Upmarket agony-aunt Sally Brampton gives advice in yesterday’s Sunday Times to a woman who is having an affair with her therapist [the article is subscription only]. First of all she takes issue with the behaviour of the therapist himself.
If he really wanted to help, he would have maintained his position as an objective counsel, building your confidence, guiding you to emotional independence and establishing firm boundaries to keep you safe from bullies such as your husband and, indeed, controlling and manipulative men like him. Instead, he has increased your dependency by making you so reliant on him that you believe that you can’t cope on your own.
Then she gives a bit of psychological background to what’s going on.
It is not unusual for people to project their emotional needs and desires (known as transference) onto a therapist and develop something of a crush. That’s why it’s essential that therapists establish clear boundaries and encourage clients to do the same.
And this is the soundbite that really struck me, a quotation from Phillip Hodson of the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy:
The boundaries are the therapy.
What a powerful thought, put very simply. In other words, in psychotherapy, and I presume in many other relationships that have an element of counselling or pastoral support, it’s the establishing of a healthy and non-dysfunctional relationship that is itself part of the healing. It’s not just what takes place within the relationship (the conversations, the advice, the support, the honesty). Nor is it just what takes place within the mind or heart of the client (the breakthroughs, the insights, the epiphanies, the decisions, the moments of self-realisation – invaluable though these may be).
It’s above all the fact that someone is simply in a relationship of some normality (albeit a professional one), being who they are, without some of the games and deceptions that might have damaged their relationships up to this point. Or perhaps it would be better to say: still, inevitably, with many of the same games and deceptions, but now in a way that they do not define or derail the relationship and the people involved. So the professional boundaries, which seem to be a means to an end, are part of the end itself – which is the healing of oneself through the healing of relationships.
I don’t know much about psychotherapy, so please do add any comments or corrections – but the phrase struck me: The boundaries are the therapy.