Your therapist’s job is to ensure the therapeutic relationship is maintained in a way that allows you to participate fully in the current process. You must also have the option to re-engage in professional services without the assumptions, expectations and obligations typically associated with a mutual friendship (or intimate/sexual relationship).
For example, Registered Psychologists are ethically prevented from forming sexual relationships with clients (even if the client initiates or agrees).
Research has established that sexualising a therapeutic relationship has significant detrimental effects for the client. This is because being in a situation where there is emotional intensity can be misinterpreted as experiencing sexual or emotional attachment.
Friendships or intimate relationships forged against a background where one person’s needs are the entire focus of the other’s involvement are unlikely to represent a balanced and healthy connection which would serve you both well in the “real world” over time.
For this reason, any relationship with a client outside of the therapeutic context is discouraged for at least two years after the end of therapy.
Red flags that this may not be a good fit for you include if the therapist:
- Over-shares (talking more about themselves than focusing on your experiences).
- Doesn’t have experience or training in the specialist area that you need help with.
- Doesn’t give you their undivided attention during the session.
- Makes you feel judged or shamed in the session.
- May help you feel better immediately after the session, but you worry you are not making progress towards your goals.
- Regularly runs late for your session, runs over time in your session, or cancels sessions at late-notice.
Notwithstanding the odd emergency situation or human error, as with most professionals, time management is an important part of maintaining a high-quality service. Having a mutual appreciation for the value of your time together is an important under-pinning to the work.
It’s your therapist’s responsibility to keep their eye on the ball (your agreed therapy goals) at all times and ensure that the relationship between you remains professional, constructive and appropriate. In my practice I adhere to the APS Code of Ethics.
The relationship between you and your psychologist can have a big impact on the outcomes of your therapy, so it is important to spend some time understanding what it is you need and expect from your relationship with your psychologist before you engage in services.
Talk with your therapist in your first session or two, to ensure you have a mutual appreciation for what you want out of the professional service, and let the therapist know about any queries or concerns you have about the process as you progress.
A good therapist will provide you with a space in which you can feel psychologically safe and supported while helping you to achieve your goals.