It happened to me. Here’s how I handled it.
Health and wellness touch each of us differently. This is one person’s story.
I’ve always been fascinated by dreams. I’ll often immediately write them down so I can analyze them later.
But the night I had an erotic dream about my therapist is one I definitely didn’t want to remember. I wanted to erase it from my memory.
I started to see my current therapist for anxiety about a year ago. Once I warmed up to her over the first few visits, we developed a great therapist-patient relationship.
I usually saw her weekly, but I’d miss sessions here or there for various trips out of town or conflicting work commitments. It was never something that made me anxious or disappointed. But about five months in, these feelings started to shift.
I had a three-week vacation planned, and the thought of not seeing her for a few weeks caused me to spiral. How was I going to survive without seeing her face, talking to her about my week?
After my first session back after vacation, I started to constantly think about my therapist and wonder what she was doing. Our sessions became the highlight of my week, and I’d count down the days until I’d see her again.
I’d change my schedule around to make sure I could always make it to a session, even if it was completely inconvenient.
I was in a great mood the day of our therapy sessions. I’d get
butterflies in my stomach whenever I stepped into the waiting room, knowing I
was about to see her.
I thought she was the most interesting person in the world. She was so smart and funny and had unique beliefs and interests.
Our sessions during this time mostly revolved around me questioning my sexuality and sharing my most intimate sexual experiences. I was talking about things that I’d never talked about before.
During one session, she asked me to describe “my type”— the kind of woman I was drawn to. I immediately clammed up and said I didn’t know. But I did know: It was her, or women who were similar to her in looks and personality.
I didn’t dare say that, though. I wasn’t about to tell my therapist I was attracted to her. I thought she’d let me go as a client, and I couldn’t risk not seeing her anymore.
The therapeutic relationship is unique in that it’s so personal on one side, yet impersonal on the other.
On a weekly basis, I spend an hour with my therapist, who attentively listens to me and doesn’t judge me, no matter what I tell her. She knows my darkest secrets and most personal thoughts. In return, she’ll reveal tidbits of her life — but not much.
Because I don’t know much about her, I’ve idealized her in my head. I see in her what I want to see, and as a result, I convinced myself that she possesses all of the qualities I want in a partner or friend.
How to cope with feelings between sessions
- Normalize them. Remind yourself that these feelings are completely normal. The more you fight them, the more invasive they’ll become.
- Write it out. When I was going through my intense attachment, I’d spend 15 minutes each day writing out my feelings in a journal. After that time was up, I’d force myself to go about my day and just let them be.
My feelings got even more intense as the weeks went on, and that’s when the erotic dreams started. She definitely wasn’t in a therapist role in these dreams, and I always woke up feeling ashamed.
We had a strictly professional relationship. I also knew deep down that I needed her in my life in a therapist role, since she helps me manage my anxiety and depression.
What if I could no longer see her? Why was I having these romantic feelings for someone I barely know?
I spent hours Googling these feelings to understand why they were occurring.
I learned that falling in love with your therapist is more common
than I realized.
I found a Reddit thread about talk therapy where users talked about this on a daily basis. I learned that in the medical community, it’s defined as a type of transference, a phenomenon in psychotherapy in which there’s an unconscious redirection of feelings from one person to another.
Two of my friends who are therapists told me I needed to talk to her about these feelings. They said it’s common and that she’d know how to handle it.
“That’s such an awkward conversation to have. She’s going to think I’m a freak,” I told them.
They assured me she wouldn’t and let me know that these types of conversations can reveal so much about what I want out of life and what needs of mine aren’t being met.
I knew that my romantic feelings were hindering my progress since I’d started to censor myself in sessions because I wanted her to like me back. So, I made the decision to have the most uncomfortable conversation in my life.
How to deal with attachment to your therapist
- Talk about it, no matter how uncomfortable it may be.
- If talking about these feelings out loud makes you uncomfortable, you can explain them in an email or write them down in a journal for your therapist to read.
- A professional therapist will be able to handle your feelings and help you work through them.
- Remember that ignoring your feelings won’t help them go away.
I dreaded that next session. I couldn’t focus all day and nearly threw up before I entered the waiting room. I was tightly holding onto my notebook where I’d written down my feelings. If I started to chicken out, I could at least give her my journal to read. She opened the door, and I went in and sat on the couch.
“I didn’t want to come today because I need to have a really awkward conversation with you, and I don’t want to, but I know it’s necessary,” I said. I closed my eyes and hid my face as I talked.
She just sat and waited for me to continue.
“I’ve developed these romantic feelings for you, and it’s totally freaking me out, and I’m so ashamed,” I blurted out. I peeked out from behind my hands to see her reaction.
She immediately told me that this is absolutely normal, and it’s not the first time she’s heard it. I breathed a sigh of relief. I shared the erotic dreams and the fact that I couldn’t stop thinking about her, and that she’s perfect in my eyes.
She gently laughed and assured me that she wasn’t perfect, but she did say the person she is in these sessions is genuine and similar to who she is when she’s out with friends.
We spent the rest of the session discussing my feelings and what they might reveal about my inner self. She mentioned that romantic feelings—or even nonsexual positive feelings—are a sign that our relationship has reached a deeper level.
It’s nothing I should feel ashamed of. I left our session feeling relieved and less anxious. There was no reason to fight against this attachment.
My romantic feelings didn’t just magically disappear after our conversation. In fact, we’ve had many conversations about them since then. I’ve come to realize that it’s totally natural to have romantic feelings towards her. She’s been there for me in my darkest times, and we’ve spent many hours talking about sex and intimacy. No wonder she’s shown up in my sex dreams!
The most important thing to come out of this whole experience is that I’ve learned what I want out of a relationship and what a healthy relationship looks like. I want someone who will treat me the way she does and who is also compassionate, loyal, and trustworthy.
Focus on your personal relationships
- Most times, these intense feelings are a result of a need not being met in your personal life. Maybe you desire to have a partner who embodies the qualities of your therapist. Or maybe your therapist fills a motherly role that’s missing in your life. Spend time finding people in your life who embody these qualities and can help fill these needs.
Our sessions are still the highlight of my week. And my feelings haven’t totally gone away. But I have a newfound appreciation for the therapeutic relationship and how special and unique it is.
While complicated and embarrassing at first, this relationship has ultimately taught me about myself and my hopes for the future.
Allyson Byers is a freelance writer and editor based in Los Angeles who loves writing about anything health-related. You can see more of her work at www.allysonbyers.com and follow her on social media.