How to Handle Feelings for Your Therapist

Man discusses something with his therapist

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If you've developed romantic feelings for your therapist, you're not alone. In fact, it's a common occurrence that professionals are trained to handle. It's understandable, too: Therapy is an intimate process that offers three key qualities of a healthy relationship: accessibility, responsiveness, and emotional engagement. Add to that the safety and acceptance inherent in this setting, and your therapist can seem very attractive indeed, especially if you're not getting these things elsewhere in your life. Here's what to do if you think you're falling in love with your therapist.

Acknowledge Your Feelings

First, recognize that you are not crazy or shameful for crushing on your therapist. It's so common that psychoanalytic literature actually has a term for this phenomenon: transference, The term was coined by psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud in his Studies on Hysteria, published in 1895.

What Is Transference?

Transference occurs when a client unconsciously projects feelings about someone else onto a therapist. These emotions can be positive, negative, or sexualized.

Transference is most often thought of in terms of romantic or sexual feelings, but it can involve nearly any emotion, from anger and hatred to admiration and dependence—anything you feel or have felt toward a significant other. For example, you might subconsciously transfer your feelings toward your parent to your therapist.

Transference can go in the other direction, too. Therapists sometimes experience countertransference, in which they develop feelings for their clients. A reputable practitioner will either refer the client to another therapist, or examine these emotions to understand those the client is trying to elicit.

After you realize that transference is very common and not shameful, talk about your feelings with your therapist. Professing your love (or whatever emotion you're feeling) may be easier said than done, but it can help your therapist understand your issues and help you get the most out of your therapy.

What It Means for You

Transference is no reason to discontinue therapy, as long as you work to understand your feelings and have no intention of acting on them. In fact, a skilled practitioner will work through them with you to gain insight into your underlying wants, needs, motivations, and fears. This understanding can ultimately nudge you toward recovery and health.

For example, a therapist might notice that falling in love with unavailable people is a recurrent, painful pattern in your life and then help you work toward change. Or, perhaps you've never experienced warmth and acceptance, both of which are inherent in the therapist-client relationship. As your therapist helps you understand why you find these feelings so intoxicating, you will likely experience personal growth.

How Will Your Therapist Handle It?

An ethical, well-trained therapist will be open and welcoming to a discussion about your feelings. Therapy is a safe place to discuss interpersonal processes, and a lot of personal growth can occur from doing so. Your therapist should handle this news gracefully and explore it with you.

For example, they might reflect what you've told them and ask for clarification: “It sounds like you are concerned about feeling _____ toward me. Tell me what you are experiencing right now.” They might then work with you to redirect those emotions back to the person for which you originally felt them.

Of course, if your feelings make your therapist uncomfortable or might otherwise impede your treatment, you might be referred to another practitioner.

Ethical Considerations

Romantic relationships are inappropriate between therapist and client, and it is up to your therapist to uphold this boundary.

The American Counseling Association Code of Ethics states: "Sexual and/or romantic counselor–client interactions or relationships with current clients, their romantic partners, or their family members are prohibited. This prohibition applies to both in-person and electronic interactions or relationships."

By sharing your emotional experiences and secrets with your therapist, you are being vulnerable. That's crucial to the process—but taking advantage of your vulnerability and reciprocating in any way is a clear ethical violation. If this happens, end your professional relationship and consider reporting the therapist to their state board.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How should I tell my therapist I have feelings for them?

    Be honest, as difficult as that may be. An effective therapist will help you work through your feelings and explain that they arise from a formative relationship in your past, not from this current professional relationship.

  • Can transference happen outside of therapy?

    Transference, in fact, happens every day in ordinary life when what we learn and experience in past relationships triggers reactions in the present. For example, say you feel intense dislike toward someone you've just met without knowing why; it may be that you've noted (subconsciously) that he resembles someone in your past who hurt you.

3 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Levy KN, Scala JW. Transference, transference interpretations, and transference-focused psychotherapies. Psychotherapy (Chic). 2012;49(3):391-403. doi:10.1037/a0029371

  2. Jain S, Roberts LW. Ethics in psychotherapy: A focus on professional boundaries and confidentiality practices. Psychiatr Clin North Am. 2009;32(2):299-314. doi:10.1016/j.psc.2009.03.005

  3. American Counseling Association. ACA code of ethics.

By Jenev Caddell, PsyD
 Jenev Caddell, PsyD, is a licensed psychologist, relationship coach, and author.