My Therapist Wanted to Have Sex with Me
I sought him out because I wanted to work on my trust issues with men.
The first time I sat down on the couch in his plant-filled office, I sobbed. His doughy body and cherub-like face were warm and inviting. I took comfort in the fact that I wasn’t at all attracted to him. He felt like a father-figure to me. I was able to open up with him the way I wanted to be able to open with my own father.
It was in the quiet moments between my emotional unraveling that he inserted his desires. “Maybe you should try not having sex right now. What we have here is intimacy. This relationship we are fostering in this room is authentic. You don’t need sex for real intimacy.”
His words elicited mixed feelings. They were soothing to my ears but stirred up a deep discomfort in my soul.
There were sessions when he seemed to want me to say I was attracted to him. “I may play many roles for you in here.” I wasn’t attracted to him. At all. His doughy body and cherub-like face screamed father-figure to me. I liked the fact that I wasn’t attracted to him. At all. It felt safe. Comfortable. He was the neutral male figure I felt I could work through my trust issues with once and for all.
Sometimes it felt like he was undressing me with his words, not with his eyes.
But to me, he was a father-figure, so I brushed off his comments. When my gut told me “this guy’s personal feelings are leaking out” a year ago, I took a deep breath and swallowed my discomfort like I’ve done all of my life. “I’m just imagining things. He’s a therapist. He’s just doing his job and making me feel the discomfort I’ve felt with the opposite sex all of my life.”
It was in the silent space after talking about my boyfriend’s complaints that he inserted his softly spoken criticisms. “This guy sounds like a seedy character.” The seedy character he referred to was one of the most meaningful loves of my life. I shuddered inside when he said these words and swallowed my intuitive “is this guy jealous or something?” feelings. Swallowing was an old habit. Old habits are designed to protect the psyche from emotional overload.
The one mantra that was branded into my soul during my two years of training as a therapist was:
Never sleep with your clients.
I’d put my therapist on a pulpit.
He must have been in practice for 30 plus years. He knew the mantra. But perhaps there was more to violate than my body. Perhaps that mantra was missing some key adjectives like:
Never insinuate that you want to sleep with your clients either.
I spent the better part of three years with him weekly. Just the two of us, alone in his jungle-like, beige office for 53 minutes, getting intimate. I knew nothing about him. He was good at keeping his personal life out of his sessions. He knew everything about me. He was given full access to my fears and my insecurities — my passions and my shortcomings. He knew more about me than my own boyfriend did. In fact, my boyfriend (the “seedy character”) felt threatened by my relationship with my therapist. Now I know why.
The moment he called himself my boyfriend I knew something was off.
With one sentence, three years of sharing my most intimate thoughts were suddenly washed down a drain of inappropriateness. Was this another #metoo moment to add to the laundry list of my traumatic past?
Six years ago, in the throes of a tumultuous divorce, I sought out a top-notch therapist to hold my hand with words of validation and hug my soul with the watery eyes of a compassionate listener.
I found what I sought in a woman who was perhaps a few years younger than my 35-year-old self. I found her when I felt very alone and very afraid of losing time with the little girl I’d given birth to just 18 months prior. At the time, I’d only consider working with a female therapist. Women felt safe to me; men did not.
Two years into my divorce, I felt like I plateaued with my therapist. I no longer needed to have my hands held and my soul coddled. I was craving a challenge and I was longing to date again but knew I had to work on the trust issues I’d had with the opposite sex. I loved my therapist. In fact, I wished we could have coffee together in a cafe and chat as besties. My longing for her friendship over her therapeutic insight made me realize it was time to move on — to a man.
I was in school to become a therapist at this point and attended an all-day psychanalytic conference where I networked with dozens of local psychoanalysts. A connection I made at the conference referred me to the man I called my therapist for three years. I vividly remember feeling so safe in my first session with him that I broke down in tears about my ex. In the two years, I had worked with my previous therapist, I think I only half-cried two times. Both of those times, I remember my previous therapist tensing-up and starting to ask me questions instead of just holding space for my long-held tears.
Being in a good therapeutic relationship is kind of like dating — without the sex and cuddling and hand-holding, of course.
With a good therapist, emotional intimacy is deep and the intellectual connection is pronounced. Sometimes you finish each other's sentences. Sometimes you are so comfortable in the presence of each other that silence is the most fulfilling music in the world.
The sentence that washed all of the trust I’d had for my therapist down the drain was about another man.
When I mentioned my first argument with a man I’d been dating for several months, instead of reflecting back my feelings (as I hoped he would do), he inserted his own opinion of the man he’d only known through my most critical complaints of our time together (so common for us to bring our dirty laundry to therapy — after all that’s what we’re paying for, right?). “I don’t like the sound of this ‘character’.” I should have thought something was off when he called my boyfriend a character — which in my book is a code word for a buffoon. I was vulnerable in his space. Tearful and unsure of my own feelings, I remember vividly the advice he gave me with the compassion of a father: “Maybe you need to hold off on the physical intimacy and focus on the emotional and intellectual connection first.”
Desperate to try a new way of being with a man I was romantically interested in, I heeded his advice. I was celibate for almost a year.
Fast forward to a year later a new relationship. Once again, he got territorial and harped on my criticisms and complaints, ignoring the moments of connection and intimacy I processed around this new guy. Something just felt off.
Then his face contorted and his fists clenched. “I’m feeling protective of you right now. Like a boyfriend.”
The word boyfriend reverberated through my mind like an off-key note. I froze for a minute. My mind and body felt numb. Then my people-pleasing-smooth-the-tension self said, in a high pitched, sing-songy voice, “How about father or brother figure? That feels more comfortable and natural to me based on our relationship.” The scowl still plastered on his face told me he didn’t like my request very much — he couldn’t let go of the boyfriend role.
That was the moment I checked out. I told him a past trauma had been triggered at that moment. I sat there frozen. Whatever I said was not connected to my body or my heart. My brain was filling the awkwardness between us with words to soothe my very triggered psyche for 20 minutes, so I could walk out of the room feeling like a semblance of myself.
When I mentioned the word trauma, he seemed to brush it by. To the trauma-trained therapist in me, this was a major “ditch this dude” red flag. But I spent the next 20 minutes in denial — perhaps hoping he would come around and address his inappropriateness. But he didn’t.
I walked out of that room with my head hanging low. I knew in my heart that I’d never be back. This man who had seen parts of my soul no human has seen would be erased from my life forever. How deeply desolate I felt.
The post-traumatic stress flashback I felt in that room with him was the reason I’d chosen a male therapist in the first place.
I’d hoped, for once, I could be seen as a human with a mind and heart and not as a sexual object.
In the next few weeks, I saw how I had grown. In the past, I would cut off uncomfortable connections without even looking back. But this time was different. I had developed a solid 3-year connection with this guy and I wasn’t about to flush all that down the toilet. I sought out a new therapist immediately — a woman (I was only comfortable with women at this juncture). The second session in, something felt off. So my one new therapist turned into three trial therapists. One was too clinical. One was too detached, almost business-like. One double-booked me on our second session and sent me away with an “I’m sorry, I forgot to write our appointment down” after I showed her the confirmation text she sent to me the day prior.
The one golden nugget I took from my three trial therapists was this: what my previous therapist did was inappropriate. End of story. My feelings were validated three times over. But I was still grieving the loss of someone who held a piece of my soul.
In between new therapist one and two, I called my old therapist to see if we could talk it through. It felt uncomfortable, even unsettling to speak into his voicemail the way I had done so many times before. When he called me back, he told me he had no availability but would put me on a waitlist. That was a month ago. I haven’t heard from him since.
I don’t regret calling my old therapist. In fact, reaching out just shows my courage. Perhaps it was part of my grieving process. Three years is a long time to be in any relationship. When someone has shared intimacy with you, it’s like you give them a piece of your soul. When you walk away, you feel fragmented, perhaps as if you’ve lost a part of yourself — for good.
When I vented to the guy he got all “boyfriend” on me about, he said to me, “Well, I know he’s a therapist, but he’s also a human. And he’s a man. You’re attractive. Perhaps he had developed feelings for you.”
It took me a while to process my friend’s statement. It took me weeks to accept my therapist’s humanness. When he said something that sent the red-flags flying, I found comfort in the wedding band shimmering on his finger. “He’s happily married” I would say to myself.
Humans are complex creatures with a myriad of desires.
I will admit I’ve had moments of attraction to clients, but I have been trained to reign my personal feelings in and continuously check myself.
The fact that’s he’s human doesn’t erase my own trauma nor does it excuse his inappropriateness. Sometimes humans disappoint us. Sometimes that disappointment is so traumatizing it means saying goodbye and grieving the loss of what was and what could have been.
I truly believe everything happens for a higher purpose. It was time for our relationship to end. It was time for me to find real intimacy outside of the beige jungle. Perhaps celibacy wasn’t the answer. Perhaps his personal agenda was holding me back from real intimacy with a man I could truly trust — a man who is completely available on all levels.
Perhaps I did work through my trust issues after all — and I have his inappropriateness to thank for it.
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