, but have others ever struggled to accept the "love" our therapist has for us? And by this I mean a kind of human-to-human connection type love, a sense of "warm personal attachment," as opposed to any kind of sexual feelings. (I think of this in a way that the therapist, Paul, on _In Session_ (for those of you watching), meant when he talked about Sophie "testing" his love, and he purposefully said that he can't treat someone he doesn't "love." Certainly he meant something different than the "love" he feels for Laura, Monday's patient with whom he's said he's "in love.")
>
> Anyway, I've done some looking back at other posts and many of you were relatively emphatic about not getting "love" from your therapists. But isn't what we get in a sense of kind of therapy love -- that presence, care, empathy, encouragement, and limit-setting that is really a part of any healthy parent-child relationship?

# # #

Hi red house,

In what you wrote, you touched on the thing that makes therapy so painful yet effective for me.

Though we never really talked about it in terms of love, I think that my last psychologist and I did come to love each other. It was a sort of "big sister" relationship, where she was about 7 years older than me, and had finished her PhD while I was starting mine. We also shared a history of recurrent, severe depression. I don't have any sisters myself, and it felt good, once I trusted her, to have someone who would listen to me, give me advice, and had similar experiences with school, depression, etc. I think we both came to love each other, but at times I questioned how much she cared about me because I was paying for her time, attention, etc. She tried to explain that she cared about me even though I was paying for her services, and even though that didn't sit quite right with me, I just went with it. I think what made things easier on me was that at the time I didn't know much about the "therapeutic relationship." When therapy terminated, I was sort of surprised when she told me we couldn't spend time together again since she had been my therapist. Of course I was upset, but I think by that point I was just grateful for how much she had helped me and I guess I got over the rest.

Now it's a few years later and I'm working with a different psychologist in a different city. This time around, things are harder for me. I think having experienced a trusting relationship with a therapist in the past makes this one more difficult because I know that in order for it to work, I have to (a) trust the therapist, and (b) do this while knowing that in the not-too-distant future, I'll never see this person again. Also, I've done a lot of reading on the therapeutic relationship in order to understand it better (rather than just be cynical about it), and I think that having this extra knowledge about this peculiar, unique relationship has helped overall. I don't feel like it's a big secret that I'm not supposed to be in on (as I sometimes had in the past).

I have to say though, the very fact that the therapist is "supposed to" love the patient in some way, but also that it's a limited kind of love, is one of the main things that makes therapy feel so diabolical to me. I often feel this undercurrent running underneath the relationship with my current therapist - even as I feel a caring relationship developing, I also know that we are moving toward termination and the accompanying feelings of sadness, being set adrift, etc. How can I completely trust someone when I know that in, say, 5 weeks, I won't be allowed to see them again?! I feel like part of therapy is putting the patient into a position where it's almost impossible NOT to feel like they're being irrational, doing maladaptive things, etc. with regard to the relationship part of the therapy. It all just leaves a really bad taste in my mouth.

Maybe I should be okay with the fact that "therapy love" is love, and accept it for what it is. But so far I just can't. To me, it's something else masquerading as love, but calling itself love anyhow. It's love mixed with professionalism, maybe, and I'm not sure the two can really mix in the first place.

Also, I'm not sure how this relates, but what do you think of the phrase "once a therapist, always a therapist" - i.e., that once someone has been your therapist, other kinds of relationships are precluded from ever taking place? For me, I find that unnatural as well in some way, though I'm still thinking about why that should be. Perhaps part of it is choice...I feel like I have more of a say about most other relationships than I do about the therapeutic relationship. I'm not sure that's technically true, but it feels like it is. There's something inhuman to me about two people coming to feel genuine affection for each other, and then to tell them that, since this particular relationship type is over that their interactions must immediately cease.

I know I'm leaving out the side of things that focuses on what is in the patient's therapeutic interest, but I have thought about that a lot, too. I think people are more malleable than some theories assume them to be.


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