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About Psychotherapy

 

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Page Contents: When you want a personal friendship with your psychotherapist.                    

 

I think about my therapist all the time and desperately wish for a closer relationship with her. I want to be her friend too. Will this desire for a personal friendship ever go away? I feel so desperate about it sometimes.

 
The desire for a personal relationship with your psychotherapist is called a transference reaction to the psychotherapy. Now, many persons believe that transference is some sort of an unrealistic misperception of the psychotherapist by the client. But the great French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan taught, and I agree with him, that “transference” is nothing more nor less than real life occurring in the therapeutic situation.

 
Fears of Abandonment

For example, if you have been mistreated in the past so that you’re extremely sensitive to fears of abandonment, then in all of your relationships you will encounter events that trigger those fears—and the psychotherapeutic relationship is no exception. Of course, the events that happen in psychotherapy aren’t really attempts by the psychotherapist to abandon you (that is, if the psychotherapist is a competent psychotherapist), but they will still have realistic elements that could be felt as abandonment, such as when the psychotherapist has to reschedule an appointment. When such an inadvertent occurrence triggers such fears, it then becomes a meaningful event for you to explore in the psychotherapy for connections to your past.

 
Feelings of Fondness

There’s also another side to this transference concept as well: feelings of fondness. In some cases, such feelings derive from “common love”; that is, you desire to fill your inner emptiness with romantic illusions about another person.

But in other cases, a different dynamic than “common love” can be at work. If you have somehow had your self-image altered by some traumatic event of the past, such as childhood sexual molestation, then you will tend to think of yourself as unworthy of any feelings of purity. Nevertheless, when you encounter a person who does not mistreat you, you will feel genuine fondness. And it makes no difference if this person is a friend or a psychotherapist. It’s all real life. These feelings might be unsettling to you, because they contradict your perception of yourself as a “bad” person, but they are nonetheless an aspect of your true goodness.

 
The Capacity for Relationship

Whether you are struggling with fears of abandonment or feelings of fondness, your task in psychotherapy is not to become an actual friend of your psychotherapist but simply to understand your inner capacity to relate to another person out of a mutual concern for each other’s good.

This capacity for relationship is something that everyone should acquire in childhood within the family, but many families are so dysfunctional—that is, so filled with manipulation, game-playing, and emotional dishonesty—that many children never learn how to function in a genuine relationship.

These children, whose parents have essentially cheated them of a healthy emotional development, will grow up faced with two choices: live a miserable life of botched attempts at relationships, or enter psychotherapy to learn how to do what you didn’t learn from your parents.

 
The Psychotherapist as a Teacher

It’s only by talking openly and honestly to your psychotherapist, within the psychotherapy itself, about your feelings for him or her that you demonstrate respect for him or her as a teacher, thereby experiencing a genuine relationship.

Moreover, it’s only by accepting your psychotherapist as someone you are paying to perform the job of an instructor that you can learn what you need to learn.
 

A PRINCIPLE FACT OF PSYCHOTHERAPY
The psychotherapist’s job is not to be a friend or a pseudo-parent who becomes personally entangled in the life of the client; instead, the psychotherapist’s job is to be a paid instructor who can teach the client what was not learned in childhood.
 

Note carefully, though, that psychotherapy is not just an intellectual learning process; even though cognitive and behavioral techniques have their place, psychotherapeutic healing must reach deep into your heart where you can encounter an emotional engagement with life that you missed in childhood.

 
Protecting the Emotional Healing

Because of the emotional engagement that constitutes the psychotherapeutic work, genuine psychotherapy requires that, in order to avoid the trap of the love-hate flip-flop, a “third person”—the unconscious—must always be present in the consulting room between the client and the psychotherapist. Through their mutual willingness to look at all events within the psychotherapy—and discuss them openly—as manifestations of the unconscious, both the client and the psychotherapist can focus on the task of emotional healing rather than get caught up in all the perversions of “love” and hate.

  

This commitment to the unconscious explains why a psychotherapist and a client cannot have a relationship outside the psychotherapy office: if they did, the unconscious would be left behind, the client would be overwhelmed with emotional vulnerability, and the love-hate flip-flop would push everything over the edge into destruction.

  

 
Real Friends

So, if you learn this lesson properly, within the psychotherapy, then you can go out and begin to make some real friends.

But if you cling to the wish to be a friend with your psychotherapist, you are clinging to nothing more than an illusion behind which you hide your fears of abandonment and loneliness—the very fears that prevent you from being a friend with anyone. And if that’s the case, then you aren’t doing genuine psychotherapy—instead, you’re “doing” Borderline Personality Disorder.

 


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Raymond Lloyd Richmond, Ph.D.
San Francisco
 
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