Your therapist is not your friend. Your therapist is definitely not your boyfriend, girlfriend, or lover. They aren’t even the person that you flirt with “innocently”. Your therapist is your provider, and it’s their job to keep things this way.
It is not uncommon for clients to develop feelings for their therapist. They might be the most caring, supportive listener you have in your life. They aren’t supposed to show you their screwed up side, treat you poorly, or tell you much about themselves. You might even find them physically attractive. It is certainly understandable why so many people find themselves drawn over the boundaries to their therapists when they are so easily romanticized into a nearly perfect partner. It the therapist’s responsibility to set, convey, and enforce appropriate boundaries.
All therapists are taught that it is not ethical to have dual relationships with clients (when it is unavoidable, such as in small communities, the effects should be kept to a minimum and the relationships should be discussed). Still, I read and hear so many stories about these blurred lines between therapist and personal relationships. One factor is common throughout many of these - the client is upset, confused, and can feel responsible.
Here are the things the client is responsible for in therapy:
Paying your bill
Doing your work
Not abusing or blatantly mistreating your therapist
That’s all. When it comes to boundary-setting, that this the therapist’s place. When a boundary is allowed to be crossed, that is never the client’s fault. Many clients may not inherently understand that it is inappropriate to be friends with, date, or sleep with their therapist. It is the therapist’s responsibility to make this boundary clear and uphold it. If the therapist does not set the boundary, it is not the client’s fault for not knowing. (If the therapist is clear and the client continues to press, yes, that is the client’s fault, but that falls in the abusing/mistreating category.)
I believe we can partially blame the frequent misrepresentations of the therapy relationship on screens. There are countless mainstream movies and shows that depict therapists as excessively friendly, sleeping with, or dating their clients. These depictions are normalized, not scrutinized. They do nothing to help with the real-world clients who find themselves swept up in a therapeutic relationship that is inappropriate.
When you spend your time opening up completely to another person, it may feel good to receive a sense of reciprocation or caring in return. While the therapist is supposed to care about their clients, it should still not look like friendship or romance. You shouldn’t be chatting over social media, you shouldn’t be texting about life or even therapy, and you shouldn’t be spending time together outside of the therapy setting.
While it may feel great initially for a client to have the relationship reciprocated, it bears great risks to the client. There is an unavoidable power dynamic that comes into play with one person being the professional, with inherent authority features.
Clients can fail to criticize their therapist’s behaviors because the relationship feels good. They also may not have reason to question based on trusting that the therapist must being doing the right thing. When things begin to feel uncomfortable or negative, it only becomes harder for clients to support themselves in criticizing the person that has been their support. Needing therapy means there is an increased risk that the client is vulnerable and can be more likely to seek blame in the self, rather than in others.
Do not for a second try to make yourself believe that, just because they are a therapist, they can’t be the one with the problem.
While we are supposed to be able to trust our therapists, too many do not deserve it. I choose to hope that the therapists who break boundaries do not do so intentionally, but out of their own issues. Unfortunately, that does not make it any less damaging for their clients. It does not make it easier to report a person who has been your rock.
But they should be reported.
Your therapist should not be your friend, your boyfriend, your girlfriend, or your lover.
If there is to be any relationship outside of a therapy setting, it should only be after terminating therapy, and it should be expressly discussed and justified, and risks should be addressed.
Your therapist should not ask anything of you that is not directly therapeutic to you or a part of the professional relationship.
You are not responsible for your therapist keeping their job. If they break rules, it is not your responsibility to hide them from anyone. It is not your fault for reporting anything inappropriate to your therapist’s licensing board. If you are unsure of whether it is inappropriate, you should feel free to ask the licensing board for clarification.
You are responsible for your life. Your therapist is responsible for their’s. Don’t let yourself or anyone else try to convince you otherwise.