I've fallen in love with my therapist. I don't know what to do. Should I tell her?
(Column: Ask the Therapist)
Your therapist probably knows, and it is really not unusual. In fact, unless this "falling in love" happens -- therapists call it "transference" -- the therapy is not working. Having said that, let me caution. The therapist is supposed to accept your love, but is not supposed to "act out." The therapist needs to set some limits on what "being in love" means; is supposed to respect your feelings, and be able to help you see that you can have intense feelings for someone and that is all you have to "do." In fact, it would be a serious violation of professional ethics for the therapist to suggest a romantic relationship or to accept your offer of one.
Your therapist helps you to work with your feelings and use the feelings and the respect shown for them as a way to heal past wounds, past traumas, past emotional deprivations. At heart, your love for your therapist is one way your unconscious mind tells you what you think you need to feel whole. Learning about these intense feelings is more important for your growth than turning it into another romantic moment would be.
In most therapeutic relationships, you will know a great deal less about your therapist than your therapist knows about you. This difference in knowledge is deliberate. It helps you to focus on your needs and feelings, rather than on taking care of the therapist. Therapy is different from most relationships because you do not have to take care of the therapist; the therapist is concentrating on helping you to heal and keeps her/his needs out of the session with you. The therapist's neutrality will help you to explore the inside of your own head (your fantasies) about what you need in a loving relationship. Telling these fantasies to the therapists allows the two of you to think and talk about them in a non-critical way, and to consider whether the expectations expressed in your fantasies can come true.
Your therapist will not be embarrassed about your feelings. And, if all is what it should be, returns a kind of love of a nurturing kind that will help you to grow and trust your feelings.
It is more important to talk about what you're feeling, than doing something about it. After all, talking is "something." This is one of the reasons that some therapists discourage gift giving, feeling that talking about the wish to give, to please, to punish (perhaps) by denying a gift is more important than the gift itself. Therapists are generally aware of patients gratitude for feeling better, feeling cared about. Your growth is your "gift." Since therapists are human they are gratified to hear occasional patients express some gratitude, but that is really enough.
In the T.V. series, The Sopranos, the leading character recently undertook, unbeknownst to the therapist, to fix the starter on her car when he discovered it wasn't working. There is no doubt that this was a good-hearted gesture; but he would have learned more about himself by telling the therapist of his impulse to take care of her. It would have given him a chance to glimpse his need to be the fixer, the one who can be depended upon, the one who has to perform good deeds in order to be loved.
In short, the answer to your question is: you don't have to "do" anything but come to your sessions and talk about your feelings. Definitely tell your therapist, and figure out why this is not going to end in romance.