Why am i sexually attracted to my therapist

Deborah C. Escalante

I was Sexually Attracted to My Therapist

Erotic transference refers to feelings of romantic love or sexual fantasies that a client experiences for their therapist. As with any difficult feelings experienced in therapy, the key to working through these feelings is talking about them; however, it can feel almost impossible to do so. I started to experience these feelings around eighteen months into my own therapy and realised, through reading numerous blogs, that they were surprisingly common.

Sexual feelings towards your therapist can be extremely confusing, particularly if you are in a stable relationship, if the therapist is of a different gender to the one you are usually attracted to, or if you tend to see your therapist as a parental figure. I chose an older female therapist in order to minimise the risk that I might ‘fall in love’ with her. Her age and gender made no difference however, and the tension between my sexual feelings and my desire for her to be my mother, was difficult to cope with. If you are in a relationship, you may also experience feelings of guilt as well as confusion.

You may feel as though the sexual fantasies are ‘wrong’, ‘not normal’, or that you are ‘bad’ for having them. The therapeutic relationship may be intimate, but awareness of its boundaries and professional nature can make erotic transference feel overwhelmingly shameful. My own shame was closely related to the fear of admitting my feelings to my therapist. Would she be horrified and disgusted? Would she think badly of me? Some clients worry that their therapist will end the therapy if they find out about the erotic transference.

It often helps to remind myself that thoughts aren’t actions, and feelings aren’t facts. Though it would be unethical for either party to act on sexual feelings, the emotions themselves are not ‘wrong’. In therapy any subject is open for discussion and I hope most therapists would be prepared and trained to talk about erotic transference. It is easy to feel as though you must be the only client experiencing these emotions. However, your therapist will almost certainly have worked with this before, and may even have experienced it themselves, in the context of their own therapy.

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What helped me most of all was understanding how the erotic transference came about, and realising that these feelings ‘stand for’ something. As we grow older we acquire a deeper and wider vocabulary, and not just a verbal one. We learn other ways to express ourselves and our feelings – through metaphor, through creativity, and also through sex. A child might display frustration or playfulness through tears or tickling. As adults we can use these same vehicles for our emotions, but in addition we have more complex and multi-layered responses available to us, including sex.

A child’s earliest experiences of emotional intimacy will most likely be in the context of their relationship with mother. As adults, such intimacy tends to take place in the context of a romantic relationship, where it is often expressed physically. Therapy involves an emotionally intimate relationship in which we’re often acutely aware of being in more than one state at once. We have the body, mind and experience of an adult, but are often exposing our most vulnerable and childlike selves. I used to have a strong need to feel ‘merged’ with my therapist, in the way that a very young infant feels ‘at-one’ with her mother. Though this was a childlike longing, the adult reference point for such intense feelings is within the context of sex. When seen as a childlike need processed through an adult brain, erotic transference seems far from shameful – it feels entirely unsurprising.

Erotic transference can convey meaning and uncover unconscious dynamics. Sometimes it signaled frustration at not seeing my therapist during a break; sometimes it uncovered a desire to be an ‘irresistible’ and satisfying client; sometimes it was a vent for my anger at a perceived misunderstanding. The erotic transference has also helped me to identify a dynamic in which I sometimes used sex as a form of emotional self-harm.  

When I first spoke about these sexual feelings with my therapist, I felt vulnerable and afraid. However, being open about it has led to greater insight and progress, and to a deeper sense of acceptance. Erotic transference is certainly revealing, but it is nothing to be ashamed of; it has been one of the many transformative aspects of my therapy.

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Further reading

Clara blogs at LifeinaBind

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Do you want to have sex with your therapist? It’s not a question that’s asked out loud very often. Though it seems taboo to talk about, having sexual and romantic feelings toward your therapist is actually something many people experience. Though a therapist should never have sex with you, having romantic feelings isn’t weird or unusual at all. Therapists learn about this possibility while they’re in training, and there’s even a term to describe it: erotic transference.

“Erotic transference often happens,” Andrea Celenza, Ph.D., an expert in sexual boundary violations, told The Mighty. “[Erotic transference] is when the patient begins to develop or does develop romantic and sexual feelings for the therapist.”

Is It Normal to Want to Have Sex With a Therapist?

If you’ve felt attracted to your therapist or even wanted to have sex with them, it’s a normal part of the therapy process for some people. It may show up in a number of ways, like feeling sexual desire, thinking romantically about your therapist in or out of session, craving physical contact, or wondering if your therapist would want to be with you.

There’s no shame in having these thoughts or feelings. Though it can also feel confusing, it makes sense if you’re experiencing romantic feelings toward your therapist. Sometimes you may be attracted to a therapist of a different gender than you’re typically attracted to. For many people, sexual attraction stems from feeling deeply seen by their therapist.

“You can open up to the therapist more, perhaps more than you’ve opened up to anybody,” Celenza said. “You find at every turn more and more understanding, and so that is what is seductive, that is what makes you fall in love with the therapist. It’s really about understanding and the capacity to be seen.”

Should I Tell My Therapist I’m Having Sexual Thoughts?

Your impulse may be to hide romantic or sexual feelings toward your therapist. However, you can and should disclose these thoughts and feelings. Therapists know this happens sometimes, and good therapists are trained to respond with compassion while maintaining appropriate boundaries. Sexual attraction may be a sign you’re making progress in therapy.

“The client should tell the therapist because it is a very positive development,” Celenza said of clients who experience these feelings. “It is the emergence of their desire and that is something to examine.”

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It’s also normal if the attraction feels painful. It can signal you’re missing intimate connection in your other relationships and may bring up feelings of fear, disappointment, expectations of being let down and anger, among others. A sexual, romantic or even friend relationship with your therapist should never happen. Even when you know this, it can feel rejecting when your therapist says no.

“It’s a long process of disappointment, actually,” Celenza said. “[Therapists] have to very gradually keep saying no to the action, but saying yes to the feelings and to the understanding.”

Should I Have Sex With My Therapist?

Under no circumstances should your therapist have sex with you — ever. Therapists can have sexual feelings toward clients too, but those thoughts or feelings should never be acted on. Having sex with a client is a major boundary violation, deeply unethical and, in some cases, illegal. “There should not be any sex in therapy,” Celenza emphasized.

Even if you think an intimate relationship with your therapist would feel good, it will only do harm. Just like a relationship between a student and teacher, a relationship with your therapist has an inherent power imbalance. “The power that the therapist has is tremendous because you know so much about the client and the client doesn’t know anything about the therapist,” Celenza said.

Unfortunately, unethical therapists do exist, and they may try to act on sexual feelings, either yours or theirs. Experts believe about 9-12% of therapists violate a sexual boundary with their clients. If your therapist does initiate a romantic or sexual relationship with you, you can report the therapist to your state’s licensing board. Seek out loved ones or even another therapist who can help you with next steps and provide support.

Keep in mind your therapist is 100% responsible for maintaining an appropriate relationship, which should never include sex. Your therapist also should not cross this boundary after you have ended the therapeutic relationship. The power imbalance doesn’t disappear when the therapy stops.

The Takeaway 

It’s normal to have sexual thoughts and feelings about your therapist as part of your treatment process. When you talk about these feelings openly with an ethical therapist, they can help you understand what’s happening and help you move forward. And when it’s painful to know you can’t ever act on your romantic feelings, you’ll probably find in the end that what you’re looking for isn’t your therapist.

“In the end, patients… don’t really want the therapist because the therapist is someone they don’t even know. They want their fantasy of the therapist,” Celenza said. “That’s what they have to figure out and examine. That’s what the therapy gives them the opportunity to do.”

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