I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard from people that a therapy relationship is not a real relationship. It’s a pretty universal assumption. To be honest, during a large part of my own therapy, I thought the same thing.
My reactions to you can’t possibly be real because you pay me to be nice to you. I wouldn’t react to you so kindly in a real relationship, right? Wrong.
First, you don’t pay me to be nice to you. You pay me to provide my professional services, which do not include being fake.
Second, just because it’s a relationship with different boundaries than any other relationship you’ve ever been in doesn’t mean it’s not real.
You don’t pay me to be nice to you.
In every other intimate relationship, two people are engaging with each other under the assumption that their emotional needs will be met, even if only partially, by the other person. In this one, the only thing I get to expect from you is the fee. I may end up getting to feel satisfied that I have helped you, but even that is not a guarantee, and it is not an expectation that I can fairly put on to you. You do not have to be helped to satisfy me.
I know it might be hard to believe, but for some people, it is more important to disappoint anyone who attempts to help them than to actually be helped, which is why I must avoid needing to help, even if it is always my ultimate goal. I cannot push my own need-to-help on someone instead of providing what is actually needed, which might be allowing them to spend a long time not being helped and coming to understand that part of themselves before they can be helped.
If I don’t experience, own, and use my real reactions to you, I can’t do my job. Using them to help you is a huge part of my professional service. Sharing them with you in a kind way is another part of it. As I mentioned, unlike in other relationships, this one is one-way. The whole relationship is about discovering who you are at the most basic level possible and helping you be kind to yourself.
It’s a relationship with different boundaries than any other relationship you’ve ever been in.
Aside from getting to know you deeply, I must also constantly monitor myself and question if what I am doing is about meeting my needs or about helping you get yours met, within the boundaries set by the therapy relationship. It can be tricky because just like you, I am a real person with unconscious motivations. If things start going wrong, the first thing I have to do is determine how my behaviors might be affecting you, bring it to conscious awareness, and fix it. This is one of the most difficult and most important skills of a therapist. If you ever find that you feel weird with your therapist and feel even worse after you bring it up to them, something is very wrong. Keep pushing the issue or find another therapist.
It’s a real relationship all right. It’s just all about you, as should be. It will also, quite possibly, be the weirdest real relationship you’ve ever been in.
Sound good? Call me, we’ll talk.