I find it ironic that therapists/psychologists are so very calm, collected, and seem to have their life so perfectly balanced when you see them in their office – their comfort zone. However, once outside of that space, they are just like all of us with insecurities, fears, dreams, hopes, and such.
Sometimes, it’s easy to forget that they’re just as human as we are, especially when we sit across from them in their office and we’re the ones getting their help and expertise. It’s so easy to forget that they too have their own preconceived notions, their opinions, their strong emotions, their principles, and their own lives essentially.
I hold my psychologist to a high regard because he has come through for me multiple times and he’s shown me that he deserves my trust and respect. He is also essential to my growth as a person, as it is because of his help that I am who I am today. Sure, I did a lot of the leg work myself, but without his gentle (and sometimes not so gentle) nudging, his patience, his calm and collected nature, and his great skills, I wouldn’t have been able to do the work.
I have developed a strong attachment and some very strong emotions towards S as a result. Initially, I saw him as my rescuer – the person who came through for me when I needed someone the most. I put him on a pedestal as a result. For the longest time, I couldn’t ever be angry with him, or have any emotions that in any way were negative because of how highly I thought of him. Even when he messed up one time and reacted in a way that made me think that he was dismissive of my thoughts, I couldn’t bring myself to tell him or to even accept that he had messed up.
Then, as therapy progressed and I started to learn and grow, I started being able to speak to him more about our relationship. Slowly, through the months and weeks, I lowered the pedestal until now, he’s someone who I deem as my partner in this journey of recovery. He’s finally on solid ground with me and though I still hold him in high regard, I am no longer idolizing him as I once did. I’m able to speak more candidly about how I feel about him when the situation arises. I’m actually quite proud of the fact that I could do that now.
At our session today, I was actually able to finally reveal my strong emotions towards him. I even said, “I have great affection for you, S. And sometimes, I even say to myself, ‘I really love S’. But it’s not the kind of love that you’d think. I mean, it’s like you’re someone I really hold dear but I’m not attracted to you – well, that’s the thing you see… I don’t think I am. I’m sometimes confused and that’s why I’ve never really brought this up before. I have a lot of fear that I may be attracted to you so I don’t want to be that person. I mean, first of all, you’re married. And secondly, you’re my therapist! I mean, I don’t want to be that client that crosses the line… So I’ve always been afraid of my own feelings towards you…”
S looked bemused. I was somewhat babbling because I felt like I had to make myself as clear as possible so as to not cause any misunderstanding. I truly did care and even love him, but not in that way, you know?
“So you have these strong emotions for me. This strong attachment with me. And somehow, you feel that it’s wrong. And that you shouldn’t have these feelings…” S said. He wasn’t reacting in a way that I thought he was going to (i.e. freak out). He was in his comfort zone after all – every week, he is in charge even if it may seem like I’m the one who brings up issues for us to talk about but really, he’s the one in control of the flow of the conversation. I wonder if the situation would’ve been different had I revealed this to him while we were outside of CAPS.
“Yeah… Because I’m confused you know? I mean, I don’t think I’m attracted to you but I didn’t want to take the chance… I was afraid… I don’t want to ruin this relationship!” I said.
“So you push the strong emotions away. You try to bury it. And you tell yourself that you shouldn’t feel this way,” S said.
“Yeah… Because transference seem to be a kind of stigma in the psychology community – that if your client has transference, it means that it’s bad… I mean, from everything I’ve read…”
“So you’re getting all this from the psychologists’ perspective,” S said.
“Well, not just psychologists but also clients who have had bad experiences by crossing the line…”
“Jules, it’s okay to have these feelings. And I don’t think that it’s the case here with you, but even if it’s sexual, that it’s okay to have these feelings. What’s not okay is what happens after you have these feelings. It’s not okay, for example, for you to show up at my house. It’s not okay for us to engage in anything inappropriate. Or to blur our boundaries. But your feelings are valid. Those emotions are there so that you can better connect with people. When you push them all away, you don’t get to fully experience this connection because you’re holding back,” S said.
“We’ve never really established our boundaries before,” I said.
“Yeah, I was just thinking about that recently and realized that we never really did…” S said.
“Yeah, so I’ve sometimes been confused about that. Whether something is okay or not. And then I feel bad about stuff…”
“Well, it’s my job to set up these boundaries. It’s on me to do these things. Like the time when I told you that maybe you shouldn’t bring me anymore Starbucks. It was on me to make the call. It’s not on you to do that…” S said. It made me feel a little better because he was taking the responsibility that I had taken on myself. “I do want to check in with you about last week…”
Here we go, I thought to myself. I nodded.
“How did you feel that went?”
“Well…” I said, hesitating. “A part of me was thrilled. To be honest. It’s kind of embarrassing to admit… I mean…. Yeah… But I was thrilled because I don’t think we’ve ever been outside of CAPS together for a length of time”
“Nope!” S said.
“Yeah… So I was thrilled because I got to see you again. And this time, outside of your office. I wanted to talk to you again so that was nice that I was able to. But I’ll be honest… I was actually expecting you and so I was prepared because I overheard the grad students talking and they let it slip that you were coming to relieve one of them. So I had time to prepare myself… But it seemed like you weren’t expecting me”
“Yeah. I wasn’t expecting you. But ever since I found out that you were going to be a Peer Educator, I had already thought to myself that at some point, we’d bump into each other in one of these events.” S said.
“Yeah, I know. And I was determined to not make it weird. So I tried really hard not to be awkward. But… I did feel like you were awkward around me,” I said pointedly.
He sheepishly smiled and said, “Yeah… Yeah I was… Let me normalize this… I don’t think any of us are really comfortable seeing our clients outside of our office. I think it’s definitely awkward and that it’s normal. We usually just go with the client’s lead and see how they respond and we’ll act accordingly…”
Aha! I thought to myself, I knew it! He was being weird and awkward last week during the Alcohol Screening event. He seemed a little embarrassed by it. I then explained to him that I just wanted to be able to treat him normally, like I would any other person. I also told him that when I see him outside of the office, though he’s still my psychologist, he’s also at that point just S, who’s getting lunch, or S who’s getting a drink, or S who’s manning an outreach booth, etc. I said that I was fine with him interacting with me normally.
“Yeah. Well, we can say hi to each other and talk. Say we’re at the campus center and both of us are getting lunch. I can talk to you but I can’t be your friend. This means that I can’t go and sit with you and have lunch together. We can’t have dual roles – so that means we can’t be friends because I’m your psychologist.”
I nodded. I knew that. I’d done my research back when we first started working together and learned about the fact that psychologists aren’t allowed to be anything other than a psychologist to their clients.
Anyway, I then told him that I was glad that he outlined some of our boundaries. It’s going to make it easier for me to know how to respond to him or how to act around him. I was glad we had this talk because it’s been a long time coming. It only took a year and a half for us to finally address the elephant in the room. 😄
After today’s session, it made me realize that S felt vulnerable last week during the event and so acted awkwardly around me. It made me realize that S too experiences these negative emotions, the way that I do. It makes him all the more endearing to me because it means that he’s as real as real can be. I appreciated our candor and our time together.
Today was a validating session – despite the fact that I still shed some tears because I had brought up some difficult emotions – I left feeling largely stable (though unsettled by how stable I was feeling) despite going in to the session thinking that I was going to leave with distressing feelings and thought as I usually do because we’d been “stirring the pot”.
It was a pleasant feeling. It was a feeling that I haven’t really experienced in a while now since my depressive episode had lasted 9 months now. It felt good to be calm and stable.