What Happens If You Fall In Love With Your Shrink?

Wednesday Nov 12, 2014 - BY Stacey


Would you fall for this guy?

In cities like New York, it seems like practically everyone is in therapy, no matter the socioeconomic strata. And for many, that once a week talk session can be the most meaningful connection in their lives, especially since it’s on that’s unmediated by technology, like virtually every other tie in our gadget driven world. For an hour (well, fifty minutes) each week, you sit down opposite another human being, look them in the eye and talk. This can engender feelings of closeness.


But what happens if you fall in love with your shrink?


Sarah Hankins wrote an essay about doing just that. She talks about confiding in her therapist that she had formed feelings for her. But before you start seeing Lifetime “movie of the week” scenarios flash before your eyes, Hankins reassured readers that nothing happened. Yet she observed this:


For the remainder of our time together, the conversation about me being in love with her was never far from the conversations about my job, my unimpressive dating life, my crush on my too-pretty best friend, my mother issues…Miraculously, it seemed to me, the “love” conversation and the “real life” conversation somehow collapsed onto one another, and revealed themselves to be identical. Whatever I was sorting through by loving her so colossally was the same unwieldy baggage heap I carted around with me all the time, in every relationship I had, in every experience of desire or loss or frustrated ambition.


What Hankins is describing is classic “transference,” which is totally normal in the therapeutic context. Patients often redirect their feelings for a person to the therapist. Transference often manifests as an erotic attraction.


This love story doesn’t have a sensationalistic ending. It just ends, which is part of what appeals to me about it. I know that I write a lot about amping up drama in order to get someone or to keep them from leaving, but sometimes relationships are not dramatic. In Hankin’s case, there were many obstacles to a true relationship–from her shrink’s marriage to professional ethics–but that doesn’t mean what the patient felt wasn’t real.


Because the other thing about true love is that it’s sort of boring. It really doesn’t have anything remarkable to show for itself. True love isn’t flashy, demanding of attention, or ready for primetime. Its real function is internal: a slow and steady metamorphosis from the person you were into the person you wish to be.


And that beautifully captures the real reason we hope to fall in love and pair off. It’s not just about sex and feeling good. It’s about change and growth.

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  • Nick Greeley

    Great read Stacey! It was a pleasure meeting you at H35! Glad to see you blogging again :)