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Q & A: My patients keep trying to date me!

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This next question came from a young therapist, just entering the profession.

Q: What do I do about the recurring problem of my female patients attempting to date me!? Everything will be going fine for a while and then all of a sudden they start in with the hints on how much they'd like to have a man like me or even with blatant flirtatious remarks. Since this has already become a recurring problem, I’m wondering how I should handle it.

A: Unfortunately, this is a recurring problem that will continue to happen throughout your career. It happens to all of us. This is a phenomenon that occurs because many of the women that we see in treatment have a history of unhealthy relationships with unhealthy men that have shown themselves to be emotionally, psychologically or physically abusive—or simply emotionally withdrawn and non-communicative. So when these women enter treatment with a male therapist, who is so open, honest, empathetic, sympathetic, intelligent and sensitive to their plight, it is understandable that they might begin to think that they are attracted to him. But, in reality, what they are attracted to is the idea of that male therapist. They are attracted to the idea of a healthy, sensitive and attentive man. It is oftentimes foreign to women to encounter a man who understands them and openly communicates with them about their innermost thoughts, fears, passions, struggles, traumas, dreams and aspirations. So it’s understandable that they might begin to feel as if they are developing a romantic attraction to their male therapist.

So, here’s what you do. Explain to them that it’s not actually you, as an individual that they’re attracted to, but rather the idea of you and what you represent. You are merely an example of the type of man that they want in their lives. And they deserve that man. Your role is merely to help them ready themselves for that man when he enters their life, because he is out there and they do deserve to be treated with the sensitivity, dignity and respect that you are modeling. You are proof that those men do exist. Your role is to assist them with breaking their pattern of settling for the man that is less than what they deserve in their lives and preparing for the man that they do deserve.

Therapists dating clients is one of the ethical violations that have cost them their licenses. Therapists must understand that dating their client is actually exploiting that client during an impressionable, vulnerable, weak moment in their lives when they are needing to feel heard, understood, valued, appreciated and loved. And although we are supposed to be there to support them, we also must respect the professional boundaries of our role in their lives. Our job is to help our clients to experience their fullest potential and growth so that they might move on from their relationships with us and apply therapeutic lessons to their world.

I hope that I have answered your question. Good luck with your practice and do take care.

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