Liking Your Therapist

Rabbi Azriel Hauptman

The therapeutic alliance – also known as the therapeutic relationship – has been proven by countless studies to be a better predictor of a successful outcome than the specific type of therapy that is practiced by the therapist. Does this mean that you need to like your therapist in order to have a therapeutic experience? Not necessarily. 

There is no question that you must feel heard, understood, and valued by your therapist. You have to trust your therapist and be able to be open and honest with him or her. In such an environment, you will presumably like your therapist. However, at times you might experience feelings of anger or aversion towards your therapist. This is not a hindrance to therapy at all. Rather, it might be the breakthrough that you were looking for in therapy. This is due to a phenomenon known as negative transference. 

Transference refers to the projection of emotions or feelings from one person onto another. In therapy, this manifests itself as subconsciously viewing the therapist as representing a figure from one’s life, especially from childhood. The client may interact with the therapist as if the therapist were that person. 

Transference is a well-documented aspect of psychotherapy that was described by none other than Dr. Sigmund Freud himself. Although many of Freud’s theories have not stood the test of time, a large number of his ideas have prevailed and have become fundamental principles in psychology. Transference is one of those principles. 

Transference can be positive or negative. When one experiences positive transference, the therapist might remind the client of another trusted figure from earlier in life, resulting in positive and warm feelings towards the therapist. Negative transference, on the other hand, may cause someone to feel anger towards the therapist. This can occur, for example, if the client has been betrayed in the past by someone who they thought was trustworthy. The therapist is viewed subconsciously as being in that person’s role, resulting in painful feelings directed towards the therapist.

Here is where the therapeutic alliance and negative transference, which at first glance seem as opposing forces, actually can come together and produce a therapeutic breakthrough. As the client experiences negative feelings towards the therapist, the therapeutic alliance allows the client to share this with the therapist. The resulting insight can lead to progress in therapy that would have otherwise been impossible. Without the therapeutic alliance, the client would have almost certainly denied the negative feelings, and the elephant in the room would have been ignored. The result will be a therapeutic process that does not really get anywhere.  

The bottom line is that one of the benefits of the therapeutic alliance is that it allows the client to have a safe place where they can heal. You will definitely overall like going to such a therapist, considering all of the value that you are receiving. Negative feelings that you experience are not a contradiction to liking your therapist. On the contrary, your comfort level with your therapist has given you access to those thoughts and feelings. Now you are truly ready to turn the corner in your journey.

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