Psychotherapy creates a very unique relationship based on confidentiality, trust, openness, and safety. As a psychologist, I am legally and ethically bound to secrecy of everything you tell me. (Exceptions are if you are a threat to yourself or others, where I am a mandated reporter.) I am also not allowed to have a “dual relationship” with you. That means I cannot meet you for coffee or have any personal relationship with you outside of my office. This allows you to tell me your truth without having to worry about seeing me in a public place. It creates a feeling of safety. Our time together is all about you, your needs, your fears and anxieties, worries, and troubles. It is not about me, although I occassionally share personal information about myself if I think it would help in your therapy.
When there is a good “match” between patient and therapist, a very special bond develops because of this safe environment. One big component of therapy is our relationship. We talk about the very private parts of your life; past and present and future. The feelings you develop towards me is called “Transference.” I may represent your mother, wife, sister, girlfriend, daughter, or all women in general. There is a tendency to idealize who you think I am as a person.
Sometimes it’s necessary to end the therapeutic relationship before the therapy is completed. Moving, illness, or change in life circumstances can disrupt the work, and there can be a sense of loss, perhaps feelings of abandonment and depression. It’s very important to discuss this with your therapist if it happens to you. You need to know that it is normal to become attached during your work, as you are sharing your innermost feelings, dreams, fears, and ideas with this person. It takes time to build trust, and so it can be very painful if the relationship ends too soon.
On the otherhand, “Countertransference” are the feelings I have about you. When I get to know you, I care deeply about your life, your feelings, and your progress. When it is time to end therapy, I will miss you, think about you, and wonder how you are doing. I really enjoy receiving cards or emails from people I have worked with in the past.
Our relationship is as important to me as it is to you.
LIFE GOES ON©
Kathleen Cairns, Psy.D. is a licensed clinical psychologist in private practice in West Hartford, Connecticut. She works with adults, adolescents, and couples. You may call her at 860-236-5555 to make an appointment. She is the author of “The Psychotherapy Workbook.” You may email her at firstname.lastname@example.org and she will try to answer as many of your questions as possible.
Life goes on… and every day matters…