I think crushes on therapists happen a lot more than we actually realize. It’s so common that Sigmund Freud coined the term “transference” to describe it. Transference likely occurs in this context because clients are only exposed to the “ideal image” of a counselor. The therapeutic environment is generally safe and supportive, and within that context, the clinician can be seen as a “provider.” Within that environment, clients usually engage in what is likely one of the most intimate relationships clients will ever have… clients often tell clinicians things they wouldn’t tell anyone else! Isn’t our job to be caring, responsive, thoughtful, and generally concerned for our clients? Unfortunately, we reside in a world that is anything but that.
What are the signs of a client that a client has a crush? Signs might include a client wearing suddenly provocative or revealing attire. A client may compare the therapist to people in their own lives, like a spouse or a parent. The client may verbalize expressions of love or adoration, or the same may manifest in the form of unexpected gifts. The client may start asking more personal questions, like what the therapist likes to do, movies that they like, etc. They may also ask questions about your relationships, your marital status, your children and their ages.
It is probably one of the more awkward positions for a therapist to be in. If a client finds themselves attracted to a clinician, I would definitely encourage them to convey that to the therapist. Having a client reveal their innermost feelings and ideas is at the core of psychotherapy. Unfortunately, the client themselves is short-changing themselves if they don’t reveal the “crush.” This is especially true if a client is intentionally hiding “undesirable traits or feelings” in effort to gain favor or “appear more normal” for the therapist. It’s certainly not anything to be ashamed of. Despite the fact that we are prone to be adored, I think we really need to keep a level head about the whole situation… in reality, if our clients really “knew” us; we probably wouldn’t be so attractive. I can see how it would be easy for a therapist to be delusional with all this envy going around.
How would I respond? In the case of an inexperienced clinician, there is good potential for those feelings to “get in the middle” of the client-counselor relationship. As a result, a referral might be in order if the client has repeatedly crossed boundaries (like repeatedly calling the therapist at home during odd hours, or showing up at their residence unannounced, etc). However, I would consider a referral as a less than ideal situation. Ideally, a client’s feelings for a counselor can be employed and explored to help the client understand a great deal more about themselves. If we can drive to the source of that transference in a professional manner, perhaps that can be utilized as a choice opportunity to advance our client’s best interest.