Home > Uncategorized > How Would a Friendship with Your Therapist Work?

How Would a Friendship with Your Therapist Work?

If you’ve ever wondered why you can’t be friends (or more) with your therapist, I refer you to this excellent explanation by Dr. Stein.

Dr. Gerald Stein


The fantasy of having a closer relationship with one’s therapist occupies the mental space devoted to imaginary things. It must, because few counselors permit such a connection. Professional ethics generally prohibit the dual role of therapist/friend and therapist/lover. Yet, there is value in fleshing-out what this double-bond would look like in practice.

Responses to my recent post, Being Excluded From Your Therapist’s Life, suggest the fantasy dies hard. What follows is an effort to describe how the relationship would function if brought to life — the day-to-day lives of a shrink and his patient. I invite you, dear reader, to think along with me. Let me know if my concerns are off-base. Even more, once you finish reviewing my ideas, I’d love to read your own notion of how to create the connection some of you want with your therapist: an outline better than the current prohibitive model you…

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Categories: Uncategorized
  1. April 18, 2015 at 11:33 pm

    I’m going to email you a story I wrote concerning this subject. It doesn’t feel right to put it in a comment since it’s pretty long. I had been wrestling with this and the idea came to me when I was half asleep at about 4 am.


    • April 20, 2015 at 9:28 pm

      I loved the story and think other people would enjoy it too! Feel free to post it as a comment! I loved the analogy of the painting and the insight into what we get alongside what we give up. xx AG

      Liked by 1 person

  2. April 19, 2015 at 1:38 pm

    Good topic and the articles relating to this are well written. The question I will pose is why pander to fantasy? You know that boundaries come into play and a therapist will not be your friend; regardless of your wants.
    The therapeuticc relationship is not an equal one and that is the reason why there will be no friendship regardless of how much you persudae the therapist.


    • April 20, 2015 at 9:35 pm

      Hi Josie,
      Good to hear from you, I have been wondering how you were doing. Forgive me, but I’m not quite sure I understand your comment. Who do you see as pandering to fantasy? The client who is longing for more in the relationship? I think the difficulty here isn’t that people don’t understand cognitively that boundaries, in most cases, place the therapist beyond the reach of friendship. It’s that our cognitive understanding doesn’t stop us from having very strong emotions of desire and longing and pain at being denied. Like erotic transference, while I believe it is important for these longings not to be fulfilled by the therapist, I think there is a lot of value in examining what we want, why we want it and exactly what pain and feelings are evoked by the denial. I’m working on a post now that will serve as a good illustration of what I mean, in that looking at my hurt around the limitations of the relationship allowed me to make a major breakthrough. I think there is a deep and important difference between bringing our feelings into therapy versus focusing on getting the therapist to gratify those feelings. If I misunderstood what you meant, my apologies, and please feel free to expand on what you said. ~AG


  3. Ann
    April 19, 2015 at 6:33 pm

    Thanks for the article. I am also happy to see in your comment that you have experienced a break through in your own therapy! As for me, things are hard. Reading here gives me perspective that the pain will not last forever.
    My response to the article is that payment keeps the boundary clear for me. Sometimes I get frustrated just being in my skin, much less having to be another person listening to my crap! Then I remember-he is well paid to sit and listen to me so I feel less “guilty” for ranting during this time! 🙂


    • April 20, 2015 at 9:43 pm

      (((Ann))) So sorry to hear that things are hard. You’re right that the pain doesn’t last forever, but I know it can feel like it will when you are in the midst of it.
      I think that using money to define a clear helpful boundary is really awesome. Paying our therapist is what provides balance for the fact that we are entitled to make this relationship, and our sessions, only about us. No guilt! At a recent session, I made a crack to BN about being worried that he must dread our appointments and he asked me why would I believe that? I made a circular waving motion at myself, indicating the sodden, weepy mess that I was and said “this isn’t a lot of fun to be with?” He immediately responded “do you feel like you have to be fun?” It was actually a bit of a shock. He went on, quite forcefully, to tell me that I needed to stop trying to be what the other person wanted out of a misbegotten belief that then I had control and they would stay. That in his office, I am safe, he is going nowhere and I should just come in and be whatever I am. The boundaries protect him from burning out, so I am free to be sad, angry, ranting, raging, crying, down, hopeless, despairing, joyful, grateful, happy, laughing, you name it, without fearing that the relationship will alter. That is so very difficult for me to believe, even though he has amply demonstrated over the years that it is. So good for you to find a handle to keep yourself reminded of that. I hope that you find some relief soon! much love, AG

      Liked by 1 person

      • SheLongedForStarsInHerHeart
        May 5, 2015 at 1:15 pm

        This is not about the post itself but this reply that you gave. The following excerpt made me burst into uncontrollable tears.

        “At a recent session, I made a crack to BN about being worried that he must dread our appointments and he asked me why would I believe that? I made a circular waving motion at myself, indicating the sodden, weepy mess that I was and said “this isn’t a lot of fun to be with?” He immediately responded “do you feel like you have to be fun?” It was actually a bit of a shock. He went on, quite forcefully, to tell me that I needed to stop trying to be what the other person wanted out of a misbegotten belief that then I had control and they would stay. ”
        I think that I might have contorted myself to the point of not being me in my therapy. The problem of course, is not being sure about what “being me” is exactly for me. But it seems like you feel it when it happens and you feel its absence when it does not.
        In any case, thank you for sharing.


        • May 5, 2015 at 10:13 pm

          I did that for a very long time, contorted myself, because I didn’t KNOW who I was or what i wanted. I actually got quite frustrated and even angry with BN, for not giving me guidance. He left me alone with my feelings and remained non-defensive so that I had no choice but to deal with myself. Instead, he has held still no matter how I am feeling or behaving and created that safe space, within the boundaries, in which I am free to move about and be whatever or whoever I am. As I discover it, he faithfully reflects so I can learn who I am. Long, slow process and it takes a patient therapist who can let you learn to trust them until you feel safe enough to open up and be honest. And I do believe you feel it when it happens because being seen and heard and accepted is just an incredibly powerful experience. BN and I have discussed it many times and both agree that we don’t completely understand it but are in awe of it when it happens. xx AG


  4. Jen
    April 19, 2015 at 10:11 pm

    This is such a hard one for me. I never felt this draw or desire to know my previous therapists like I do with my current therapist. I also never managed to really talk to any of my previous therapist like I have my current one. My heart aches so badly to have more with her, a sister or friend relationship, family. She has become such a huge and important part in my life that I can’t imagine not having something permanent or more with her. Yet in my head, I understand all of this…I understand the boundaries. I just don’t know how to except them and let go of the idea of something different. It’s incredibly difficult. I wish I could push away these feelings…I do feel they are getting in the way, taking away from what I’m there to work through. Suggestions on how to deal with this?


    • April 20, 2015 at 9:50 pm

      Hi Jen,
      I understand in that while I did have some longings to have my first therapist be my mother or to have more of a relationship, the intensity was nowhere near what it is with BN. I think these longings are deeply interwoven with what was missing as children, that they are echoes and resonances of things we didn’t get as children, so when we find a therapist whom we trust more deeply and are more intimate with, these feelings are going to rise up in response to the possibility of finally getting our needs met. I do have advice on how to deal with it, but it probably won’t be very welcome. 🙂 Keep walking into your therapist’s office and despite the fear, or the pain, or the shame, talk about these feelings. About what is evoked in you, what beliefs come to the forefront in response to the boundaries. Explore what it is you are looking for and why you are looking for it. Instead of pushing the feelings away (which btw I totally understand because I did it for so long) let them in so you can learn from them. It’s painful, but the insight is worth it I think. I think the acceptance comes as we understand what is underneath the feelings. ~ AG


    • April 24, 2015 at 5:20 pm

      I agree with AG that you have to let the feelings in and figure out what they mean. I try my best to consciously be thankful for the time I have and the relationship I have with my T instead of focusing on what is missing or what I don’t have. The longing is still there, but it helps keep me from becoming depressed or resentful of what I can’t have.

      Liked by 1 person

      • April 26, 2015 at 8:52 pm

        Focusing on what we do have, instead of what we can’t is often a helpful approach.. The truth is, if it were not for the clear boundaries, it would never have been safe to enter into such a deep, intimate relationship with a man outside of my marriage and still safeguard my marriage. So when i am feeling like my choice is BN as therapist or BN as friend, or lover, I have to step back and realize that is a false dichotomy. My choice is between BN as my therapist and not knowing him as more than a regular friend (if at all, not sure our paths would ever have crossed if I hadn’t gone to him for therapy.) Kind of makes it a no-brainer. 😀


  5. April 24, 2015 at 3:10 pm

    Hello AG in your response to your reply; I shall try and clarify or expand my thinking. Whilst I am accepting that there can be fantasies and exploring these are very useful; you cannot deny reality.
    What one wants and what one needs is vastly different. This i believe to be the crux. By exploring your thoughts of friendship with the therapist should not result in your fanatsies being fed.
    The process can be therapeutic and these feelings need to be processed but therafter the reality has to come into being.
    For you to still continually want the therapist to be your friend therafter is not healthy as you can both end up being very stuck.
    the therapsit will readily admit that he or she cannot be your friend but will contain your feelings and hopefully move you on to have friendships out with the room and into the reality re your family and friends etc.
    This is not to say had things been different in life that the therapist may have been a friend.

    Your therapist acts in the role of a friend due tot he care and concern they give you; but they can never be one regardless of how much you desire. This in itself allows the therapist more insight into you as the person and perhaps what is possible in the outer world of the room.

    A further question that needs asking is whether it is the child within, the rebellious teengaer or the mature adult that wants ther frienship or is it a combination of the whole self.

    I do not think it is resposible for a therapist to feed the fantasy of their client and give them false hopes or be open to mis-interpretation.

    Explore yes; but do not have pernicious hopes.
    Thanks Josie


    • April 26, 2015 at 8:47 pm

      Totally agreed with everything you said, thanks for clarifying. It’s exactly why I reblogged Dr. Stein’s post, he did an excellent job of highlighting all of the issues, making it easier for a client to understand why that boundary, as painful as it can be, is so often necessary. ~ AG


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