Love is a topic that is discussed in multiple different platforms across the world. Love is something that is typically discussed between friends, with a family member, and even with co-workers. Some individuals might wonder how it would look to explore and discuss love in a therapeutic environment and that thought might lead to questions such as: What is the therapist role? Are they qualified? Will my cultural views be respected? How will they know what type of love I am talking about? What if I experience “love feelings” toward my therapist? I would like to explore these questions so you can have a better idea of what to expect if love or relationships come up during a therapy session.
As a marriage and family therapist, my training focused around looking at clients through a systemic lens. This means that I view every client as part of multiple systems that influence their lives. These systems could be work, school, family, church and even the community. My role in therapy is to help the client better understand their feelings and emotions and help guide them toward their love and life goals. Love is something that can be explored in any type of therapy (individual, couples, family) and does not always relate to romantic love felt between partners. During therapy, we could explore the different types of love in a client’s life and work together towards creating healthy connections with the individuals they love and cherish.
Love and Therapy
Love can be a wonderful and amazing emotion, but it can also bring about pain and heartache. “Freud noted, ‘we are never so defenseless against suffering as when we love’” (Johnson, 2004, p. 14). Love is a universally recognized word, yet it does not have the same definition or expression across various cultures. Throughout therapy, we could explore the client’s personal definition/expression of love and what love means to them. I personally view every client as a distinctive human being with a unique understanding and appreciation for love. Therapy is only productive when both therapist and client are working with the same meaning of love and this meaning can only come from the client. This meaning and interpretation are derived from various life experiences, attachments, and lessons learned from other loved ones in our lives. Love is a personal emotion that can only be understood on an individual level and not something learned in a textbook.
Freud noted, "We are never so defenseless against suffering as when we love"
Love in Therapy
One of the more daunting questions relates to experiencing “love feelings” toward a therapist. This experience is not a rare occurrence and is something that should be explored within the therapy room. Humans feel love for others based on many different factors. According to Brogaard (2017), attributes such as propinquity or familiarity, similarity of beliefs and/or personality, and filling needs are all factors that contribute to the emotion of love towards another. “Attachment is the predominant factor in long-term relationships; it mediates friendships, parent-infant bonding, social cordiality, and many other intimacies as well” (Wu, 2017). These are all factors a client would likely find in a therapist when they find a good therapeutic fit. Therapy is an intimate experience and it is not uncommon for a client to feel friendship and even attachment to their therapist. These feelings mean that the client feels safe, comfortable and even vulnerable with a therapist. The therapy experience can also provide clients with a healthy view on relationships because the therapist is helping the client fill their needs in a different way. The important thing to remember if these feelings emerge is that it should be explored between the client and therapist in order to provide a healthy outlook on a therapeutic relationship and “squash” any awkward feelings that might be occurring. Love is a complex emotion and can be experienced between multiple individuals through different levels of connection.
"Attachment is the predominant factor in long-term relationships; it mediates friendships, parent-infant bonding, social cordiality, and many other intimacies as well” (Wu, 2017).
* Brogaard, B. (2017, January 12). The 11 Reasons We Fall in Love. Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-mysteries-love/201701/the-11-reasons-we-fall-in-love
* Johnson, S.M. (2004). The Practice of Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy: Creating connection (2nd ed.). Taylor & Francis Books, Inc.
* Wu, K. (2017, February 14). Love, Actually: The science behind lust, attraction, and companionship. Harvard University. http://sitn.hms.harvard.edu/flash/2017/love-actually-science-behind-lust-attraction-companionship/