A Space for Love in Therapy

This blog won’t be long. I don’t have a lot to say on this topic, simply that I think there should be space for love in therapy. I know that’s taboo. That’s why we have empathy and unconditional positive regard. I get how therapists have worked really hard to protect the boundaries of the therapeutic relationship, to create this petri dish of a holding space. It’s all skillfully crafted to avoid messy emotional entanglements with the client. Because, presumably, that would be detrimental to the client’s therapeutic process.

But, I call bull shit. If so many of our wounds come from how we were or were not loved in infancy and childhood, then would it not make sense to heal those wounds through love also? Don’t get me wrong. I don’t mean “in love.” I mean, an innocent, nurturing love. A love devoid of sensuality. One that is uniquely therapeutic.

I just feel like therapists often get so hung up on ethical standards for touch and accepting gifts and self-disclosure and outside contact and maintaining a professional relationship that they sometimes forget how to be a humble, loving human being in the presence of another human being. It is okay to love your clients. In fact, I would venture to say your clients need your love. They need someone to love them without expectation. They need to know that they can be loved just as they are without having to do or say the right things. They need to know they are worthy and good enough. And, your love can help them reach that realization.

I know, I’m trampling all over the coveted code of ethics. Because love involves intimacy and closeness and maybe that’s going to need some touch and outside contact. I’m sure you think that isn’t your job, to love your client so that he/she can learn how to love himself/herself. Maybe you think your job is to guide your client to these revelations by pointing out their cognitive distortions. Maybe you think your job is to help them see the holes in their thinking. Maybe you genuinely believe talking alone, once a week for 50 minutes will help your client become the self-actualized individual you know he/she is capable of becoming. Maybe you’re right. I don’t know. I’m not that individual. I’m messy and I’m broken. And damn it, I need to be loved. I need to be loved by someone who doesn’t think my moods are too much. I need to be loved by someone who isn’t scared off by my freakish attunement. I need to be loved when I’m angry and sad and frustrated and happy and content. I need to be loved when I’ve failed and loved when I’ve reached my goals. I need to be shown how to love myself.

The job of a therapist is to model for the client what a healthy attachment looks like; part of healthy attachment is reciprocal love. We don’t attach to what we don’t love. It requires an opening of both hearts, a meeting of those hearts. It requires mutual vulnerability. It involves a whole lot more than just empathy, attunement, and unconditional positive regard. Those are just starting points. Clients need more. Maybe not all clients but some of us. Some of us have deep wells of sadness within us which can only be lit and traversed when love is shown. Love is the light.

19 Thoughts

  1. I totally agree with this. A detached therapist just does not help us heal as well. I have had two very connected therapists who never stood behind a cold emotional detachment and they are the ones that helped me the most. ONe actually gave me a hug in therapy and I had my first big breakthrough when my first serious therapsit held out her had to enclose mine. I think we should ditch detatched therapists especially if we have significant attachment issues. We just need that kind of love. My therapist always holds the door open for me as I leave and watched me descend the stairs smiling and waving . I appreciate this so much. She has never kept me waiting once. Unlike the last one.

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  2. Well, as you quite probably know, I agree. And so does my therapist. What I will say is that no amount of love prevents you from having to go through the excruciating pain of it all. No amount of love in adulthood can ever stop that, I think.

    I used to believe it could and that if I could just squeeze a bit more love out of him, I could just get a redo and avoid going through the pain. Now I realise I really can’t. But fuck me if the love it doesn’t heal and help. It’s given me enough solidity (is that a word?!) inside myself to work out through the pain. In short bursts anyway πŸ˜‚ I guess my blog is a pretty good testament to the fact that love bloody helps, but ultimately doesn’t change the work that needs doing. But an experience of this kind love can love can be crucial or at least extremely helpful for healing. Undoubtedly. Truthfully I think a majority of therapists are not well trained enough and haven’t done a significant enough amount of their own therapy work to be able to safely work in that way. That’s my belief.

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  3. A book I think you would really love is ‘A General Theory of Love’ – it’s written by psychiatrists/psychotherapist on just this, on how therapy – real, proper, healing therapy – is all about the love. It is about limbic resonance and how love and being seen teaches us to see and know ourselves and to regulate our own emotions. It is the best book I’ve ever read on this, and I shared a lot of it in therapy and my T totally agreed. She is all about relational healing and attachment and how relational trauma happens in relationship and so needs to be healed in relationship. And though she never says ‘love’ she says we (as in all my parts) are in her heart and things like that and it feels like love to me. And it is healing me (big rupture aside) and healing the shame that prevents me accessing my emotions. I honestly can’t see how therapy works without love, not for people with attachment trauma and failure of attachment anyway. I really would get that book if you can, for me it reduced a lot of the shame around needing K, and not being able to heal alone, and helped me see what I need from therapy and why I need what I need (i.e. her heart I guess). And it is reassuring that neuroscience and psychiatry and psychotherapy are coming together to really understand this stuff πŸ™‚

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  4. I struggle with this a bit because there are definitely ways that boundaries make me more effective therapeutically. I guess I see a role for purposeful love in the therapeutic relationship. By purposeful I mean that love is focused on the client, and shouldn’t be used to fulfill the therapist’s personal need for love or address their own attachment issues. I don’t think it’s appropriate for the therapist to be bringing their needs and problems to the table aside from those that relate to the therapeutic relationship, so there wouldn’t be the same kind of mutuality as there would be in non-therapeutic love. And if the therapist is making decisions in their personal life based on the love they have for all of their clients, that can be a recipe for burnout. I think it would make a very interesting research topic to look at ways that love could be used to enhance therapeutic effectiveness.

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    1. I don’t mean reciprocal in that both people are having needs met. Although I do think that it can be mutually healing, even if the therapist and client are both focused on the client’s needs. I don’t think that should be the aim though. What I mean by reciprocal is that the client should be able to love the therapist and have a loving therapist in return. I think there is a place for boundaries and there is a reason for them. I’m not advocating for therapy without boundaries, not at all. I learned with C how necessary they are, but I think there can and needs to be love within the boundaries.

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  5. Amen! As a therapist myself I think this idea is fantastic. And there is definitely a difference between this and empathy. Everyone needs to feel valued and well, loved and it could really have it’s place in a therapeutic relationship.

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  6. Totally agree. I am one of those therapists who struggle with the code of ethics and boundaries in this area. I feel my clients need to feel the love they didn’t get as children in order to heal the wounds. This is reparenting. This is recovering the lost self. Not all my colleagues agree but I believe the offer of an appropriate therapeutic hug at the end of a session is an act of being kind and human.

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    1. It warms my heart that there are therapists who are willing to “reparent” and love their clients to facilitate healing. You’re right that these things are kind and human.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I totally get the reasoning behind this idea. Every therapist should show genuine care, curiosity, compassion and aim to connect with the client as one human to another. But each therapist is just one person. They have needs and limits too. When I have several clients in crisis at once and they require a lot of support, its extremely emotionally draining. I go home and have nothing left over to give to my partner and family and friends. I couldn’t do that all day very day or I would fall apart myself. Boundaries are not just there to protect the client but also to protect the worker.
    Just a different perspective to consider… 😊

    Like

    1. I think that healthy love and boundaries go hand-in-hand. The love I’m talking about is certainly still boundaried, it is just that space is opened up where therapists sometimes hide behind the excuse of ethical codes and boundaries. I think you have a valid point, there has to be a limit, otherwise you will burn out. But, at the same time, I think healing happens through loving relationships and I think the therapeutic relationship can be a form of that. Albeit, a quite different form.

      Liked by 1 person

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