“When, as a therapist, do clients’ feelings of attachment become concerning to you?”
Author’s Note: When I saw this question posted elsewhere on the web, I felt like it was important to pipe up and offer a non-shaming, non-judgmental perspective. So many things that come up in therapy end up being seen through the lens of concern and pathology instead of curiosity and engagement. It doesn’t have to be that way. Anyway, I wanted to repost it here because it seemed to resonate and it might be helpful to others in this space.
After being on both the therapist side and client side (as all responsible therapists and therapy students should be, in my opinion), I’ve learned that it’s 100% the obligation of the therapist to be aware, manage and even seek consultation around attachment.
It is always important for a therapist to stay conscious around where things like trust, attachment and power are in the therapeutic relationship. Attachment is not a good or bad thing on its own, but it is an indication of a lot of things going on in the relationship.
Depending on what therapeutic interventions are being used, attachment might not be in the case conceptualization for a lot of practitioners (like with many behavioral interventions). But then, some interventions are all about attachment and exploring/healing unmet attachment needs so noticing and naming attachment in a client’s life, as well as to/with the therapist, can be an intentional part of that.
Some questions a therapist may ask themselves about this include:
- Has the level of attachment in the therapeutic relationship created a dependence on the therapist that has inhibited the client’s ability or perceived ability to navigate life on their own? This is a big deal and needs to navigated and remedied before it gets worse.
- Has the attachment to the therapist had a negative impact on any relationships the client has in their life outside of therapy, like friends or partners or family? A therapist might assess the answer to this by asking the client about relationships they haven’t spoken of in a while, or going deeper in talking about relationships or people who come up often.
- Has the client’s level of functioning over the course of therapy improved, declined or been neutral? This is something that should be assessed regularly anyway, but is a big part of this question especially.
- Very Important: Has the therapist noticed any feelings arise in themselves, like flattery, annoyance, self-importance, etc. that could be leaving them less able to assess the situation objectively or treat the client? These feelings can feel positive, negative, neutral or mixed. It’s not anything a therapist should be ashamed of, but it absolutely needs to be managed by the therapist, typically in consultation with peers or someone they pay for this kind of support.
- Most importantly, has the client named their attachment to the therapist in any way? After all, if the client is feeling, noticing and naming it, then it means that the client is in tune with their own experiences and perceptions and that needs to be held space for in the sessions.
For anyone sitting with some discomfort or thoughts that are inviting you to sit and explore what’s going on in your therapy relationships, as a client or a therapist, I hope this was some helpful food for thought.