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Re: Need advice about friendship with former therapist Blossom

Posted by Tamar on October 12, 2005, at 7:15:25

In reply to Need advice about friendship with former therapist, posted by Blossom on October 11, 2005, at 21:51:58

Hi Blossom,

Good to see you posting.

I do think its possible to become friends with a former therapist, and that it can be a mutually rewarding relationship.

But I think its only possible in the right circumstances. It has to be right for him, and it has to be right for you.

I think that several conditions have to be met for it to work:
1. You need to discuss what becoming friends will mean. Your therapist has to be sure that you understand you can never return to therapy with him. You need to understand that if you need a therapist at some point in the future you will have to build up a new sense of trust with someone else. You can never do therapy with him again.
2. You both need to be sure that you arent hoping for something more than a friendship. If either of you wishes for a sexual relationship, or even a father-daughter relationship, the friendship probably wont work (it would be based on hopes that you can never fulfil for each other).
3. You need to think about how you will feel as he gradually ceases to represent whatever he represented in therapy. (For example, my therapist represented safety, and I still think of him whenever I want to feel safe. If we became friends, he would become like any other person and Id lose my symbol of safety. Im not ready for that Are you?)
4. He needs to be certain that he could talk about the friendship with his colleagues. If its something hed feel inclined to keep quiet about, then its a good indication hes doing it for the wrong reasons.
5. You need to be sure that the friendship is not significantly more important to you than your other friendships. If it feels much more important, it probably wont work (it would be based in therapeutic transference, which cant survive the ups and downs of friendship).

My main concern in your situation is that the two of you seem to be drifting into a friendship without having talked about the implications. I think perhaps hes being a little irresponsible in allowing that to happen. Its not unlike the way people drift into an affair and then say they were swept away by the passion. Perhaps you can have a friendship with your former therapist, but I really believe it has to be a choice you make. I dont think possible to let a friendship just develop (as other friendships do).

I really worry that you could get hurt. I suspect that eventually, perhaps in consultation with a colleague, hell come to realise that hes compromising his professional ethics. And since few people want to risk their job for a friendship, he would probably end the friendship, which could be extremely painful for you.

I think you need to ask yourself some difficult questions and answer them as honestly as you can, to see if youre really ready for a friendship like this. Ask yourself questions like:
If he got a job in another town and left two weeks from now, would you be completely devastated?
Would you like to get to know his wife?
If he kissed you, would you be tempted to take it further?
How would you feel if you had an argument with him? Or if he criticised you, or stood you up, or didnt reply to a couple of emails?

If you can imagine a friendship like all other friendships, you might have a good chance of success. But if you feel youd be devastated if he left town, or if youre a little jealous of his wife, or if you wish for sexual contact, or youd be terribly hurt if he neglected you, youre probably not ready yet. And maybe youll be ready one day You might just have to wait.

I think your best chance of getting what you want (if what you want really is a friendship with your former therapist) is to talk openly to him about it. If youre going to have a friendship, you both need to choose it carefully because of the ethical issues. You need to be able to demonstrate to him that youre emotionally ready for it. And he needs to demonstrate to you that he still has your best interests at heart. Its not like the beginning of any other friendship: it has to be handled with special care and maturity.

If youre able to show that maturity by raising the topic with him, then perhaps you can persuade him that a friendship would be a good thing. You might not persuade him, and that would hurt. Youd wish youd never said anything; youd imagine that if only youd kept quiet everything would have been OK. But in fact, if you dont talk about it to him, I am certain the hurt will be much, much worse, because if you *dont* talk about it and he continues to behave in a way that is contrary to his usual professional conduct, he will eventually wake up and realise what is happening. And to lose his friendship a few months from now would be so much worse, I think.

If I were in your situation, Id say something like, Im enjoying spending time with you. And I know its a little unconventional to spend time together like this, given our former therapeutic relationship. But Im enjoying getting to know you a little and it feels very comfortable to me. I wonder if youve thought about it, because I know its probably best for both of us if were absolutely certain were not doing something unethical.

And this is the crucial part he needs to take the discussion seriously. If he waves it aside and says it doesnt matter, then you should probably run away very fast.

I hope so much that everything works out OK for you.

Tamar


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