One of the English language’s greatest poverties is that we only have one word for love. One word to cover this span of human feelings, even though there are so many different ways and forms of love.
There’s the total insanity of knowing you would sacrifice yourself for the children in your life, be they your own kids, nieces and nephews, or other children you are close to. How do we so consistently manage to fall in love with beings that scream all the time and are constantly overflowing with snot and poop, who drain us financially, physically, and emotionally? It is the most consistent form of human insanity.
Then there’s romantic love, and the longing for it. Another form of insanity.
We also have the drive to seek out the platonic love of friends who understand us, who will love us even when we, like the children in our lives, are snotty and shitty and we say ridiculous things.
And of course, we are innately wired to need and receive love from our parents and caregivers. When that is missing in our early lives, it becomes essential for our own survival to make up for it.
Therapeutic love is a combination of all these other kinds— romantic love, parental love, and sometimes goofy childish love. Therapists rarely acknowledge this fact for fear of scaring away our clients and having to close our practices and end up homeless on the streets. “Love” — this one nebulous, all encompassing word means so many different things to different people, it cannot be tossed around loosely. So we talk around it, sometimes using clinical words like “attachment” or “transference,” and sometimes simpler ones like “connection” or “bond.”[bctt tweet=”You are beautiful, strong, and extremely fall-in-love-with-able.”]
There’s sort of a cliche about falling in love with your therapist. What popular culture often misses is the fact that we therapists fall in love with you, too. If you’re in therapy right now, I would put money on the fact that your therapist is in love with you. My old professor used to say, “I fall madly in love with each client. In the rare instance that I’m not in love, something is very wrong.” [bctt tweet=”…everyone is fall-in-love-with-able, even if some habits and behaviors get in love’s way.”]
We therapists also expect you to fall in love with us. Falling in love with your therapist is not weak or shameful or silly or cliche. It is actually a sign of good mental health and relationship skills.
The therapy room is an incubator for love. We can practice love in the therapy room because the structure around it makes it safe. Sessions begin and end at the same time each week. There is complete confidentiality, and legal and ethical codes prohibit the therapist from establishing a “dual relationship” (like a friendship, business partnership, or a sexual relationship) with a client. We call this structure the “therapeutic frame,” and it is in place so that you can be free to have any and all human feelings, including love and hate, rage and gratitude, within those four walls. The therapy room is a practice room, and the thing we practice most consistently is the feeling and the skills of loving.
With my first therapist, I learned many loving skills, most especially gratitude. In our last session after many years, I said what might have been the hardest thing I’d ever revealed to her: “I don’t know how to say thank you, because the words ‘Thank You’ feel so small. I’m so grateful.” I never told her I loved her, but I am positive she knew it, and she loved me too.
Happy Valentine’s Day, from your therapists who are in love with you. You are beautiful, strong, and extremely fall-in-love-with-able.