Update on Attachment to Therapist

Some new thoughts about the healing part of attachment to your therapist.

It’s been a long time since I posted, but I haven’t forgotten you, my readers. Among many things, I’ve been working with several people who have really struggled with letting go. I have been watching and learning more about how it is possible to move beyond a strong attachment to your therapist. In the past, I have been a little generic about exactly how attachment heals, but I have some new insights to share.

The starting point is that children live in a very different world than adults. In the child’s world, parents can do anything if they really want to. So when there is a big problem, the child’s job is to motivate the parents to do their job. Children don’t even worry about precisely how to solve the problem. Parents will take care of that.

For all humans, making the transition from that world to the adult one where we are responsible for gathering resources and solving our own problems is not easy. That’s why adolescence is hard. In adolescence, you have to let go of the wish to have the parents keep you safe and solve your problems and accept the scary reality of taking responsibility for your own wellbeing. That is huge, and it’s why adolescents would often rather fight with parents instead of taking on responsibility for their own lives. It’s also why the immaturity that we see in adults is often a manifestation of some hidden wish for a “big person” to fix whatever it might be.

When families are loving and supportive (yes, that has been known to happen), then taking on responsibility is still hard, but it is do-able. When it is ceremonialized, we call it a rite of passage. It’s also the basis of my definition of adulthood: “A sense of full ownership of one’s own life.”

Now you can see where I am going. When it was impossible to get the kind and amount of love, personal recognition, support, and sponsorship in reaching one’s potential, things that should be taken for granted, letting go of the childhood worldview is much much harder.

Here’s where the inner child comes in. As you know, I believe that the inner child is the most accurate metaphor for what is going on. In cases of deprivation, the inner child sees that the only way to survive is getting some big person to act right or finding a new one who will. Seeking primal love is the only way to get back on track for growing into full free-standing adulthood. Here in this blog, it is primarily the therapist who comes to represent that one and only source of primal love. In other cases it might be something or someone other than the therapist. Either way, what is at stake is what is experienced as an absolute and fundamental requirement for fulfillment in life.

What’s new is that it has become clear to me that simply letting go of and grieving the lost love is not the answer. That is simply too painful and hard for us humans. I have come to believe that we do better to forget that very dark goal. What is more realistic is making a shift in where we place our hope. The goal is to place hope squarely in the adult world, not in repairing the childhood one. Hope is powerful and can substitute for what we most cherish but can’t access immediately. Children are very stubborn when it comes to survival needs. They know what they need and do not accept substitutes easily. Hope is what they hold onto when all else is gone. As a result, talking an inner child into accepting a different source of hope is not easy, even though the old source is not really viable. From the child’s point of view, an imagined or seemingly possible source of primal love is much safer and more reliable than the patchwork of real, but limited and somewhat conditional love with which adults make do.

A realistic pathway to healing is more like what happens in healthier families. There, we find a gradual and not so easy process of letting go of a childhood fantasy that ultimately can’t be fulfilled and shifting hopes to the good things that adult life can bring when we are open to it. In healthy development, trying to get needs met by parents becomes gradually less satisfactory. We begin to experience disappointment as our needs become more specific and our perception of reality more clear. At the same time, getting needs met outside the family begins to work better and to be more attractive. Ultimately the trade-off is between imaginary fulfillment that is never realized and limited fulfillment that is real and possible. Furthermore, in the adult world, we have much more flexibility to choose where to go for which needs and whom and what to avoid. In this way, we gain freedom and greater satisfaction in exchange for letting go of dependence on the central importance of parents and substitutes.

With dysfunctional parenting, the inner child clings to the hope of at last finding perfect primal love. Where life could not be controlled in childhood, this means finding some new way to manage the environment to make sure needs are met, which, of course, doesn’t work. The less satisfactory the early experience, the harder we cling to the fantasy of being able to find and motivate some big person to take care of all that is needed. There is often an unshakable conviction that such a person exists and must be found. Therapists are perfect candidates, representing themselves as caring and ready to help.

Of course, trying to control one’s environment in this way is not only frustrating and draining, but it uses up energy that should be directed towards engaging with the world at large.

Why is it so hard to let go of the childhood hope and wish? First, let’s realize that the adult world seems far less certain than the one the child imagines. In the adult world you get opportunities, but also lots of challenges and roadblocks. Living life well requires being open to the good things along with readiness to steer around the bad ones. When an inner child is focused on finding and motivating a parent or substitute, becoming open to the good things the uncertain present might bring feels not only risky, but also disloyal. Especially when unhealthy parents demand loyalty, this further teaches the child not to put hope in the outside world. So when the benefits of the real, adult world are weighed against the imagined benefits the inner child has been waiting for, reality seems to come up short.

So what happens in therapy? Ideally, the therapist needs to come as close as possible to giving primal love. But primal love is one-way and unconditional, so how is that possible? The answer is that empathic understanding is actually the core of primal love and it is genuinely possible in therapy. Here I am in sync with “limited re-parenting” in seeing the understanding and empathy, that therapists are normally supposed to provide, as being the closest there is in the adult world to primal love. Add to that a willingness to hang in through thick and thin, and therapists really have quite a bit to give. Sometimes it takes a moment of spontaneity or even some special giving to let the inner child know that this comes from a genuine place, but the mainstays are still understanding, empathy, and willingness to tolerate strong feelings.

This giving of “accurate empathy” is also at the core of what good mothers do. Along with the feeding, changing diapers, etc. that adults don’t really need, they remain reliably tuned in. Empathy is what good mothers have to give when they can’t fulfill a child’s need. “I know you really want that, but it just isn’t possible, and I know it hurts.” And that empathy is what allows the young person to accept the disappointing reality that soon the primary caregiver will not be the one ultimately responsible for taking care of every need.

I have come to believe that this “lubrication” of the therapeutic process with empathy is the catalyst needed to make possible the transition from hope in the fantasy of finding primal love to the reality of piecing together those relationships that create a satisfying adult life. Thus the therapist’s giving does not match the inner child’s perceived need, but does cover, as much as possible, the pain and uncertainty of making the switch. Just like the definition of catalyst in chemistry, the therapist’s empathy can lower the energy required to make this difficult transfer.

Is that enough to allow a switch in where hope is placed? No. There has to be a gradually deeper and more real acceptance that the child is hoping for something that can’t be and that adult reality actually has more to offer. I think the switch can come in big moments and small ones. It comes with moments of realization that what one was looking for is impossible, and at the same time, that there is real hope elsewhere. It’s trading fantasy hope for real hope. A therapist who acts like a good parent will keep giving accurate empathy and understanding, while helping to shine an increasingly clear light on the huge advantages of the adult world with its cornucopia of possibilities compared with the disadvantages of clinging to a childhood wish for primal love unfulfilled in early life and unfulfillable in adult life.

So what happens when the therapist is not up to the job? We have seen in reader comments here how often the delicate process of therapy is disrupted either by the therapist not being able to handle strong feelings or by illness, bureaucracy, or some other inevitable break. In those cases, the equation remains the same, but we hope the client’s belief in the process has not been damaged beyond repair. We hope that the client will be able to attach to some other representative of what is good about the adult world, some other ambassador for the rich land where there are people who actually want to be connected to us, where God or serendipity provides for what we can’t demand or control, and where embracing uncertainty is the way to gain the best things in life.


  • I enjoy your blogs, thank you. I woke up this morning from a powerful dream about my therapist leaving me which was quite – actually hugely – painful, so this little glimmer of hope that healing is possible was well timed. Thanks.

  • This is such an insightful post. I haven’t been on the original blog in quite a while and was delighted to see this new post. I would say that what you have written about reflects exactly what I’m going through right now. My attachment wasn’t tethered. I had a fantasy about an ex therapist! It was hard and traumatic to accept the reality that I was basically living a fantasy. Even knowing that didn’t help. It was a gradual process of pretty much being forced to let go because she wouldn’t see me but also finding support and help outside that relationship that has moved me on. Unfortunately I had turned to an eating disorder to try to get what I wanted from the therapist and because this fulfilled other needs as well I am now dealing with the repercussions of that and trying to recover. I have to put my hope in the adult world to recover from this. My hope has to lie in my ability to find what I need from a range of sources- family, friends, support groups, a sense of purpose, writing, sport, work etc etc. When adult life lets you down as well there is a double problem. This is my current dilemma. I will keep on persevering, believing that the adult world can work for me and I can find some security and my place in it. Thank you Jeffery as always for your wonderful insight.

    • Katie; I could have written your comment, word for word. The one place where it branches off, is: just as I began a process of separating from my prior fantasy therapist, then serendipitously, he without warning transferred me to someone else, I was already beginning with my own new therapist. This new therapist is 180 degree opposite, while having all the skills the prior one lacked. I begin to understand so much more. All the static from the other therapist is gone, and I can focus on me. I’m very hopeful.

  • Thank you for this thoughtful article. I’ve been in therapy for thirteen years now with the same therapist (and a few breaks thrown in).

    In that time, I have worked through a lot of stuff. For a long time, I resisted attachment to my therapist. About five years ago, I realized that if I was really going to heal, real attachment was necessary. So, I chose to trust more fully…my therapist helped me reframe this as a trust in myself, that I would survive even if something happened to the therapist. That was helpful for me.

    I see myself as coming to the end of therapy, but have a lot of big changes coming (kids leaving home, finishing a masters degree and changing careers), that I’m not quite ready to lose that weekly connection.

    But I can see myself moving forward without my therapist. That’s new for me. I know that I will always be connected to him and will carry him with me through life with a sense of profound gratitude for what he has given me. I’m deeply appreciative for the safe space he created in therapy that has allowed me to revisit some dark places. In doing so, I’ve been able to let go of the unworthiness that I carried throughout my childhood…and see myself with compassion, worthy of love and good things.

    • “For a long time, I resisted attachment to my therapist. About five years ago, I realized that if I was really going to heal, real attachment was necessary. So, I chose to trust more fully…my therapist helped me reframe this as a trust in myself, that I would survive even if something happened to the therapist.”
      When I read this in Marie’s comment, It was like a lightbulb coming on for me. I have been with my therapist for going on seven years, and although I have come a long way and do trust him–more than I have ever trusted any male, including my husband, we both know that I am holding back. I recognize that my inner child (or one of my parts as we call it in IFS therapy) is resisting attachment because attachment has always led to pain. As my therapist has pointed out, the pain that I have been in every day of my life for the last 50 years from not forming attachments has had far-reaching consequences for myself and others, and is the reason I sought treatment in the first place. My hope is that I will trust myself enough to make that leap so real healing can begin.

  • Incredibly helpful! This article describes my life far better than I have ever been able to describe or even understand it. There are times attachment seems like it is too strong, almost unbearable. It is nice to be able to see it as part of the process that is the solution. Thank you for this perspective!!

  • Thank you for sharing your new insights.
    I am not fully convinced -or maybe I did not get it right yet.

    From my own experience, having stopped yet another “therapeutic alliance” with someone I worked with for about 9 months, the former hypothesis was more useful: experiment the attachment, and grieve the love you did not get. It is painful and confusing work, but it is doable as long as the therapist (and at least some people in one’s life) are honest, sensitive, kind.

    The pain and confusion is much diminished if one focuses on the somatic processes. The work for me is to learn to pay attention to my own bodily sensations and feelings.

    I believe this is what re-parenting is ultimately about. Because good enough parents help their child feel her own body and feelings and self-regulate, which can happen when the child feels safe and secure and loved enough.

    So the process is to learn that I am safe enough to tune into my own feelings, and actually, feeling safe enough to do so is not a huge challenge, it’s just a new habit to get.

    Then we need to visit these sensations and feelings, but as long as their is no focus on emotions or identification (where the pain is the most acute), it is very much bearable.

    Then the body does it job, unlocking all the tensions and stresses and habitual survival mechanisms.

    It is a tricky job, because this refined tuning in has not been learned and doing it is like learning to love oneself (it IS loving oneself): a big affair. But it is straightforward and not so painful at all.

    A therapist can help tremendously in many ways.

    I will still try another guy soon. He does EMDR, which should help us both help me tune in (the former one was not doing that, he was lovely but only concerned about ideas and presentations). Now I hope his personality will match my cravings 😀

    Thank you.

  • Does therapy end when the attachment simmers down and the transference dissipates? I’ve seen my therapist for two years with pretty intense anxiety-provoking transference and a big push-pull type of relationship. About a month ago, it just suddenly stopped. Poof. Gone. I’m not sure whether to be relieved or disappointed by the loss of this dynamic that I had gotten so used to. He now seems like a pretty normal human being. What happens now? Is it over? Or is it just different? I really didn’t see this coming.

  • ” Ultimately the trade-off is between imaginary fulfillment that is never realized and limited fulfillment that is real and possible. ”

    For me, this is the keynote sentence in this article….
    Therapy has assisted me to have more confidence and self-belief. Before I had much self-belief I looked to “rescuers” to make my life better. My therapists were no different – all the parts that were missing in me I wanted them to perform. The first therapist, when I was much younger and less confident, was there to provide all my needs – including sexual. Naturally, he wasn’t having a bar of this and pointed out to me a). it was good that I wanted a sexual relationship – but (b) it was more appropriate to look in the “real” world where such a relationship was possible. After many years of a contented and loving marriage – I’m full of gratitude for his professionalism. If he had encouraged my”love” I would still be hanging around him like a puppy dog!
    My present therapist encouraged me to get a tertiary education – and, as I’ve done so, I notice that I’m genuinely grateful and see her as she probably is, a nice woman who has the compassion to make lives better.
    After being so dependant on my therapists, it’s SO GOOD to find that the more I value myself, the less I need to idealise them. Last week I told my present therapist I’d see her in a month – not our usual fortnight, as it was a public holiday.
    “I can always see you on the Tuesday”, she said. “No, I’ll be fine”, I said and I left her office feeling strong! (There was a time when if my therapist was having a holiday it would bring on an anxiety attack.)
    Therapists are like everyone else – they can’t supply all your needs, so learn o be thankful for the part of themselves they’re willing to share with you.

  • What an incredibly insightful post Dr. Smith. It’s tone was very hopeful, which is exactly what I needed to read as I struggle through the exact process you’re describing.

  • I love your article that make us understand more about how therapy works. I am currently in therapy since a long time for chilhood trauma and sometimes think anxiously about when the therapy will end. I seriously don’t understand how we can place hope and trust elsewhere in my life and letting go of that beautiful relationship with my therapist. I would love that you develop more about that part, ending therapy. Thanks for your beautiful article

  • This blog has been so helpful to me in better understanding my therapy. It has also helped me to understand my attachment to my therapist – that it is actually a good thing and not just something designed to torment me.
    After reading your blog I was able to communicate to my therapist a lot of my feelings for him. I was pleasantly surprised at how open he was to hearing it and how supportive and encouraging he was to me when I was telling him. It felt like such a big relief to finally say all of it, and I believe it has made it easier for me to feel comfortable with him and to open up to him more in therapy.

  • I am so pleased to see you back and read your new thoughts Jeffery. It all makes such great sense. I also holding on to “Ultimately the trade-off is between imaginary fulfillment that is never realized and limited fulfillment that is real and possible. ”
    I try to teach myself this, that my fantasy of perfect love from my therapist will never be fulfilled but she is there for me several times a week and even between sessions if I am panicking. My complete attachment to her is also combined with abandonment terror so that even walking out of her door feels to my inner child that I might never see her again. Even though she is careful to say see you tomorrow or I am here, I expect to see you etc. There is nothing I havnt talked with her about in therapy, she knows full well how I just want to be with her 24/7. I am full of constant anxiety that she will become ill and die but now there is a new twist. I am newly diagnosed with breast cancer. I am the sick person who could abandon her, the hope of finding my adult self over the next few months has to be possible. She can’t look after me in the way that I want her to so badly but she will be the best therapist that she can.

  • I am not sure if my last comment was posted so will try again! Apologies if a version of this already appeared yesterday. Thank you Jeffery for your words and insights, it’s so good to have you back and your thoughts on this are so important and make a lot of sense to me. My deep attachment to my therapist is also bound up with my abandonment fears, my inner child is terrified she is going to disappear forever so that even leaving a session is incredibly difficult. The hope that my adult self will find what I need in the ‘real’ world is always there. But there always seems to be something that undermines the hope, leaving my little child self with a feeling of despair and emptiness. Most recently I have found I have breast cancer, I just want to cling to my therapist and let her take the pain away. She can’t, she wouldn’t. I know that, but I can’t let go of the idea that she might fulfill the aching need that was never fulfilled by my mother. Primal love is the only thing that will heal my inner child’s pain, but it seems so inaccessible. I know she cares about me, and that she is trying to be the best possible therapist for me, but she can’t give me the primal love I want. So how do I sustain the hope whilst going through a multitude of traumas and now the prospect of losing a part of my body and ongoing assault of chemotherapy? Hope is exhausting when you could just give in to despair.

  • Thanks for posting as your thoughts evolve.

    My therapist of 17 years retired 2 years ago. I’ve been reading this site since.

    Best outcome would have been for that therapy to end naturally, but the loss helped in it’s own way. I’m not an overly optimistic person. I am very turned off by therapy buzz words. At first it was very hard to read “inner child”. Maybe what I’m experiencing is the hope that you write about.

    Over time, every trauma (and every good thing) in life had made its mark. The trauma affected my development in a twisted way. Therapy was a “perfect parent” allowing me to love and attach to go back and untwist my warped world view.

    My therapist announced his retirement as his practice going into hospice. It was a death. A big important loss.

    Since then, I’ve found other sources of encouragement and balance. It’s good news that one person in one room in one town is not the only source of good. There’s more to be found. I’m adding things that helped me in case they help someone else. And I’d love to hear others’ suggestions.

    – After much stumbling, I did start therapy with another therapist. It’s different, I wouldn’t have chosen it, but it’s not a case of completely starting over. I go.

    – Listen to Dax Shepard’s 10.10.2019 interview Dr. Nadine Burke Harris, Surgeon General of California, on the new research into childhood trauma (ACE scores) and the impact to the body of toxic stress over years. Toxic stress is a broader way to think about diagnoses like PTSD. Even years after the trauma, there are ways to build buffers to counteract the stress chemicals. I’m making a buffers list now.

    – Listen to Oprah’s 10.26.2014 interview with Madonna Badger, a woman who suffered paralyzing stress when her parents and kids were lost in a fire. She found a clinician in Arkansas who gave her the best definition of grief I’ve ever seen. Also interesting is listening to Oprah try to put a happier spin on things, but MB just keeps talking from a very honest place that I think gives hope.

    – I heard poet Billy Collins say last week that poetry students come to his class thinking they need to find a new emotion, but that everything boils down to life and death. In the therapy context, I’d say it’s attachment and loss. If you have a deep, deep attachment with your therapist, there will be a deep, deep loss when it ends.

  • Thank You for a wonderful post! I really like the positive tone, the fact that it focuses on the possibility of healing. I let go of my therapist over a year ago. Im in gestalt training now and in gestalt the idea that every relation is co-created is highly emphasized. Now, looking back on my therapy it is all so clear that it is in fact an important idea. I believe that this strong attachment is not just happening with anyone and everyone who is emphatic and cares for the client. It was one of the most important factors in the letting go process that I understood the fact that I was not doing it alone. It’s not solely me who need to let go (and Im not saying that the therapist needs to let go, all Im saying is that Im not doing all this only by myself just because my inner child is lacking primal love). I have no idea what is on the other side, what is it in the personality of the therapist that in my case for example made it harder to leave and of course every case is different. There is something, who knows what…but there is definitely something in the other person, in the therapist’s personality that allows this to happen. And Im not “only” talking about empathic listening., etc. It can however be tricky, on the side of the therapist to decide when and how much to share from this with the client. If the timing is bad and too early, than it might create an even more difficult situation. I guess as long as the sharing on the side of the therapist is believed by the therapist to serve the client and not coming from his or her own unresolved issues, than it can not cause much harm. But I understand it is a slippery slope. Thank You!

  • Dear Jeffery
    I’m not sure if there is a problem with the website but I have tried to post comments recently that seem to disappear? Can you or your assistant help please?

  • Dear Dr. Smith. Your essays on attachment to “your” therapist, as well as your blogs have been very helpful to me. My therapy ended in September. I function well, have many friends and a loving husband. What keeps pulling at me is that i want my psychologist to be with me in all ways. He listened to me, no matter what i was saying. he advised and helped me beyond words. Your insight about transference being the inner child has helped me deeply. From age 5 to 22 my live was traumatic. I still have the scars. Sometimes when i feel even a little bit vulnerable i want to be in my therapist arms, believing only he can love me. So weird to be so aware of my inner child. Thank you for all you write

  • I wish I could see replies and comments, it seems unusual for the blog to have gone quiet. I am meantime desperately trying to deal with all the manifestations of having breast cancer as well as the attachment issues with my therapist.
    Sharing this complexity would be such a help

  • So, I have been going to my therapist for 9 weeks! Yes, you heard that right 9 weeks! and apparently I had an attachment to him from the first session. (Or so he has mentioned) By the 5th session is when the intensity of it grew for me . I’ve read many posts in other blogs about this and how it took awhile for the attachment to happen, not for me, it didn’t take long at all! But as I have pondered this and looked and thought harder on why this was happening I was able to recognize that this feeling was familiar and that it has happened a few times in my life. I was able to pin point my trigger of why it happened. With anytime someone would show an interest or that they care about my life, I would form this attachment. So for me it hasn’t been just my therapist. It’s been a teacher, a friend, my husband (yes my husband) and a few others. It also didn’t matter the gender of the person, (2 were female) and no I don’t have interest in women like that. However with my therapist it has been intensified and is lasting longer. I talked to him about my feelings and instantly I knew he was uncomfortable. (understandably) but by his reaction I felt immense rejection! since then the trust level has never recovered. I feel it would be in my best interest to let go of him as my therapist and see another therapist, but inside I’m dying! I’m so sad by this thought as I have already started the process of letting him know I’m considering different options in therapy to move forward. He is very eager to help me with this by helping me find another therapist. But, deep down I just want him to tell me that he’s got this and that we can work through this together. I’m heartbroken so so heartbroken! I hope that I can over this!

    • I feel sorry that your therapist is so uncomfortable with your feelings of attachment to him. It sounds like a really painful situation, and I hope it resolved for you in the end: that is, that either you were able to talk about it with him and he was able to see the attachment as positive and healing for you, and stop being afraid of it, or you moved on and found another therapist.

      • Thanks Celia! I read your post and I love your idea and story with your therapist. My therapist and I had a few more sessions but he ended up referring my out to another therapist. I have come to terms with it and I have had time to grieve since his first response on my feelings. I don’t think we were ever able to fully repair the trust in our therapeutic relationship. I’m still so heartbroken but I know that I’m going to be ok. Wish me luck on my next attempt of therapy!

  • Dear AB
    Of course you feel heartbroken, it is like attachment to your primary care giver, the one person you felt you could rely on for primal love and security. I am now in my 5th year of therapy, my therapist knows and understands my deep attachment to her. But she has also helped me to understand its origins and during a currently very difficult time as I am recovering from a mastectomy for breast cancer she has helped me to understand constancy, that she is there for me even when it’s not physically possible, that she won’t abandon me, she keeps me in her heart and mind. And In a strange way this period of crisis has enabled a transformation I never thought possible, that I can be separate but know I matter and cared about. It has taken almost 5 years for me to understand that the trauma of childhood experience has been brought into consciousness through therapy, that I have replayed it again and again with my therapist. I have been lost, heartbroken, devastated, angry, love her and hate her at the same time, everything you can imagine but her constancy is what has kept me from self destruction.
    So maybe give your therapist more than 9 weeks, take it a step at a time and use the therapeutic space to allow your feelings to come into the light and for him to explore them with you. You are on a shared journey, much of it will be painful revisiting of your childhood trauma but finding and understanding yourself is a real journey of discovery with a constant gentle hand to guide you. I wish you well, and all of us on this therapy journey together. Go well.

  • Thank you so much for this series of articles on attachment. I had no idea that attachment could be so intense. I truly thought I was becoming obsessed and perhaps I am but now I see how it fits, and that I must talk to my therapist about it. The thought of that makes me nauseous but I emailed her so I don’t chicken out. What a relief.

    • Hi Lolo,
      I just want to encourage you to continue using email to keep yourself accountable. I have also found that to be beneficial to email my therapist even just a few words so that the topic that I find difficult to talk about is out in the open. I still have difficulty talking about it when I see him, but it doesn’t feel as taboo as it used to feel. Good job!

  • Re attachment to therapist…..
    I’ve been seeing my current therapist for 4 years -once a fortnight. The good flow of therapy is now somewhat awkward. She has been a very positive influence, encouraging me to study and have the confidence to do something I’m passionate about. The therapy has thus been a big success – I feel “lighter” and somehow more free.
    But, once I realised how much she has helped me I have grown to have feelings for her. I have tried to discuss this with her – but without much success. I accept that we can only have contact in therapy -and I’m fine with that – I just wish we could work through this so it could be resolved. She seems comfortable discussing ideas and any projects I’m working on -but she seems to want to avoid discussing feelings. This is very triggering for me -as both my parents ignored my feelings and, if anything, I had to think about their feelings.
    Its left me with the impression that she is uncomfortable dealing with her own feelings -and, as such, is ignoring the whole subject of feelings.
    I can’t see how my feelings can be worked through if the therapist won’t discuss them?
    Are some therapists – like some people -feeling avoiders? (I’m ambivalent insecure)

  • I *think* I feel a marked decrease in my need for my therapist/dad figure. It kind of feels suddenly like I felt when I realized that my own mom was not infallible. I used to think all she did was just perfect—like she could do no wrong. And then I grew into a teenager and I started to realize that she did not have the “end all be all” answer to everything. Like in some ways I was ever more savvy about certain subjects than she. But…I still needed her. Just not as much.
    That’s how I am starting to feel about my therapist/dad. *STARTING* to feel.
    I really wish he would bring up the feelings I still have toward him as a dad— but I think he feels a bit uncomfortable with that discussion too. It is the elephant in the room though. Even though we’ve discussed it a couple times maybe it is not something we need to discuss again. But it feels like it would be good to get it out there.
    But that would be like embarrassing x a million.

    Do we need to do you think before I cut and run from therapy? Honestly, cut and run sounds dreadful. I still long for him to be able to just kinda be there all the time if I needed him— like a trusted, smart uncle that you see a few times or so a year(I have heard these kind of men actually exist— haha). You can call or email him whenever and he has a few words of wisdom and love for ya. That’s what I’d really like.
    Not possible, right??

    • Dear TLC, You raise some interesting questions. Yes, we want to tie up all the loose ends, but no, it is not always necessary. There comes a time, when it just may not be possible or necessary. Is there anything inherently wrong with continuing to have access even when therapy is over? No, I don’t think so, but the possible liability is that your inner child might use the open door as a way to avoid processing the end of therapy and moving on to full engagement with life. And finally, waiting for your therapist to realize and bring up the fact that not all the attachment feelings have been brought to light is not a good idea. This is a joint venture, and both have responsibility. That leads me to a final thought:

      My definition of adulthood is “having a sense of full ownership of one’s own life.” That implies that the one who is ultimately and finally responsible for your wellbeing is you. If the therapist is not doing the job, it is yours to make sure whatever final processing is needed gets done.

      • So, a “grownup”, which I never quite feel like in the therapy room(and this is not my therapist’s fault at all–it is all me), would go in there and say, “Hey, I’d really like to talk at least one more time about how much of a father you feel like to me.”

        Right? And then Mr. Therapist is gonna say……….. what, do you think? I have never actually said the words aloud to him–I have emailed him my feelings and he talked about the email with me, but I have never looked him in the eye and talked to him about it.

        I guess I need to know what he might say to this revelation that I still feel that way and don’t know quite how to quit– both feeling that way AND therapy. Right now I am turning red and feeling like I am going to throw up just thinking about saying the words aloud, and his possible response to them. Sometimes I feel so confident that I can move away from him and be fine, and sometimes I think that feeling I need to quit therapy just because that is what is commonly done, is just dumb. However, the longer I go the more guilty I feel about going. So this is probably the conversation I should have with him…
        I probably know the answer already, right?
        It just feels so silly to get rid of someone who has helped me so much– just because that is what conventional therapy says to do… The pain still feels too great.

        • To all, as I have said many times, I don’t think quitting therapy is the answer. Rather, if the therapist is up to it (which all should be) then I generally feel that working with the feelings is the way to resolve them. It is a lot harder to do it alone, before or after quitting. There are times when the attachment is no longer so central, but more of a habit, that it is time to begin to seek more connection outside of therapy, but abruptly quitting just makes the child inside go underground and the attachment need is not resolved. JS

  • I’ve spent most of the evening reading the articles and comments about attachment to a therapist. I especially liked the earlier articles which spoke about how the process of dealing with the pain of separations from the therapist (and indeed disappointments with them) helps us to internalise the love, comfort and security we have received from them. This helped me so much, because it gives meaning to the pain I have gone through in my feelings about my therapist, and helps me see how those moments have been important stepping stones along the road to not needing him so much one day.
    I also want to share a rather unusual technique I invented which I use to connect with my therapist and share things with him (in a certain way) without bugging him all the time. It came about because he very kindly let me take a photo of him one day, and I was looking at this a few days later, and remembering how when I’d shown him pictures of me as a little child he had been very moved, and then I suddenly found myself printing out the picture of him, and a picture of me as a little girl, and cutting her out and sticking her on his lap and taking a photo of that. Later on I asked an artist to draw this picture, and to make me another one showing me as a little girl wrapped in a blanket and curled up on his shoulder and sucking her thumb. These pictures mean so much to me, and fill me with a great sense of joy and comfort. I showed them (with some trepidation) to my therapist and he was very very sweet and said he understood and felt honoured! A few weeks later I ended up writing a story in which the little girl version of me talked and interacted with the therapist, and this has given rise to a small collection of stories, some of which involve talking, some of which involve playing (like they go to the park together one day and play in the leaves together and he tosses her in the air and catches her), some of which involve him entering a traumatic time in my past and rescuing me, and some of which involve the little version of me just cuddling with him. Here’s a very short one I wrote the other day when I was feeling in need of connection and comfort: I call myself “little Celia” in these stories to make it clear that this is me as a little child … [The names aren’t our real ones by the way, and the “room” is the room in his home where we normally talk.]

    “How are things going Celia?” asked Lucas.
    “I don’t really know,” said little Celia. “But I would like to come and cuddle on your lap.”
    “Ok,” said Lucas, and little Celia climbed onto his knee and cuddled in his left arm, looking up at him.
    “I don’t know why I like to do this so much,” she said, “But it makes me feel really happy and safe.”
    Lucas smiled calmly down at her.
    “Sometimes I don’t want to talk,” said little Celia. “Sometimes I just want to cuddle here with you and know that you like me and care about me and that everything is ok. All kinds of stuff is going on outside. But you and me are safe in this room, and nothing can touch us.”
    “It’s a special safe place for you Celia,” said Lucas. “I’m glad that you have it. Life is tiring and difficult and we all need moments of feeling safe and loved.”
    “I will always have that with you, Lucas,” said Celia. “Won’t I?”
    “Yes,” said Lucas. “For always and forever. And if you at some point you want to talk we can do that as well.”
    “I know,” said Celia. And she snuggled bit closer against Lucas.
    Most of the stories have more content and are longer than that… but you get the gist. I feel a great sense of security from knowing that even if one day I say goodbye to the real Lucas, I will always have the pretend version of him to talk with and interact with. Anyway, it’s something very powerful for me, and takes the pressure off the real-life relationship, and eases anxiety during times when I can’t see him for a while. On certain occasions when I’ve written a story I have cried and cried in a healing kind of way, which is a sign that the stories have touched a deep root. And I’ve even shown my therapist some of these stories, and he’s been nice about it, though I think it makes him feel a tiny bit uncomfortable at times, perhaps because little Celia is so physically affectionate towards him – which of course is totally out of bounds in real life.
    Hope this is helpful/useful to someone!

      • Thank you Jeffery. I think of my story writing as being a bit like play therapy, and in common with play therapy it seems to help me deal with emotions that run too deep, and whose roots are too early in my life for verbal processing to be of much use. It reminds me a little bit of the book “Dibs, in search of self” which I’m sure you know. It’s interesting to notice in that book that although the play therapist very much seeks not to permit Dibs to become attached to her, he does develop an attachment, and this is very healing for him. I’m not sure if at the time of writing the book she even realised how much the care and acceptance he felt from her in the one-to-one relationship between them was a crucial part of his journey towards wholeness.
        Your insights into therapy are strikingly clear and helpful, and I like it that you have tried to unpick the reasons behind why therapy works, and why certain patterns (such as deep attachment to a therapist) emerge again and again. I am looking forward to reading your books.

    • Celia… this is truly a beautiful idea. It really resonates with me. Since I am so often “in my own head” anyway, developing stories like this very much appeals to me. I am not sure I’d be brave enough to share them with my therapist as you did— but if I did I think it would make them even more powerful. I also like that you also have a male therapist. I can connect even more. I “found” my therapist quite by accident and I often think maybe I should have had a female therapist so I wouldn’t have these strong father-daughter feelings toward him— but perhaps it is a good thing.

  • Jeffery, has there ever been a time in your practice or those of your peers where attachment/transference can’t be worked through? I’d really like to know what your thoughts are about the possibility of why that would happen and if you would ever suggest ending therapy because of it.

    • The most common instance of unresolvable attachment/transference is when the therapist errs in a way that confirms the client’s expectation. I think of it as “stepping into the transference.” Inner children, like real children are very stubborn. They can’t imagine any other way to deal with the shortfall of nurturing that they have experienced. I’m dealing with a situation rather like that, and seem to be making some headway after quite a few years of struggle. I believe we’ll get there, but many people would have given up. So I don’t think there is a rule to follow. But there is a better solution, and it is radical acceptance that the past doesn’t actually need to be repaired, and that the pain of letting go can be gotten through. JS

  • Jeffrey,

    I have been so helped by your work.

    I am a bit confused. I’ve been doing a lot of deep and hard work to embrace my inner child. Things were going well, until a medication (Ketamine) prescribed for TRD & PTSD, was given too frequently & at too high a dosage. My psychiatrist didn’t communicate with my therapist, who went searching for why I was collapsing & hallucinating. I should also mention that this medication completely sped up the transference and attachment process. As someone who has never attached to anyone before, I suddenly felt so attached it completely freaked me out. An expert told my therapist to pull back, just as I had completely opened up, and the container of therapy as blown away by the Medicine’s effects, which essentially retraumatized me. My therapist was only doing what an outsider told her, but neither were properly informed about Ketamine’s effects. My therapist has stuck with me, yet the last two years I have been going over this situation ad noseome, unable to trust my therapist to help me with the ongoing day to day events I desperately need assistance with, because I don’t feel connected as we once were. I keep trying to connect & get on the same page, when she’s ready & fine to move forward and eager to help me with my life stuff. I am stuck with a belief she will not support my emotions, as she pulled away right when I opened up. Further, her extreme new boundary left me and my nervous system with no skills to handle the opening. I feel angry she did not first teach me skills to handle separation and emotions before cutting me off in this way. I feel tricked, regardless of my understanding of her lack of understanding of the medications at that time. She will no longer respond to in between session calls or contacts. And I’m essentially trying to teach myself how to manage, which is hard to do as I inevitably utilize old patterns of suppression, avoidance, etc.

    What’s more, is I started seeing my therapist for an issue and in the context of my therapy I was sexually assaulted by a clinical supervisor (I’m a psychologist in training) who was 2/3 older than me. This involved grooming, exploitation, psychological manipulation & eventually the assault. It was such a huge betrayal. I’m not currently in a place to trust a new therapist. And losing my therapist now would be terribly disorienting. The medication and therapy have made me feel “pulled apart” not to mention the shattering & betrayal involved in an assault.

    As I’ve been healing, different parts of me have come alive and awake (likely as I’ve come out of freeze) working with my therapist. With this, it’s been overwhelming to have so many childhood memories and flashbacks, as well as to become aware of all the developmental tasks I have not passed through come up all at once. I feel like the old woman who lived in a shoe who had so many children she didn’t know what to do. I’m struggling intensely with a fear that I will not get the help I (each identified age/part) need to “grow up” so I can fully be my adult self. For instance, I’m completely confused about sexuality. Honestly, it seems like all parts of me. No one ever had any conversations with me about it, and I developed and eating disorder at least partly to avoid that whole phase. I’m no longer in the throws of an eating disorder, starving myself, and yet, I don’t have any “feelings” of interest in sexually related activities, boys, or any of it. My adult part doesn’t want to be alone, and yet, I can’t see myself having a family or children, because I don’t have any of those feelings physically. I’m confused because I’m supposedly an attractive young woman, and yet, I just want to have friends. But then I don’t know where to go to make friends because I’m not ready to be in a dating pool or at a bar or…many of the adult activities. I’m afraid to go out (agoraphobia, Ketamine made me feel like I’m in a million pieces so new places make me feel like I’ll lose what little sense of myself I have), and need routines. Yet I’ve been working on staying in my window I’d tolerance and this has been helping me come to a place of calm and centeredness. I “understand” more easily & integrate when I am in this zone. But I’m struggling so badly with this attachment wounding, rewounded by therapist. I get very hostile, angry and protective. I want to be close again, but I have so many new fears and questions (what does it mean, did I mean anything to her, how can you just pull that away like that?) along with major reactions to the assault to work through.

    Meanwhile, I feel like a total phony. I don’t like being on training sites because I feel like the adult part of me does t have the answers or knowledge other adults do about life. My “adult” part has gotten me as far as I can. I “need” the guidance of others, because I don’t want to hurt myself in the process of trying. I don’t want to make myself do stuff other parts of me are not actually ready for (eg. dating when I don’t have sexual feelings at all or a desire to be in a relationship or an attraction just so I am not alone or because it’s the phase of life I’m supposed to be in).

    I could go on and on about many things I’m struggling with. But I suppose right now, I’m confused because I feel like the hope I have IS in getting help from my therapist so that the younger parts of me can Become more connected to one another and I can become more integrous. My understanding of what this consists of is going back and having conversations I needed with my therapist (eg. allowing my 10 yr old part to ask all these questions about sex and my body, my 15 year old part to ask about drugs and alcohol and how to understand all that). I struggle because my adult feels like I should know all of this and I try to teach myself (I will look for books trying to answer my questions), but I still feel clueless. My adult part currently has decided to tell the younger parts I don’t know the answer and I’m so sorry and I am so glad they are bringing these really important questions up and that I need them to ask me these things and that even though I don’t know the answer I will take them to someone who does and that we will learn together, but that I will be in charge of the problem and they can remain in their “role.”

    So, is my hope in the wrong place? Is hoping my therapist can “go” into those places with me and fill in the gaps wrong? Is being resistant to going out into the world in certain settings the way I am right now wrong, or right? I know I need to challenge myself (and I do), but am I hoping for help I’m never going to get?

    • I am distressed that this blog bears witness to so many therapeutic disasters. Everyone deserves an unflappable, solid, experienced therapist to help deal with feelings so strong that they are not just challenging to clients, but to therapists as well. The answer always seems to be finding someone who has the strength to help, but how do you find one, and how do you know when you have? I don’t have answers to that. There are a few respectable organizations like Sidran and ISST-D. Do a search on “dissociative identity disorder organizations.” Unfortunately, I wonder if the money and apparent magic in Ketamine has obscured the process of understanding just what it really does. I am only beginning to understand its effects. That knowledge is not easily available. It is partly in view of this kind of situation that I am turning more towards teaching and mentoring for therapists who are ready and willing to improve their skills. JS

      • Dr. JS
        If I lived in your area, I would totally would have you as my therapist! but unfortunately I don’t 🙁 ! I’m frustrated, I really don’t know if starting with another therapist is the best option for me! I feel like I attach too easily and quickly! And I can’t get over the shame of it because I am married and I also value my religious beliefs! I’m confused, I feel like everything I have been taught is contradicting when it comes to this topic.

    • I hope you are all staying healthy and managing ok during this isolation.

      Well my husband was furloughed as a result of COVID-19, which meant that I had to finally bite the bullet and reduce my therapy sessions to twice a month for financial reasons since she is paid out of pocket. It was incredibly difficult. In fact I could not tell her during our session. I emailed her. And for the next week was either crying or on the verge of tears constantly. I had to tell my husband what was going on because I was crying and he was bewildered. And I could not offer a good explanation except “it’s a thing”.
      So now we email between sessions, which helps a bit because it feels like she is still there. She helped me to understand that my sadness is probably compounded grief or bringing up more past losses. I think she is right, so I have been writing a lot in my journal to process past losses and disappointments on my own. It felt so much more like it was OVER, not just reduced. It didn’t make sense to me. So I think there is some past abandonment issue I’m not conscious of that is driving these feelings. We have had two sessions (by phone) since and they have been very productive, but waaay too short. I am working with my inner child on my own (self-hypnosis, and the ho’oponopono meditation) to ease the grief. It’s better, but I still miss the weekly sessions very much. I look forward to resuming in-person sessions.

  • I just wanted to say thank you to everyone who bears their soul on this blog. Tthe blog itself and the comments have helped me begin to get clarity and have brought much comfort.
    I found this blog after my therapist was away for a few weeks, I did some research as I was becoming so panicked with the feelings of attachment to my therapist. It felt inappropriate, shameful and dirty. It was only when I started to research to see if I could find some answers that I discovered this blog and was overjoyed that there were other people who felt as I did. I saw another therapist who was filling in for my regular one and she said that client/therapist attachment is a common occurrence – a huge relief.
    That being said, there’s definitely some confusion and discomfort on my part. My regular therapist has returned and during the sessions that I’ve talked about attachment, she hasn’t discussed the commonality of that concept as we work together, which I find surprising as just to hear those words that would put my mind at ease that it is okay to feel that. At my most recent appointment, she had a “talk” with me which to me seemed to imply that I was far too attached to her and that I was attached to her as a person rather than a therapist. I could have misinterpreted it but it’s what it seemed, which was the one response I was most afraid of. I understand, and respect, that I know nothing about her and because it’s a working relationship there is no place for that. I do have a habit of seeing my therapists as challenges and test their boundaries. My current therapist is very firm with her boundaries which is exactly what I need and appreciate so it’s not something I’ve done.
    Whilst I realize now that there are some things I haven’t been able to say (which I know I need to) because of how shame filled they are, there are things that I have whilst putting myself in a vulnerable position, but at this stage, I’m starting to feel like I’m needing to hold back because it feels like the goal posts have moved.
    When I plucked up the courage to discuss my fear of her not wanting to work with me anymore because of the attachment she said in so many words that it didn’t matter whether she did or she didn’t want to work with me. That felt like rejection. The fact that it didn’t matter to her whether I stayed or didn’t made me feel like I’m not that important to her to want to work with. She’s a tough love therapist which is one of the things that I like about working with her because she pushes me and knows my limits with what I can and can’t tolerate. I don’t know whether this situation was planned to push me into a place that I don’t feel comfortable, if that’s the case, she nailed it! But I don’t think it was.
    In addition to that, she’s taken a fair amount of time off. I understand that there are all sorts of things in life and work that come up but it’s a struggle to go three weeks without therapy, have two weeks seeing her, then another two weeks off and then I had three weeks and she’s going to be out next week.
    I’ve been in treatment for an eating disorder these last two years and I’m finding that the issue of attachment is bringing up a lot of deep-rooted emotions. I’m trying to be proactive and help myself but I don’t have the skills, and the self-care that normally helps isn’t touching the sides. I’ve unfortunately found myself using restriction and other behaviors as the only way to manage to a point where life feels tolerable so I am able to function. I’m battling to try and minimize my use of other behaviors but I can only manage to stave so many off as the intensity and work to do that is exhausting. I also voiced my temporary need of increased support at my last session but she didn’t respond and so it will be two weeks before I have an opportunity to see her. She’s a fantastic therapist but I’m just struggling to navigate handling these issues and I’m not sure whether it’s something I’m doing or whether perhaps we just aren’t compatible any more.

    • Thanks for your comment and sharing. I can’t know the details, but would generally expect that being clear and explicit about feeling a greater sense of need for support would be a positive thing to do. Therapists can’t always tell how much stress the therapy is creating and some clients don’t show just how upset they may be. It helps for a therapist to have clarity about those things. JS

  • Thank you so much for this site and your blog. I first found your articles about attachment when I experienced it about 5 months ago and didn’t know what I was feeling. I have a wonderful empathetic therapist I started seeing when my mother died about a year ago. She helped unlock some deep inner child issues via visualization/hypnosis where I actively relived a traumatic episode as a toddler and then imagined myself as the compassionate parent, as she guided me. It was incredibly emotional and cathartic. And suddenly I was in a haze of love and emotional disorientation for days. After reading your blog and comments I mustered the courage to talk to her about my feelings, the shame, confusion, etc. She did explain to me about her role as a “benevolent parent”. It works amazingly well because she is 20 years older than me. I have come to believe that I am “in love” with her — not in a sexual way, although I do fantasize about us being friends … she did set boundaries there which i am thankful for. I just wonder how long it will be before I get over this feeling of dependence. She has indicated it can be years. I am ambivalent about this because I love our weekly sessions but it’s going to be very expensive, as all my costs are out of pocket. Does the attachment ever become its own problem? If I am getting better at understanding and parenting my inner child, will this eventually eliminate my need for her to be in that role? I also read your book Why We Heal and Grow and recommend it highly. My therapist subscribes to your methods 100%. This is very reassuring.

    • Dear Holly,

      Every case is different, so please consider that I am only sharing my experiences. Im sure Jeffery will also comment on your comment LOL when he has time.
      So in my case my dependancy started very early in therapy and for a really long time I did not understand what, how, why…I was completely absorbed in this relationship. My therapy lasted for about 5 years or so, with a smaller interruption. I feel like my therapist was not really aware how much I suffered. I think she let me depend on her…I think it was in a way good for her, too if you know what I mean. I worked through it, realized kinda what was happening and stood up from it by myself. I was strong enough at that point to leave. It has been more about 15 months ago and I still miss her very much. I changed a lot in those years, more than I ever expected and the way I see the situation now is this: I worked a lot with her being by my side. Always. Never left my side. However: No therapist is perfect. They are as human as us clients. Since I looked up at her so much I can tell you my first hand experience: it is really really hard to take this projection back. Because it is a projection. I did not want to take the responsibility for my life, I wanted to depend and she let me depends for a little too long. You know….I do not know much why or how she felt….but Im pretty sure it was like this. See it is not easy….even though I always told her how I felt. It was out in the light and still. Do not panic, it might be different for you…it does not have to be many years….but in a way your therapist is right…it wont change in weeks…it takes time. I wish you luck! It is always better to feel than to be emotionally shut down, even if the feelings are not very confortable.

      • Thank you Judith. Still working on letting go a bit but it’s difficult. I think therapists need to know how powerful this separation anxiety can be and deal with it proactively. I feel trapped at times which doesn’t feel healthy.

        • An important point, that the pull of this kind of attachment is incredibly strong and has staying power. I believe that is because it has to do with primitive survival strategies built into every young mammal. JS

          • Yes I guess that is the bottom line. The strange thing is that I had a good childhood, a loving mother. Somewhat absentee father up until divorce when I was 14. No abuse or abandonment that I am aware of.

            I read about a case (somewhere….in your book?) where the child learned early on that she could soothe the mother’s unhappiness and this took precedence over the child’s own development. This rang a bell for me. My therapist and I are very much alike, with the added benefit of being of course totally invested in me and my growth which was a little lacking in my real relationship with my mother.

            I have done some meditation during which I try to practice active self-compassion….visualizing me as the adult comforting my inner child, visualizing the emotion and holding it without judgement. This seems to have helped ease the anxiety. We do need to discuss the situation again in the context of reducing session frequency.

          • Dear Holly, There have been several comments lately with positive things to do to re-affirm agency and support the inner child’s growth. Your visualization is a very good and universally applicable one. Creative kinds of visualizations and symbolic actions have helped others. One of Bessel Van der Kolk’s discoveries is that taking positive action is an important part of healing. In a way it is teaching the inner child that is is really OK and not dangerous to grow. JS

  • I shared exactly how I felt about my Therapist with him this evening. Like nearly everything I have written here or queried here—I laid out on the line. He shared some of his concerns about how he also needed to take some responsibility in how close we have come in our time together. He discussed his humanness in all of it and how tricky it is to give unconditional support to those who really need it to move forward, but still maintain professional boundaries. And although each of us knows the importance of the boundaries—I think sometimes a therapeutic relationship just really really clicks. That “click” can be such a positive one and can cause so much growth for the client and maybe for the therapist as well. But it can be so hard to let go.

    That being said, tonight I was probably the most honest I’ve ever been with him before. All the feelings came out. All.
    All the fears came out. All.
    And I don’t feel quite so ashamed anymore. I really really don’t.
    And that’s what I need to feel.

  • I think people are different and respond to different things. The person who has a needy inner child looking for primal love from a parental attachment figure like a therapist is most likely going to have a hard time. I think it is better to have lots of different methods, options, approaches for this patient. Mourning the loss of a close relationship with a parent is one such method. Re-parenting with an adult self or a nurturing figure, or both, are additional methods. As you describe, shifting hope slowly to the adult world is yet another method. I think they can all be used and used either together or separately.

    I think patients may need to be better informed about therapy before they start it. They need to know toward the beginning of therapy that the needy inner child is a possibility and that they may develop feelings for the therapist if they have such an inner child. They need to know that this attachment is related to the lack of love or caring from a primary caregiver. It might be a good idea to encourage patients to read or go to the internet to find out about attachment theory (like John Bowlby and your website).

    I agree that the patient with a needy inner child needs to be an adult and take responsibility for him/herself. Anything that helps the patient to take on adult responsibility is useful. Even looking back at a number of sessions and realizing that the patient has consistently refused to be responsible for him/herself and that the patient has been acting like a child. This may be helpful for the patient to see. The patient may recognize that he/she has two states of being, adult and child, and that it is possible to go from one to another. When in the adult state, the patient may no longer have excessive attachment feelings for the therapist.

  • I’m in a nursing home but other than medication and oxygen I am in good physical shape. My Psychologist has come to see me every 2 weeks for 19 months and she told me she was leaving for another job I cried and told her I loved her. The next time she said she would send me a card and I ask her to send me a picture and she said that maybe we might write occasionally. I had left her a note that I would erase her phone number but she said if things got really bad I could call her. I want to stay in contact with her, am I wrong? I am 77 years old and have been married twice, 1st one 30 years 2nd 5 years and unhappy in both.

    • Dear James, Thanks for writing. Matters like this are delicate and individual. Therapists are professionals and if if feels ok and your’s says it’s ok, then a remining question is whether you could get hurt if the welcome later wanes or implies promises that won’t be kept. There are many instances documented in this blog where therapists have wanted to do more than they were able or ready to sustain. JS

      • I understand that there is a chance I might get hurt but I am willing to take that chance. We had a deal she would not hold back but would tell me what I needed to hear and I would say whatever I felt I needed without holding back. She was a great help to me. I believe she knew how I felt about her before I told her. Her card to me will set the tone of our relationship. I have had two sessions with my new therapist and she is ok but nothing like my previous one, maybe that is good.

  • Dear Jeffery,

    (I apologise in advance for my English as I am a 24 French subscriber and therapy patient)

    As my “therapy session hangovers” (the distressing feelings of feeling alone and abandoned and lost after a therapy session that would last for days) were getting more and more intense after each appointment and I felt my attachment/obsession to my therapist becoming more and more painful, I reached out for help on Quora and someone suggested I check out your work. Reading your work “Attachment to Your therapist : A Conversation” and “Getting the Most From Your Therapy: Become an Educated Consumer” and the articles of this precious blog, was like finally making sense of my whole entire life, self and behaviour and the key to understanding what I had been doing and repeating for the past ten years. I found myself hysterically crying and screaming while reading some of the parts that resonated so much with me “THAT’S ME !!!”.

    For the past ten years, I have been having those “obsessions” with older women, may it be with a teacher, or a friend, or a singer and later a therapist (always people who could somehow fit a maternal figure but who were also unavailable and unreachable) and the same process would unfold each time : idealisation, intense feeling of attachment and eventually the feeling of abandonment leaving me hurt and in a lot of pain until I found a new substitute to obsess over. Now I finally understand what was actually happening. Having had to grow up with emotionally unavailable parents, a severely depressed and suicidal mother and an absentee father, my inner child was forever trying to solve an “unfinished business” from childhood as you called it, desperately waiting for the motherly figure who would meet all of my unmet needs from childhood, give me unconditional love and care and understanding, fill this empty hole I felt inside my chest and resolve all of my problems. The acknowledgement of me repeating a pattern that would lead me to feel great despair when came the realisation that the substitue couldn’t meet my needs, led me to seek help and find a therapist, little did I know the very reason that brought me to therapy would happen all over again with the therapist, and how could it not as I now understand my inner child saw (and spoiler alert still sees) her as the person who would indeed give me this primal unconditional love once and for all and would “fix and save” me. It took me a year of therapy to become aware that my inner child was acting out again and was trying to get the therapist to give me what I wanted. I tried to be the perfect hard working insightful patient, tried to look physically “beautiful”, tried to sound interesting, and eventually even went as far as to self harm just so she would show more care, and attention and worries. Coming to these realisations felt extremely shameful but your work and the blogger’s stories helped me find the courage to admit all of these feelings to my therapist who is very talented and was not scared about me sharing all of this but welcomed them and saw this as an opportunity for change and growth.

    Naively enough, I thought understanding intellectually the concept of the inner child and talking this out with my therapist would magically heal of these childhood wounds and cure me forever. I have been feeling depressed for a while and can’t seem to get how to stop this whole quest of getting my therapist to fulfil those needs. I understand she will never be able to do that, and no one else will. I understand where it is all coming from. I talk it out with my therapist each session. But somehow, my inner child is still doing its thing, trying to get what it wants from the therapist which is frustrating. I know the best way is to treat it with compassion but It is hard to find hope that I will ever come to acceptance and let go of this unfinished business. I guess it’s a long road and process. If anyone has successfully done the tremendous and difficult work with their inner child and found some peace I would love to hear your journey as it would help me stay hopeful.

    Thank you Jeffery for your work, I am currently reading “How We Heal and Grow” and am grateful I came to find your books for it helps me better understand myself and how I can hopefully one day find myself on the other side of the bridge.

    • Dear Angie, Your description is so clear and right. It will be an inspiration to others. In the end, I, too have found that inner children are extremely persistent. It makes sense because they are fighting to fill a void that they know is necessary for life. For this reason, after intellectual understanding, full acceptance is a very hard and slow process. It is do-able. Healing is possible. However there is one more important thing to note. Inner children usually do not have the cognitive capacity to understand time. As a result, what is now is also forever. They are the same, and that generates feelings that there is no hope, that the yearning will never stop or be resolved. It is not the case, but the inner child simply does not have the equipment to know that. I hope others will comment on this very important comment. JS

      • Angie and Jeffery I am so relieved to see your discussion here. I constantly feel I am different ages of my inner child, each one persistently needing more from my therapist. I have been seeing her for 5 years and we talk about my terror of abandonment and my intense attachment to her a lot. She is empathic, caring, insightful, unconditional, and my child self longs for her between sessions like life and death, and I think Jeffery is right about time. Every separation feels like eternity, I feel as though she is gone forever and that I could be with her forever. This forever place is my child self wanting her to fulfill the needs that were not met and this child won’t let go. She just wants to be held and now with covid and virtual sessions that is even more so, I call it seeing her through glass and sometimes I just want to break the glass and be in the therapy room with her. It feels desperate. I do have times though when I feel more settled, when I know she is with me, when I don’t need to dread losing her. I try to fathom with her what makes the difference, as Angie says to find this peace more regularly would transform my life. I havnt found the answer yet Angie, but I do think the hope lies in the search for self somewhere. As you seem to be a keen reader you might find ‘Dibs – a search for self’ a helpful insight.

    • Your post so resonates with me. In each and every way. Particularly in the engagement of self harm to someone get the therapist to offer more attention, care and worry. Have you found any helpful way to curb the anxiety provoking attachment and to give compassion to your inner child? I’m super hard on myself for all of these feelings in a way that feels like a spiral down and down and down.

  • Dear Angie and Jeffery,
    Im just another long term patient who now transforned into a therapist in the becoming, what I can say is that with a lot of time, persistance, compassion to yourself and suffering, the intense feelings will calm down, but probably will never go away. That is something very hard to admit and accept. What I really wish for is a community where I can talk to people like me, like us. Honestly the very best website, podcast that I’ve found on the internet is this one and I am forever grateful for it. Still I feel alone with this and have no one to talk about it. Novody seems to understand. I don’t know if its because most people are not willing to become vulnerable or whatever but I just dont seems to find the community I need. I wish I could talk to some of the people here directly. It would be such an important thing to share. I do have a wonderful therapist, but I feel like it would be very healing to have a group of people around me who share the same journey.

  • Judith I have read and re read this thread. I vacillate so much between wanting like you to share the pain of these feelings with people like ‘us’ and keeping it between me and my therapist. The winter break was so difficult and now that we are back to our sessions the wait between sessions is like being back in the break. I could be with her 24/7, not even talking just quietly with her like a little animal curled up on her couch. This search for self is so hard, so deep, so painful that sometimes sharing it with strangers who know something of what it’s like is a help. I don’t know why, my therapist knows about this more than anyone else in existence. Somewhere between us I do too, I am still searching.

  • Going through this right now, personally, I’m irate. This type of connection was described to me as an end goal of sorts. How I needed to connect and trust and all that bs. Nowhere was it mentioned that after being unceremoniously dropped by my therapist, who positioned this all as “coaching,” was there any mention that abject depression, insomnia, loss of appetite and acute anxiety would follow. It’s now only been 17 days since I was informed of my termination and our last session was yesterday. I felt duped into doing a friendly and proper goodbye, like this was all part of some planned journey I had embarked on. Reading now about the grave difficulty people are encountering makes me even more angry that there was no warning label attached to this process. I have to believe that therapists are largely unaware of the can of worms they are opening, otherwise this attachment promulgating should come with a massive caveat emptor.

    • This is happening too often, and it is damaging. My advice to therapists is not to make or imply promises that can’t or won’t be kept. I think training is often inadequate and therapists indeed often don’t have a clue of the power they hold our the seriousness of what they are opening up. I’m sorry on behalf of our profession. JS

      • I appreciate your words very much and thank you for validating my reality. I wish I could send her a screenshot of this but will refrain since she “closed the door.” It’s a rather conflicting situation though. She mentioned coming up against her own limitations as a professional, stating she was “embarrassed.” I wanted to tell her to never underestimate her limitations but despite all this, I still believe in her and that hurts too. She had become personally reactive to me at times when I would candidly discuss parts of my past and determined that I would be better off with someone else. She also mentioned personal reasons for not wanting to continue which I occasionally glimpsed. Of course, as per the dynamic, I have a very incomplete dataset of what actually transpired so I am asked to be blindly understanding of my own dismissal. This also perturbs me but I get it. Interesting that you mentioned promises when I didn’t think I had alluded to any. From the very beginning, she often warned me that we would encounter difficulties together and how important it would be for me to work through them with her and to learn how to be close and intimate with someone. She further emphasized the importance of us sticking to an agreement given my previous subpar history with therapists resultant from their inappropriate behavior. She also described me as someone who has “continually given up” once I reach a certain threshold with people (which is true). She also said she would “question my commitment to healing” were I unwilling to engage with a psychoanalyst she had recommended that would exclusively focus on my trauma so we could continue working together. I met all her demands although I dreaded starting anew yet again and did not want to puncture the little bubble we had built with a third party. Nonetheless, I agreed and even said, “I don’t want to lose you,” in an effort to more authentically convey my feelings as I had been encouraged to do. I was resolute in a way I don’t think I’ve been before. I always made sure to incorporate her suggestions and to look squarely at the things I most disagreed with. I had my first session with the new person and literally, the next session with her, I was dumped. She allowed me to stay on for a few more sessions and it was brutal, knowing that it was all coming to an end. Now that it’s ended, I have transference out the wazoo and continue to feel awful around the clock. The timing on this is also exceptionally bad for professional reasons which she was aware of. Now, I’m even less functional and that’s my problem but again, I was not informed of the risks, therefore unable to make an informed decision. Lastly, I can’t guilt or browbeat her into working with me (though it’s tempting) and if I could, that would feel really bad. The intractable nature of it all bums me out and I do miss the idea that I would normally be seeing her tomorrow. I will look at how my lens got so narrow that losing 90 minutes a week with someone I paid became so important although I am learning that this can be a big deal. I realize she is being cast in a negative light and I’m not here to defend her but I think it was a genuinely tough spot for myriad reasons. My only solace has come in reading your book, “Attachment to your Therapist,” which very much helps to normalize my reactions. Otherwise I’d be thinking, “what the f is wrong with me,” and I’ve got enough of that already. I genuinely think it should be required reading for therapists. Thank you again Jeffery.

      • I’ve read every single blog post of yours along with many of the comments. I understand intellectually the process of therapy and what it will take to move on from the attachment. But what if you can’t? What if you honestly feel like you’re in love with your therapist and the longings and intense feelings only intensify and not lessen as therapy goes deeper? What if you know it is all related to the past but the pain of the feelings in the present are overwhelming? I understand where these feelings emanate from but what I can’t seem to understand is how to move through them. I accept that I have these intense feelings, I’ve discussed them at a great length with my therapist who accepts them completely. So what am I doing wrong that I’m still in so much pain each and every time therapy sessions end and the days in between? Any thoughts or suggestions? Is there ever a time when ending therapy should be considered?

  • Wow, the comment above mine could be written BY me actually. Sorry you are feeling the same, its horrible. So my question to anyone who has gone through this process and landed on the other side, how do you know when to leave therapy if the feelings never abate?

  • Disgruntled, Jamie, JS-

    “How do you know when to leave therapy if the feelings never abate?”

    The question might be actually, “How do you leave therapy, if the feelings never abate?”

    Jeffery has written on “Healing the Emptiness”. I think the problem with working with these feelings of attachment is that they make it so hard to leave. Exactly that. If you are thinking, “Maybe it is time to leave therapy” – I was in two therapeutic relationships several years back (one a medicine doctor, the other a therapist) and after I had become emotionally dependent on them, two things happened. One is that I started thinking, “I need to stop this”, and the other thing that happened is that I did not know how to stop doing what I was doing ( writing emails everyday, running to them when I was emotionally distressed, thinking about them constantly, things like that). I didn’t have the tools. Eventually my dependent behavior got too intense for the doctor, and she discharged me. That was horrible. I cried daily for like 6 months as I grieved the loss of the “care” she had been giving me. It was also like grieving “the loss of what never was” in terms of nurturing from my mother (I kind of had to take care of her and my younger brothers and sisters – I’ve often felt that I “manufactured” for them, what I wished I had for myself!)

    What happened with the therapist was complicated, because I had also been taking meds, which I stopped taking. (I’m taking them now, though not as many, and not as much.) The therapist never, ever, abandoned me in terms of not letting me have appointments, but he threw me for a loop when I told him of my childhood pain and instead of acknowledging it, he observed, “You want me to nurture you.” That’s so true. Yes, I really did want him to nurture me.

    The thing I have found that helps is – nothing helps. It just hurts, but eventually something will change, and you will have a piece that lets you learn to tolerate your distress, and move on. The attachment distress in my life lasted for decades for me, but when I was finally able to start practicing some DBT (Dialectical Behavior Training) from a workbook I ordered on the internet (the doctor had suggested it to me to cope with irrational feelings, but it took me a while to decide to try it), things began to improve.

    You have to be ready for whatever is going to help you. I first learned of DBT years ago, but walked out of the group because hearing about it made me angry (how ironic). When I was ready – and doing DBT really sucked at first, because it’s about learning to soothe yourself, which is the exact opposite of what I wanted – DBT helped me gain a certain amount of control over my emotions.

    Another thing that really helped me – and helps me to this day – is to practice grounding. There are a lot of ways to practice grounding. It is essentially mindfulness. It can divert your attention. It doesn’t “fix” the pain, but changes the effect the pain is having on you.

    You can get through this. I so feel for you. Time passes. Eventually, something will change.

  • Thanks Sylvia Beth, your honesty about your therapy journey resonates with me. I especially relate to not knowing how to stop therapy. Of course I would never ghost my long time therapist but it seems inconceivable that I will be able to tell him it’s time to end. Maybe that’s just hubris on my end, but we really share a close (boundaries) relationship. It’s not that I want to leave I just think it’s probably time. The feelings have never once lessened in 5 years, only intensified. The pain and the longings while from the past feel very here and now.and how long do you continue to feel the same way ? Thanks again for your post! It was helpful.

  • Just curious Jeffery Smith, what do you think regarding the feelings never abating but ending therapy anyway if the only thing still keeping you going are the intense feelings of longings and love? If the feelings have been discussed and talked about and acknowledged but still not gone away can it ever be fine to end therapy with those feelings still present or do you think they have to be gone before leaving? 5 years and they haven’t dulled at all – I don’t think leaving will force my inner child to go underground…just maybe an acknowledgement that they will never go away and that’s just life? What do you think?

    • Thanks for your comment. You hit the key point with “I don’t think leaving will force my inner child to go underground.” That is the main pitfall of using some form of “weaning” to deal with intense attachment. I do think that when this is the answer, there needs to be hope of some alternative attachment outside therapy.

  • The lack of warning about the potential repercussions of this type of attachment is appalling. I was entirely encouraged to uncover this part of myself and make this type of attachment. It was a stated goal that was massaged and coaxed out of me. My therapist never said, “should I decide to up and leave for whatever reason, you will be burdened by a debilitating sadness that will last for months at a minimum.” Based on what I’ve learned, it may never leave. Being miserable with no end in sight because this person decided to dump me after discovering her limitations and basically saying she was more gung-ho when we started and that 2020 had been stressful is inexcusable. What a gutless move and the worst part is, I’m intensely grieving the loss of something that I did not know I had. It’s not like I was able to bask in the joy of nurturance or any of that. My sessions were generally difficult so it’s straight downside. Now I have to go “do the work” because I went to and paid for therapy 2-3x a week for a year? Pisses me off. I can understand why many people seem gaslit by the experience and those that had a more thorough experience, sound far more understanding than I am. Were my former therapist to contact me tomorrow and say “there’s been a misunderstanding, let’s resume,” I’d be absolutely elated. That’s not going to happen though. My current therapist wanted to contact her to understand what happened and after signing a release, they spoke briefly and she then declined to speak about what happened. This just sucks.

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