If Hollywood is an indicator of our most common fantasies, modern Americans want to sleep with their therapists.
I am horrified that so many television shows and movies depict romantic relationships between therapists and clients as though they were perfectly normal!
The truth is, romance within a therapeutic relationship is as far from normal, acceptable, healthy, and sane as you can possibly get.
The relationship has been rationalized through a series of cutesy excuses: “Well, we only had a handful of therapy sessions … ” and, “Well, if we have a session where the previous client now becomes the therapist, it will all balance out! In no way, shape, or form is dating a current or previous therapist healthy, ethical, or socially acceptable.
In California, there is a legal clause that states that a personal relationship between a previous therapist and client may be pursued two years after the termination of services.
However, research tells us that the power imbalance remains strong, even after time has passed, and that romance in this situation is usually still emotionally damaging to the one who was the client.
Hormones, brain chemistry, and emotional issues often inadvertently conspire to lead us toward unhealthy romantic choices, which is why therapists are clearly instructed that “Professional Therapy Never Includes Sex” (this is the name of a pamphlet that every single therapist-in-training in California receives on several occasions).
Although specifics vary from state to state, 19 states have sexual exploitation laws forbidding therapists from engaging in sexual contact with clients.
Even though in the movie , Joseph Gordon-Levitt appears to find care, comfort, and I-don’t-know-what-else in the arms of his intern therapist (I don’t know because I walked out of the movie), your therapist is neither your caretaker nor your best friend.
Your therapist can help you develop the skills you need to go out and make friends and find someone to help you through the difficulties of life.
But if your therapist tries to convince you that his or her role is to love and protect you, run away! And if he or she makes any sexually suggestive advances (verbal or physical), you know you are not working with an ethical therapist.
Extensive worldwide research and anecdotal evidence dating back to the origins of formalized therapy indicate that romantic relationships between therapists and their clients, regardless of which role is the initiator, are criminally damaging to the client in the majority of situations.
The client is typically left with extreme emotional disruption, feelings of emptiness, isolation and guilt, and a tragically impaired ability to trust.
Certainly the therapeutic relationship is a unique situation wherein two human beings share space in a room while playing particular roles that ask them to maintain strict discipline of their human instincts, but to share the greatest level of openness and honesty imaginable.